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  • Cate Tipler

How to engage young people in business? Lower the voting age

Written by Cate Tipler

Gen Z’s desire for a say in our democracy is on the rise. Our economic power is the fastest growing in the world - and with the elevation of social media we have unprecedented social awareness. We follow the news as it happens, we organise petitions and protests, and we have been forced to adapt to situations completely different to what our grandparents, and even parents have experienced at the same age. We have easy access to a number of perspectives on any issue, and we want our government to actively support us.

16 and 17-year-olds today are part of this “online” generation. We’re part of the spike in teenage activism which shows we understand and engage with these issues, and care that we will be bearing the brunt of the long-term decisions being made by the government. What we know is that 16-year-olds are old enough to work part time and full time jobs, pay income tax, contribute to our society in a variety of ways, and crucially - feel failed by our political system.

The average age of a world leader is 62 but almost half the world’s population is under 30. Just under 20% of our population is between 15-30, but only 4% of our MPs are under 30. With statistics showing that the interests of young people are not being represented in the halls of parliament, it is easy to see why a lot of young people are feeling pessimistic about their future.

We’re inheriting a world of challenges. Top of mind issues include emissions reduction, government spending, and the impact of COVID-19 on our education system. These are all issues that will ultimately impact young people the most. For that reason, 16 and 17-year-olds should be able to vote, so we can have our say. Making the voting age sixteen is a solution. It is a solution to young people feeling disenfranchised, and evidently viable as Gen Z begins to make waves in the workforce.

Giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote shows that we value the voices of young people. Voices that are important within businesses as Gen Z become dominant consumers, and as social media spaces that are largely dominated by young people (i.e. Tiktok) become an important method of advertising. The impact of a voting age of 16 on the business sector will ultimately be positive. If we restore young people’s trust in the New Zealand government, young people will be in a better position to trust New Zealand businesses.

We have seen many NCEA students receive limited support from the government during the pandemic, where there have been students forced to drop out of school to work and support their family. NZ businesses have the opportunity to support these 16 and 17-year-olds, by advocating for them to be able to have their own say on work and education in the voting booth.

Often people will argue that 16 and 17-year-olds don’t want to vote. But this country has a strong history of youth engagement in politics. Youth Parliament is happening this year - evidence that young people are wanting to be heard in parliament and perhaps the greatest affirmation of our case. The issues being brought up by youth parliamentarians will impact businesses - the youth wage, climate change, and our education system particularly. Youth MPs in parliament represent communities of young people who have diverse opinions on these issues, and have just as much value to add in the intersection between parliament and the business sector.

It is noteworthy that in Scotland, a country with a current voting age of 16, that 16 and 17-year-olds turn out to vote in higher rates than 18 to 25-year-olds. The Scottish Electoral Commission found that in the Scottish Independence Referendum only 54% of 18-24 year olds voted, compared to 75% of 16 and 17-year-olds. We also know that the earlier you begin voting, the more likely you are to continue voting for the rest of your life. In Scotland we have seen more 16 and 17-year-olds continue to vote in future elections than those who begin voting when they are older. By making the voting age 16, we would be creating the opportunity for more politically aware and engaged citizens to enter the business sector. Workers who will continue to be switched on for the rest of their careers.

We have a sound legal argument, hence the Supreme Court agreeing to hear our case in July. The Court of Appeal found there was unjustified age discrimination in a voting age of 18, meaning it is a breach of the Bill of Rights. The Crown argues that this is a “political” issue but fundamentally we know this is about human rights.

16 and 17-year-olds are already proving themselves as the leaders of today - including in the business sector. We are already shaping consumer demand and the actions of businesses. It is then important to note that as we become employees and employers, we’re going to want to engage with businesses who have supported the voices of young people right from the start.


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