Soviets More Hopeful Than U.S. Youths
American teen-agers are much more pessimistic than their Russian counterparts about the possibility of a nuclear war, and are less likely to believe that their children will live better lives than they do, a survey of students in both countries has revealed.
Only 14 percent of the 3,372 U.S. teen-agers questioned said a nuclear war would never happen, compared with 56 percent of the 2,263 Russian students polled. And, while 71 percent of the Russian teen-agers said they expected their children to be better off than they are, only 50 percent of the Americans did.
The survey was conducted by college professors in both countries last October and November. It included students in the 7th through 12th grades in 20 randomly-selected Maryland schools and in comparable classrooms in the Tambov and Rostov Provinces of Russia, considered the country's European heartland.
The American researchers said that, based on a comparison of data from similar national surveys, the Maryland sampling is representative of teen-agers nationwide.
Soviet youths seem to be more optimistic about the future generally than American teen-agers, according to the study's director, Eric Chivian, head of the International Children's Project at the Harvard Medical School's center for psychological studies in the nuclear age.
He said the differences in attitudes could be the result of how the national media portray life in each country. Overall, he said, Soviet television is more optimistic and gives teen-agers the impression that the country's leaders are solving problems and taking care of things, including the prevention of nuclear war.
In addition, said Dr. Chivian, Soviet children are involved both in school and after school in peace-related activities, such as making posters and raising funds for peace groups.
"Soviet teen-agers are told by their schools and the media that their government is on the side of peace, and that after [experiencing] a war that almost destroyed their country, they would never let that happen again,'' he said.
But in the United States, where "there is more challenge to public policy,'' students are less confident that leaders are doing everything possible to avert war, said John Robinson, director of the University of Maryland's survey research center, who supervised the American polling. Mr. Robinson said that, because war is a "paramount issue'' to the Soviets--"in a way we don't realize here''--school activities and class assignments focus more on war in general, and on the nuclear issue in particular.
Both Dr. Chivian and Mr. Robinson said that an improving economy, with its attendant rise in living conditions, also makes Soviet youths more optimistic about the quality of life their children will enjoy. In the United States, they said, youths express more uncertainty about the economy and such quality-of-life issues as acid rain and pollution.
A second component of the American survey project was the production of a videotape called "A Day at School in Moscow.'' Available to schools through the Harvard center, it includes a teaching guide and, according to Dr. Chivian, gives junior- and senior-high-school students an idea of what life in the Soviet Union is like.
In another poll released this month, 45.5 percent of the approximately 1,400 U.S. high-school students questioned said the proliferation of nuclear weapons was the world's most pressing problem.
The poll, which surveyed students from 118 high schools in 42 states, found that almost 40 percent believed there was a 50-percent-or-greater probability that a nation would use nuclear weapons in their lifetimes, according to Michael Herbart, a spokesman for the independent news service Newslink.
The news service questioned students participating in a model United Nations conference in New York City. More than 80 percent said that both the United States and the Soviet Union should eliminate missiles aimed at or based in Europe.