How Much Do People Value Future Generations? Climate Change, Trust, and Public Support for Future-Oriented Policies - Data from China

SND-ID: 2020-130-3. Version: 1. DOI:


Creator/Principal investigator(s)

Malcolm Fairbrother - Institute for Futures Studies orcid

Research principal

Institute for Future Studies - Institute for Futures Studies rorId


Do people care about future generations? Moral philosophers say we should, but it is unclear whether laypeople agree. In particular, humanity’s inadequate efforts to mitigate climate change could be due to public indifference or heavy discounting of future generations’ well-being. Using surveys and survey experiments in four countries—Sweden, Spain, South Korea, and China—we found that most people say they care about future generations, and would be willing to reduce their standard of living so that people can enjoy better lives in the future. However, not everyone who says they care supports two public actions that could be taken for the benefit of future generations: policies to reduce either global warming or national debt. We find evidence that much of people’s apparent lack of concern for future generations is actually due to distrust of major social institutions, and associated doubts about the effectiveness of future-oriented policies.

Data contains personal data



Method and outcome

Unit of analysis


Adults in Sweden (age range 16-65), Spain (age range 16-65), South Korea (age range 18-54) and China (age range 18-50)

Time Method

Sampling procedure

Mixed probability and non-probability
Vi genomförde vår studie i fyra länder med olika nivåer av politiskt förtroende: Sverige, Spanien, Sydkorea och Kina. Baserat på tidigare omröstningar och studier är institutionellt förtroende högt i Sverige och Kina och lågt i Spanien och Sydkorea. Vi valde också dessa fyra länder eftersom de spänner över två kulturellt distinkta världsregioner, och befolkningen i de fyra länderna är också kända för att ha olika nivåer av optimism om framtiden. Undersökningarna gjordes av det internationella företaget Ipsos MORI, med online-paneler för vuxna. Uppnådda N var: Sverige 1084 (spänner över åldersintervallet 16-65); Spanien 1298 (16-65); Sydkorea 1176 (18-54); och Kina 1165 (18-50). Eftersom de är online-paneler är proverna inte helt representativa för de nationella befolkningarna. I synnerhet det kinesiska urvalet innehåller oproportionerligt yngre, mer urbana och mer utbildade respondenter.

Time period(s) investigated

2019 – 2019

Data format / data structure

Data collection
  • Mode of collection: Self-administered questionnaire
  • Time period(s) for data collection: 2019 – 2019
  • Source of the data: Research data
Geographic coverage

Geographic spread

Geographic location: Sweden, Spain, Korea, the Republic of, China

Administrative information

Responsible department/unit

Institute for Futures Studies


  • Funding agency: The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences rorId
  • Funding agency's reference number: M17-0372:1
Topic and keywords

Research area

Energy and natural resources (CESSDA Topic Classification)

Government, political systems and organisations (CESSDA Topic Classification)

Political behaviour and attitudes (CESSDA Topic Classification)

Elites and leadership (CESSDA Topic Classification)

Climate research (Standard för svensk indelning av forskningsämnen 2011)

Sociology (excluding social work, social psychology and social anthropology) (Standard för svensk indelning av forskningsämnen 2011)

Philosophy (Standard för svensk indelning av forskningsämnen 2011)

Ethics (Standard för svensk indelning av forskningsämnen 2011)

Social behaviour and attitudes (CESSDA Topic Classification)


Fairbrother M, Arrhenius G, Bykvist K and Campbell T (2021) Governing for Future Generations: How Political Trust Shapes Attitudes Towards Climate and Debt Policies. Front. Polit. Sci. 3:656053. doi: 10.3389/fpos.2021.656053

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Published: 2020-12-10
Last updated: 2021-05-17