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Falling life satisfaction among Nordic youths

| Text: Marie Preisler

Life satisfaction is falling among Nordic youths, and at least one in four experience several symptoms of unhappiness, like headaches and stomach-aches. But there are large differences between the individual Nordic countries.

Life satisfaction among young people in the Nordic region has been falling since 2006. A research project supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers will now attempt to find out why. It will be carried out by a team of Nordic experts on children’s health, including Danish professor Pernille Due from Denmark’s National Institute of Public Health. 

She heads the research programme ‘Children and young people’s health and well-being’, and has for many years been the deputy international coordinator for the WHO study Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC). Every four years the HBSC gathers data on the health and well-being of children and young people across 43 countries, including details about their own life satisfaction.

The Nordic region as a whole does not come out top here, concluded professor Pernille Due, when she presented selected results from the HBSC study during the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Oslo summit on psychological health on 27 February. 

In the middle

Every four years the HBSC gathers a range of data about children aged 11, 13 and 15. The first study took place in 1984/85 and the latest one was carried out in 2014. This makes it possible to look for changing tendencies over a longer period of time. One of them is a fall in life satisfaction, if you look at the Nordic countries as a group.

“From 2002 to 2006 life satisfaction among some Nordic youths rose, but since 2006 it has been falling in four out of the six Nordic Countries. In terms of life satisfaction, the Nordics do not do particularly well among the 43 participating nations. We are somewhere in the middle,” explains Pernille Due.

Life satisfaction graph

The share of young people with high life satisfaction was between 31 % in Norway and 41% in Finland in 2002. In 2014 there are larger differences in the number of young people with high life satisfaction, from 28% in Sweden to 46% in Greenland

Yet there is major internal differences within the Nordic region: Life satisfaction levels have risen in Greenland and Norway, while it has been falling in all of the other Nordic countries, most markedly in Sweden. In 2006, 41 percent of Swedish children and youths said their life satisfaction was top, in 2014 only 28 percent said the same and among 15 year old Swedish girls only 11 percent said they had a high life satisfaction.

Nervous youths

The HBSC study looks at different symptoms of unhappiness, including whether the respondees each week for instance experience stomach-ache, headaches or nervousness. Pernille Due has focused on the number of young people who each week display at least two symptoms. Here too, the tendency is that Nordic youths do display such symptoms – especially the girls:

In Sweden, Iceland and Greenland one in three young people display two symptoms a week. In Denmark, Norway and Finland one in four do the same. Here too the tendency masks marked differences between the Nordic countries. Danish youths score low, while Swedish girls also here score very high.

Symptoms

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