Civila samhället

Vetenskapsrådets ramprogram för forskning om det civila samhället

Barns och ungdomars sociala välbefinnande: Institutioner, kulturer och samhälle

Helena Olofsdotter Stensöta, Universitetslektor, statsvetenskap, Linnéuniversitetet, projektledare.


Projektbeskrivning/Project description

Youth wellbeing – civil society and local welfare state

The problem

The problem of how societies can generate wellbeing for its citizens is an important and intensely researched area. Within welfare state research, wellbeing across socio-economic cleavages and gender has been abundant. However, the issue of generational wellbeing is far less examined. There is research focusing on a generational dimension of the welfare state from the perspective of elderly vs. the rest (Lynch, 2006) and there is research on children´s material wellbeing, health and security (Ruhm 2000; Tanaka, 2005) however, up to now no fleshed out picture of how child and youth wellbeing in a broader sense relates to welfare state and civil society bas been presented.

This bias can be regarded as especially problematic from the background of recent reports that indicate that children and young people fair comparatively low along several dimensions of wellbeing. For example, a report from the European Union shows, that unemployment levels among 15-24 year-olds in Europe are about twice as high as general levels of unemployment (EU, 2009-200) and a recent report from Unicef (2007) indicates that the subjective health among youth generally leaves much to wish for. If we consider the situation in the Nordic encompassing welfare states in particular we detect Sweden in the middle range among European countries in regard of youth unemployment and the share of girls who say they are anxious has doubled from 1984 to 1996 (Swedish Public Investigations (SOU), 2006:77). If we broaden the view to other Scandinavian welfare states a recent study by Bradshaw and Richardson (2009) indicates that Denmark only rank on place 10 in regard of risk prevention among children and youth and that Finland fairs comparatively low in regard of child mortality among children under five years of age. The situation can be summed up in the conclusions of a report from Unicef (2007), which holds that Scandinavian welfare states only occupy a middle position in regard of wellbeing along social dimensions for children and youth up to 18 years of age.

These results raises the question in how far child and youth wellbeing are determined by factors outside of the welfare state as described in the comparative literature and more related to local forms of welfare states, as represented in school and local health care, and civil society. The project explores how welfare policies interact with civil society features, to enhance child and youth wellbeing. The study explores the problem both cross-sectional over the whole country and through an in-depth case study of the suburbs of Angered, in northern Gothenburg area.

Societal determinants of (youth) wellbeing – previous research

In regard of diminishing poverty and decrease socio-economic cleavages, the situation for children does not differ from the general situation of families. Previous research has convincingly shown that general social insurances is a major reason behind the relative success of the Nordic welfare states in reducing poverty and diminishing social-economic cleavages (Esping-Andersen 1990; Korpi, 2000; Unicef, 2007; Oxley, 2001, see also Gornick & Meyer, 2003; Kangas & Palme 2000; Ferrarini 2006; Luxembourg Income Studies, for example Skinner et al. Working paper LIS no 478; Chung & Muntaner, 2007; Lundberg et al. 2008).

Children´s physical health is to a considerable degree dependent on material conditions (Chung & Muntaner, 2007). Previous research searching for policy explanations behind variation, indicates that children´s health is improved by general social insurance systems. However, children´s health also seems to be improved in dual earner welfare state models characterized by the employment of women (Bäckman 2008; Chung & Muntaner, 2006; Haverman & Wolfe, 1995; Engster & Stensöta, 2009; Kamerman et al., 2003; Ruhm 2000; Tanaka 2005). There are however also studies arguing the opposite that children fare better at home than in child-care.

Further, there are studies arguing that good quality government, or impartial institutions, is crucial for general wellbeing (Rothstein & Uslaner, 2005; Rothstein & Teorell, 2008). Helliwell & Huang (2008) and also Putnam (2007) have argued that variations in people´s subjective wellbeing to a considerable extent can be explained by the quality of government, especially for the outputside of government that is the quality of the delivery of service.

In regard of determinants for decreasing psychic wellbeing a recent Swedish governmental report (SOU 2006:77) argues that difficulties for young people to enter the labor market as well as increased individualization, might be causing decreasing psychic wellbeing (SOU 2007). Jonsson and Östberg suggest, in line with this argument, that problematic social relations with parents and peers together with the demands of school might be two sources behind young peoples psychosomatic problems (2009. However, Bradshaw and Richardson (2009) argue on behalf of the UK case against the suggestion that broken families would be a reason behind the low wellbeing in the case of UK.

Preliminary theory – possible stories of mechanisms

* Inclusion increases wellbeing:

One point of departure is theories that stresses inclusion as a prerequisite for wellbeing.  I draw from the theories of Iris Marion Young (2000; 2006) and from theories of a political ethics of care (Tronto, 2010; White, 2001; Stensöta, 2010; 2004). I want to think about the inclusion of children and youth in society, as a process where the young person is integrated into communities of different levels: the family, the school and peers within a local context. I will examine four hypothesis related to inclusion:

– Inclusion increases through provision of care to satisfies needs that are defined in a deliberative process (Tronto, 1994; White, 2001)
– Inclusion increases through self governance of youth in specific areas (Ostrom, 1986)
– Inclusion increases through the vividness of civil society (Putnam, 1993)
– Inclusion increases through decreasing individualization (Inglehart, 1977). (Sweden is chartered as one of the most individualistic countries according to Inglehart).
– Inclusion basically rests on material provision and increases through the provision of work, or the expectation to find work after finishing school.


links to PDF documents

» H. Stensöta: De unga i välfärdsstaten, Ord och Bild 2011
» D. Engster, H. Stensöta: Do family Policy Regimes Matter for Childrens Well-Being?
» E. Nordlander, H Strensöta (2013): High achievement-girl and hillbilly-boy?