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Increase in Cross-Community Friendships Among Northern Ireland Teens

16 May 2012

An increasing number of 16 year olds in Northern Ireland have contact across both religious and ethnic divides. That’s according to new research published bythe University of Ulster and Queen's University today as part of Community Relations Week.

According to the 2011 Young Life and Times Survey (YLT), which features the first set of YLT respondents born after the 1994 ceasefires, only a minority of young people report having no friends from other religious or ethnic backgrounds.

1,434 teenagers across Northern Ireland completed the YLT survey, undertaken by ARK, a joint initiative by the University of Ulster and Queens.

The survey gives an insight into the lives of 16-year olds across Northern Ireland and has been monitoring cross-community contact and attitudes towards community relations since 2003.

Key findings published today in a report entitled No More ‘us and them’ for 16 year olds?’ include:

·Cross-community friendship is more common in 2011 than in 2003. In 2011, 22 per cent of YLT respondents had no friends from the other main religious community, compared to 33 per cent in 2003.

·In 2011, 26 per cent said that all their friends were of the same race or ethnic group, compared to 48 per cent in 2006. This suggests that young people are mixing more with people from different ethnic backgrounds.

·Around four in 10 respondents feel favourable towards people from other religious communities or ethnic backgrounds, and around one half feel neither favourable nor unfavourable. There has been little change in these overall attitudes in recent years.

·66 per cent of young people very often, or sometimes, socialise or play sport with people from a different religious community, while 55 per cent do so with people from a different ethnic background.

Dr Paula Devine from the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen’s University, and co-author of the report said: “The YLT survey found that friendship patterns among 16 year olds are wider than ever before, encompassing both religious and ethnic diversity.

“While we found that 12 per cent of young people never socialise with people from a different religious community, and 16 per cent never do so with people from a different ethnic background, the comments made by young people in the survey suggest a blurring of the traditional ‘us and them’ categories - whether someone is like ‘us’ or ‘them’ is not purely based on their religious or ethnic background, but on other factors such as personality.”

Professor Gillian Robinson, Director of ARK at the University of Ulster and co-author of the report added: “ARK’s YLT survey has annually monitored community relations among young people since 2003. Changes in the political landscape in Northern Ireland have been significant during this time and the change in attitudes over time among 16-year olds reflect this.

“Participants in the 2011 YLT survey are the first YLT respondents born after the 1994 ceasefires. While the survey shows that an ‘us and them’ mentality is still evident to some degree, the main finding is that Northern Ireland today is a much more diverse society and 16-year olds’ experiences and views reflect this.”

Of the young people who completed the survey, around four out of ten said that they felt part of the Protestant community, while a slightly higher proportion felt part of the Catholic community. One in five said that they felt part of neither community. Twelve per cent of respondents considered themselves to be a member of a minority ethnic community.

This report is the first in a series of publications coming out of the 2011 YLT survey which will be made available in the coming three months.

More information and results tables on the 2011 YLT survey are available from the Young Life and Times website at