Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Family and Community Studies

Committee Chair/Advisor

Natallia Sianko

Committee Member

Susan Limber

Committee Member

Mark Small

Committee Member

Martie Thompson


Throughout history, the relationship of humans with nature evolved with culture. Climate change calls for a cultural shift in how we relate to nature and fellow humans, pointing to the need to rethink most human activities. Youth are frequently seen as agents of change. However, the widespread understanding that youth environmental engagement is necessary and brings more sustainable outcomes has almost no supporting empirical evidence. Research is needed to reveal whether youth environmental engagement is related to climate policies and ecological consequences and how this engagement varies across cultures.

Based on data from over 300,000 15-year-olds from 40 countries across the world, this dissertation analyzes youth environmental engagement (measured as environmental knowledge, global agency, and pro-environmental behavior, data from Program for International Student Assessment [PISA]) to examine: (a) how it differs across cultures (assessed by the World Values Survey), and (b) how it corresponds to environmental degradation (measured by the Environmental Performance and Climate Change Performance Indices [EPI and CCPI]). A quantitative analysis of four international surveys suggests that youth environmental engagement differs across the eight cultural areas and is strongly in tune with the culture and environmental protection. Higher environmental knowledge is strongly linked to higher postmaterialist values, while higher pro-environmental behaviors is linked with lower environmental protection. Finally, global agency was strongly related to CCPI but not to EPI, suggesting that young people develop a higher sense of global agency in cultural areas, where governments do less to protect the environment.

This study offers new insights into the associations among youth environmental engagement, culture, and environmental performance. It further supports the growing call for cross-cultural research to understand the primary factors influencing individuals’ and societies’ environmental attitudes and behaviors.

The findings of this dissertation have numerous practical implications. Preparing young people to respond to environmental degradation is a long‐term investment. As the youth of today grow into adulthood, they can lead societal changes conducive to sustainable development. Policymakers worldwide need to rely on existing support to address the climate crisis and push ahead with transformational change.

Author ORCID Identifier




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