Those of you who are in your final year of college (be it year three or year four), how are you getting on? I am (un)fortunate enough to be included in this group, as I slog through the last six weeks of my degree. I’ve come a long way since starting university back in 2016, and even more so since starting secondary school as a terrified first year in 2010. I was curious to see how other ‘98 babies were getting on, so I turned to the Growing Up in Ireland survey to find out.
Growing Up in Ireland is the national longitudinal study of children and youth in Ireland. It started in 2006 and follows two cohorts of children aged 9 years (Child Cohort/Cohort ’98) and 9 months (Infant Cohort/Cohort ’08). Currently, the members of the Child Cohort are around 21 years old. Participants of the Child Cohort were surveyed on an ongoing basis, aged 13, aged 17/18 and most recently at age 20/21. These results have highlighted some interesting phenomena among this age group, some of which make a lot of sense (to me at least). While it isn’t uncommon to hear complaints being made against Generation Z, overall the report is very positive. Dorothy Watson, one of the report authors, said that the key findings “paint a generally positive picture of the lives of 20-year-olds and their engagement with the wider world”. Those of us aged between 20 and 21 this year are “transitioning to adulthood in a period of strong economic recovery”, and even though we were born in the middle of a boom, we spent a large portion of our childhood in the depths of economic recession.
The first section of the report examines where 20-21-year olds live and their role as adults. The majority (over two thirds) of the 5,191 participants were still living at home and depending on their parents for financial support. Around 8% were experiencing financial strain and having difficulty making ends meet, with a higher figure of 14% among those participants whose families experienced financial strain when they were 17/18 years old. When it comes to what we do, 62% of the group were in further or higher education, 21% in full-time employment and 6% were in training. Young women were more likely to be in education or training (by 3%) and less likely to be at work.
Unsurprisingly, access to housing in the future and climate change were the two biggest causes for concern among 20/21-year olds. Financial and employment security were strong aspirations for most of the group, 73% rated being financially secure as highly important for the next ten years, and 72% regarding having a good job as important. Only a small minority (29%) reported being in a long-term relationship as important. About 55% of 20/21-year olds had a driving licence, with 31% having a full licence. There were higher rates in rural areas (74%).
When it comes to our physical health, things were less positive. The majority of respondents reported their general health as being very good or excellent, however overweight and obesity levels increased significantly from the survey at age 17/18 (from 27% to 36%). Obesity rates were higher for female participants (16% for females and 9% for males), which could be linked to lower levels of physical activity in young women. Around 15% of 20/21-year olds smoked daily, with a further 23% smoking occasionally, while almost all respondents (93%) drank alcohol.
In terms of emotional wellbeing, there were some alarming figures. Around one-quarter of participants experienced relatively high levels of stress and depressive symptoms, which was more common among females than males (32% versus 23% with depressive symptoms). While most respondents were positive about their secondary school education, 39% felt that school gave them little or no help in preparing for ‘adult life’, while 45% felt ill-prepared for ‘the world of work’.
The Growing Up in Ireland survey aims to inform Government policy concerning children, young people and families. As someone who is the same age as the ’98 Cohort, I feel slightly relieved and strangely proud of the results from the survey. For all the complaining older generations do about us, I feel like we’re not doing too badly at all. Studies show that we, as a generation, are less optimistic and naïve about the future (thanks Boomers), we’re also partaking in less drug taking in our teens, we are more tolerant of others and more likely to think for ourselves and not blindly follow authority figures. So, give yourselves a pat on the back guys, and make sure to check in on each other from time to time, because this can be a stressful time in life, and we need to stick together.