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Youth Month Content Feature

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How happy are SA’s middle class youth?

The massive problem of South Africa’s unemployed youth will rightly be at the centre of the discourse during the country’s Youth Month. It’s not only that we have one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, reported by StatsSA in Q1 of 2024 as 45.5% among people aged between, 15 and 34 years, but also the fact that this intolerable rate is perpetually trending upwards. At the sidelines though, there are also other conversations happening regarding the state of the nation’s youth. How are the lucky ones who have managed to enter the workforce actually faring? How are they living their lives? And how are they feeling about South Africa and their future here?
How happy are SA’s middle class youth?

In the story of those who have attained a tertiary education, who are thankfully on career paths, who have joined the consumer class and become taxpayers, we get glimpses of the country South Africa could be if we could only expand and amplify opportunities for all our young people to develop their potential and be productive and contributing citizens.

BrandMapp’s director of storytelling, Brandon De Kock says, “the BrandMapp universe focuses on roughly 13 million South African adults aged 18 years and up living in households with at least R10,000+ monthly income, and we estimate that about 5 million of them are aged between 18 and 35 years. This is the country’s well-educated cohort of the youth market with 51% having already attained a tertiary qualification and 68% saying they are aiming to keep studying. Unlike so many of their peers in lower-income groups, they have choices when it comes to the lives they want to lead and fulfill their aspirations. To be clear, demographically, these mid-to-top income young BrandMapp respondents under 35 years are a picture-perfect representation of the demographic reality of SA in 2024 with 80% of them identifying as Black adults, 10% White, 7% Coloured and 3% Indian/Asian.”

Slide 3 – Aspirations

How happy are SA’s middle class youth?

BrandMapp tells the current story of the mid-to-top income youth by contrasting their views and habits with those in the same income bracket who are over 35 years old. When asked what they expect to be doing over the upcoming year, the younger generations reveal an understandably different life path from the older generations. 23% of them are looking forward to graduating this year, 40% are hoping to buy or upgrade their cars and 46% would really like to find a new or better job. But De Kock says, “What I love is that 39% say they’d like to start a new business this year. There’s a thought that young people in South Africa don’t really have an entrepreneurial spirit but the data here shows differently. It either means that we have messed up completely and not given them any faith in the economy or that we’ve misjudged them because their entrepreneurial mindset is clearly strong. Whatever their triggers, its cause is to celebrate even if only a small percentage of them actually manage to do it. Can you imagine what South Africa could be like if only more of our young people had the same educational benefits as this segment of the youth population? Innovation, new business development and economic activity would be shooting off the charts.”

Slide 7 – Emigration

How happy are SA’s middle class youth?

However, the downer comes in response to the question: How likely is it that you would emigrate from South Africa in the next five years, that is move and live in another country? 50% of our well-educated, mid-to-top income young people said that either emigration is ‘Very likely’ or ‘Likely’ for them. De Kock says, “Even if this is mostly aspirational and doesn’t turn out to be practical, it’s obviously a massive concern. We have to consider that these digital natives are online; their world is a smaller, well-connected place and it's easy for them to see clearly that with their levels of education, they would be better off living and working in other countries with stronger currencies and economies. What this data says to me is that 50% are thinking that the grass is a whole lot greener overseas and that’s a radical indictment of our country.”

Slide 8 – LGBTQ sensitivity

How happy are SA’s middle class youth?

3% of the over 35’s identifies as LGBTQ+ and this is in line with global averages that are around 4%, but when we look at youth, 8% are identifying as LGBTQ so there’s a striking increase when it comes to sexual orientation and gender fluidity amongst the youth. De Kock says, “It’s the next two columns that I think tell the story of a significant, proper generational shift in mindset that is fascinating, especially to marketers. 41% of youth do not identify as LGBTQ+ but they are supportive of the community, while only about a quarter of the over-35s say the same thing. This means if you or your brand steps over a line such as making an off-color joke around sexual orientation or gender, you won’t rise the ire of too many people over 35, but you are going to offend or upset half of the economically active youth market.”

Slide 10 – Financial security

How happy are SA’s middle class youth?

Bearing in mind that young BrandMapp respondents are not part of the unemployed youth segment that are struggling in the country, they have a much more optimistic viewpoint when it comes to their financial security. In response to the question as to how they currently feel about their finances, 51% of them report that they are either somewhat better off or much better off than they were compared to two years ago, and only 33% report that their financial situation has worsened. De Kock says, “What we are seeing here is that more than half are doing better, getting higher and higher paid jobs and perhaps also getting better at managing their finances. Because these are young people, it’s not surprising that a good portion of them is on an accelerated path. If we include the 16% who say their financial situation is much the same, that makes 67% of people under 35 living in the taxpaying households of SA who are feeling at least as well off as, and if not better than they were in 2022. So, life is actually quite good for them; they’ve got the education, they’ve got jobs and they are moving up life’s ladder. If you’re not part of the unemployed youth segment, you have reasons to feel hopeful. This only highlights that if we want the world to be a better place, if we want South Africa to be a better country and a hopeful place to live, then we must find the ways to get our unemployed youth into tertiary education and training, and into jobs so that they too can start their journeys on the continuum of life. Once they’ve got these basic opportunities, life can turn into an adventure to be lived rather than some kind of challenge to be solved.”

The changing nature of being a young person in South Africa

A range of BrandMapp data weaves the story of being young in a modern world, showing contrasts with the experiences of youth of the older generations. 47%, almost half of the under 35’s in mid-to-top income households don’t own cars. De Kock says, “That’s something that perhaps hasn’t changed over the generations. But what is different is that young people today have a whole lot more options available, like Ride-sharing for example, where we measure 39% of them using Uber and 38% using Bolt on a regular basis. It’s a far cry from the world of hitch-hiking and begging mom-and-dad-for-a-lift that previous generations had to deal with!”

Young people are also benefiting from the delivery age with half these youth frequently getting food deliveries to their door through services like MR D and Uber Eats. 25% of under 35s report eating fast foods twice a week or more, with a majority getting takeaways a few times a month, and only 2% not eating fast foods at all. 50% of young people in the middle market also embrace the convenience of these modern times by getting their groceries delivered to the door at least once a month.

De Kock concludes, “There’s no doubt that the youth of South Africa are in for a turbulent ride over the next decade, along with everyone else, but at least we’ve been able to identify a reasonably large group of highly skilled, educated and ambitious young people who are willing and able to lead the charge. They really can be part of shaping their own futures, and all the rest of us need to do is give them half a chance.”

BrandMapp 2023 insights are now available directly from the BrandMapp team at WhyFive Insights and by subscription via Telmar, Softcopy, Nielsen and Eighty20. For data access email az.oc.evifyhw@enna-eiluJ.

Visit for an overview of what’s in the new data.

BrandMapp is a unique South African dataset that uses a mega-sample of more than 30 000 respondents to profile the 12 million adults who live in mid to top-income households earning in excess of R10 000 per month. Now in its eighth year, the BrandMapp survey is a bespoke, independent survey that powers the WhyFive consumer insights consultancy.
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