People born in 1987 are the most studied age group in Finland. Their monitoring started already in the 1990s, when 60,000 children were followed from the beginning of pregnancy until school age. The monitoring continued in the 2000s. In the 21st annual monitoring of the 1987 Finnish Birth Cohort study, it was found that problems and disadvantages inherited from one generation to another are a widespread and complex social problem. Although a large part of young people are doing well, a significant number of children and youth need support in becoming involved in society.
The 25th annual monitoring report, published last year, describes the well-being and ill-being of young people using various indicators: the use of various benefits and services, physical health, mental health, crime, subsistence, employment, rehabilitation and incapacity for work.
Most of the young people in the age group are still doing well and their transition to adulthood goes smoothly without any major problems related to education, health, subsistence or employment. However, some of the young adults have a lot of problems in the transitional stage. Every seventh person in the age group has not completed a degree nine years after finishing comprehensive school. Nearly a third has had to resort to income support at some point. Every third has also either received a psychiatric diagnosis or purchased psychiatric medication.
The parents’ low level of education and the need for income support are connected to the risk of a child being left without a degree, and they also increase the child’s need for income support. The educational background of the parents strongly influences the child’s level of education, and the level of education of young people is closely related to almost all of the indicators of well-being included in the study: subsistence, health, employment and incapacity for work.
When it comes to the welfare of young people, regional differences can be strong and, in terms of well-being, the problematic factors were more often found in rural areas than in the city. Also, moving houses frequently during childhood and adolescence were shown to be associated with factors that threaten well-being.
Children born in 1987 are children of the recession – they started their school in the depths of the 1990s recession. But can the economy be blamed for the ill-being of young people? There is no comparable cohort, which has resulted in some people questioning the general applicability of the results. To fix this, monitoring of children born in 1997 has been started.
Preliminary results show that the number of mental disorders diagnosed in special health care increased by 60% for women and by 50% for men. In some diagnostic groups, the growth was even greater.
There are also more children placed outside their homes in the 1997 cohort than in those born a decade earlier. This raises the question of whether the ill-being of children and young people has increased or whether it is easier for people in need of social care services to gain access to such services. The same goes for mental health services for young people, the amount of which has been deliberately increased. Therefore, it may be that only the coverage of services has improved, not the amount of problems related to well-being.
In some areas of well-being, the development has been positive. Registry-based monitoring shows that the number of convictions for crimes and the number of suicides have decreased. Surveys indicate that health behavior has improved. Well-being must be measured using a variety of indicators to cover the various aspects of life.
How to improve the health of children, youth and young adults? Social investments in families with children are important. In addition to the home, the role of other growth environments, such as high-quality day care, school and hobbies, is important in supporting early well-being. The well-being of youth and adulthood is built during early childhood. Life-changing phases are particularly important, such as leaving school, starting new studies, leaving home, entering working life and starting a family. In these areas, the security net and services financed with public funds must support especially those who have problems with the transitions.
Mika Gissler is a research professor and Tiina Ristikari is a senior researcher at the National Institute for Health and Welfare.