Extensive research conducted by the British Science Association (BSA) over four years has been published today (27 September 2023), revealing what 14-to-18-year-olds across the UK think about science and its role in their lives. 

Over 8,000 young people have been involved in polling and workshops conducted by the BSA since 2019 to understand their opinions and concerns about science and how this affects them. Young people participating were asked to share their views on areas such as trust in science and scientists, the value of science and their connection with it.

These data have been analysed and categorised into subsets: science’s service to young people and our society; young people's connection and engagement with science; and topics of importance to young people.

By looking at smaller subsets of these data, we are able to identify trends in demographics and responses, giving a more comprehensive understanding of the views of young people. The launch of the Youth Insights Data platform marks a pivotal moment for the BSA, working to empower young people and demonstrating the need for science to serve them better.

View the Youth Insights Data platform

The BSA’s vision is a future where science is more connected to society; this work is part of the BSA’s aim to give young people a voice in science. 

Young people don’t have overly positive views about science

According to the data, young people feel disconnected from science. Only 12% of young people believe that scientists genuinely represent their views and values. An even smaller proportion (8%) believe that scientists look like them which is indicative of a perceived and actual lack of representation in science. The BSA’s existing Smashing Stereotypes campaign aims to address this.

The BSA has also discovered that, as young people grow older, their connection towards science becomes more polarised; they are more likely to feel strongly connected or uninterested in science as they grow older (see graph below). At the same time, just under half of the young people (45%) become more worried as they learn more about science. With the BSA’s research also showing young people’s climate change anxiety and mental health wellbeing, it is clear that more needs to be done to reassure future generations and push for more solutions-based science engagement.

Graph showing young people’s engagement with science by age (14 to 18).

Young people’s engagement with science, by age.
Source: Multiple Surveys, UK 14-to-18-year-olds, 2020-2023 (n = 6,045)

Despite positive attitudes towards scientists’ commitment to social duties (71% think scientists are successful in fulfilling their duty to society), research overwhelmingly shows that there is much more to be done to positively engage the next generation. The data shows that young people do have an interest in science, but increased anxieties about attaining science knowledge (51%) show an urgent need for science to adapt. 

Data also shows that girls are less connected to science than boys (29% compared to 37% respectively), despite having almost the same levels of interest in science (40% of girls and 41% of boys believe we should all take an interest in science). This shows how much still needs to be done to ensure science provides interest and opportunity for all groups in society. 

The BSA’s new Youth Insights Data platform also reveals findings on what topics matter the most to young people. A large majority of young people (71%) believe climate change will greatly impact their lives in the future. 65% of young people believe that it is very important to provide mental health services to all. Additionally, half of young people believe growing the economy is essential to their wellbeing. 

About the Youth Insights Data platform

The BSA has worked to better understand the views of young people in relation to science and technology topics that will affect their futures. This has been achieved through several polls, including one poll for young people during British Science Week last year (March 2022) and another during the COVID-19 pandemic (2020).

Polling data has also been collected through Future Forum, a programme run by the BSA which gives young people a chance to have their voices heard on issues involving science. Future Forums provide organisations who want to better serve young people the opportunity to find out more about what they value.

With support from strategic partner, 3M, the BSA has consolidated their data to launch this new section of their website to better communicate these findings. In their own endeavours, 3M has sought to understand global attitudes about science with their State of Science Index.

The BSA hopes that this research will help inspire other organisations across all sectors to learn from and respond to insights from young people.

Hannah Russell, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, says: 

“We are really pleased to launch the BSA’s Youth Insights Data platform, and showcase these invaluable insights into young people's connections to science and the topics that truly matter to them. 

“For the past few years, the BSA has been committed to facilitating young people to voice their opinions on science, society and their future. Despite recognising the importance of science, the findings from the Youth Insights Data show that 14-to-18-year-olds do not see themselves as part of the narrative. It is therefore imperative that we ensure young people feel valued and heard, especially in important societal conversations that they will directly affect and be affected by as they enter adulthood.”

Sarah Chapman, Technical Manager and North Europe STEM Champion for 3M, says:

“3M is delighted that its strategic partnership with the BSA has enabled this important research data from young people to be compiled and analysed.

“It is essential that we continue the open dialogue with young people and listen to their views. The data clearly shows that smashing the stereotypes about scientists and making the industry more diverse is key to overcoming the barriers to entry and getting the young generation excited about science and technology.”