Norwegian version

Researchers have been following 40-somethings since their teens: Who gets left behind?

A man is sitting alone on a swing looking at the sunset.

What is it like to grow up in Norway? The Young in Norway survey has followed more than 2,600 Norwegians for the last 28 years.

Throughout this study, the participants have gone from being teenagers to adults in their mid-forties. They have been asked about their family life, education, sexuality, mental health, social integration and drugs and alcohol use.

The project began its fifth round of surveying this past autumn. The survey has given researchers an insight into the factors that affect the participants during the different stages of their lives.

About Young in Norway

Young in Norway is the first longitudinal survey of adolescents in Norway. It has followed participants from their early teens and well into their adulthood. Its goal is to provide a good picture of social and psychological aspects of growing up in Norway.

The large number of participants, high response rate, and long follow-up period make it unique to other studies. Questionnaires and registered data on several different issues are used including education, adaption to working life, cohabitation, and crime.

In autumn 2020, the researchers conducted surveys in connection with the fifth data collection round in this project. The first round was conducted in 1992 among a representative sample of students from lower and upper secondary schools in Norway. Follow-up surveys were subsequently conducted in 1994, 1999, and 2005.

The results from the project have been published in more than 100 scientific articles and numerous books and reports. Young in Norway is now led by Professor Tilmann von Soest, and staff at the Norwegian Social Research (NOVA) at OsloMet and the University of Oslo are affiliated with this project.

"This year, we want to look at exclusion among other things. When people enter their forties, you can see who is struggling to find a foothold with respect to relationships, family, and work. The Young in Norway survey enables us to study why some people end up being excluded from society, what life is like for them, and how they feel about their situation," explains project manager and Professor of Psychology Tilmann von Soest.

What does it feel like living on the margins of society?

Professor of Sociology Willy Pedersen was one of the initiators of this study in the early 1990s. He believes that there are only two corresponding research projects in the world – both of which are being conducted in New Zealand. One of them is being led by Professor Terrie Moffitt, who is also helping to analyse the data from the Young in Norway survey.

"Your forties are an interesting stage in life, but based on the survey from New Zealand, we know that many people also find it challenging. Most people have found their place in life, but many also often experience a sense of finality – that you do not have as many options anymore – and some people feel sad about life not turning out the way they had imagined," points out Pedersen.

Norway is probably the country in the world with the best data regarding young peoples’ lives. I don’t know of any other countries that manage to collect and analyse such extensive data from the majority of their young people. – Willy Pedersen

Professor of Psychology von Soest is himself in his forties, and he finds it interesting to follow people of his own age.

"Data from Young in Norway can also be used to clarify how the participants’ attitudes and values change during their lives," he says.

"I have spent time, prior to the latest data collection round, looking at the tensions we are seeing in many countries where political unrest is linked to scepticism towards the elite. This particularly seems to apply to a number of men with a low level of education. In addition, quite a large group of men never have children. We think this may constitute a kind of gendered societal exclusion. What paths take them there? What are their underlying attitudes? These are pertinent political questions today," reflects von Soest.

Researchers will follow the participants for the rest of their lives

The researchers hope that the project can follow the participants for the rest of their lives, and that new generations of researchers can use the data generated by the project.

They report that the topics the participants consider important change depending on their stage of life. In addition to the extensive questionnaire surveys, they follow the participants through registered data.

It has been 15 years, as of this year, since the researchers last contacted the participants; at that time, they were then in their mid-twenties. The researchers are aware that a lot may have happened in their lives throughout this period.

"Last time, many of them were students and some had just started working. They were at a stage in life where they were trying to find their own identity and place in the world. Now, they are in relationships and have children of their own, and they are established in their working lives. However, some of them have separated from their partners, other are struggling to find a job they enjoy, and several feel like they have not succeeded in reaching their goals," explains von Soest.

Important contribution to youth research

A number of topics are covered in the Young in Norway survey, and a major point of discussion was asking young people about their mental health. The results from this in 1992 have been compared to the results of the more-recent Ungdata surveys that are conducted annually by the researchers at NOVA.

"When we compare the results of Ungdata and Young in Norway, we see that self-reported symptoms of mental health have increased among girls," von Soest points out.

The data material also enables the researchers to see what makes for good life quality and what may be the reason behind others’ struggling. The knowledge has been used to develop measures to try and prevent mental health disorders and drug and alcohol problems.

Young in Norway and Ungdata are both comprehensive questionnaire surveys with high numbers of participants, which has made NOVA’s research important to the research community studying youths in Norway.

"Norway is probably the country in the world with the best data regarding young peoples’ lives. I don’t know of any other countries that manage to collect and analyse such extensive data from the majority of their young people. We are also way ahead of the other Nordic countries. The surveys show that we have a lot of knowledge about young people’s development and their lives," argues Pedersen.

Research that is relevant to society

The findings from the Young in Norway survey have attracted a lot of media attention and have been used to develop policies and preventive measures. Pedersen refers to the Church of Norway’s discussion on homosexuality from several years ago as an example.

"The clergy invited me to a meeting to answer their questions about Christian adolescents’ sexual experiences. I was able to tell them that Christian adolescents, just as much as everyone else, could feel attracted to someone of the same sex and have those kinds of sexual experiences."

"I think these findings from Young in Norway were important factors in the church’s discussion of same-sex cohabitation. It was not long after this discussion that the church agreed to marry same-sex couples," elaborates Pedersen.

Pedersen reports that there has been intense research activity in connection with Young in Norway since 1992. The results from this project have been published in more than 100 scientific articles, and every survey has provided a rich source for further research. The researchers are now looking forward to this year’s data collection.

"I helped set up this survey, and the thing that maybe surprises me most is the thorough yet precise answers the participants gave. We asked them all kinds of things from what their upbringing was like to how much they enjoy sex. I am almost moved when I see how long they spend answering our questions. They seem to find answering the survey important," explains Pedersen.

  • Young in Norway

    Young in Norway is Norway's first major longitudinal study of youth. It follows people from adolescence to adulthood. The last data collection was carried out in autumn 2020 and spring 2021.

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A research article from:
Norwegian Social Research (NOVA)
Published: 25/03/2021
Last updated: 03/08/2021
Text: Helene Wille Lund
Photo: Colourbox