An article from NOVA - Norwegian Social Research

Social background is very important in determining what kind of life young people in Oslo lead. (Photo: Helena Landstedt, TT/NTB scanpix)

Major social differences between young people in Oslo

Young people from disadvantaged families in the capital of Norway have poorer mental health than others. They also have lower educational ambitions, exercise less, participate less in organised leisure activities, and are more often bullied.

NOVA - Norwegian Social Research

NOVA is a research institute under the auspices of the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. The aim of the institute is to develop knowledge and understanding of social conditions and processes of change. We focus on issues of life-course events, level of living conditions and aspects of life-quality as well as on programmes and services provided by the welfare system.

Oslo is nevertheless a good and safe place to grow up for the vast majority of the city's teenagers.

The majority have a good relationship with their parents and friends, enjoy school, are active outside school and are satisfied with their own health. The use of alcohol and drugs is at an all-time low, according to the findings from the survey Young in Oslo 2015.

Although the majority are doing well, there is considerable room for improvement in the quality of life of many young people in the city. This is particularly true for those who come from disadvantaged families and for girls with mental health problems.

Family background matters

‒ The results confirm the impression of a city with substantial social differences, says project manager Patrick Lie Andersen of NOVA Norwegian Social Research at the Oslo and Akershus University College.

Researcher Patrick Lie Andersen is the project manager for Young in Oslo 2015. He wrote the report together with Anders Bakken. (Photo: NOVA)

Youth from families with the least socio-economic resources have a more difficult childhood and adolescence than many other young people in Oslo. 

According to Andersen, young people in this group are less satisfied with their parents and the local community, and more of them lack a close friend than other young people in Oslo. They exercise less and participate less in organised leisure activities. At the same time, they have media habits that mean that they spend more time in front of a screen.

They also score lower than other young people on physical and mental health. They have the lowest level of satisfaction with their own health and the most physical health problems, fewer have a positive self-image, and many suffer from mental health problems. On the positive side, fewer people in this group drink alcohol than in other groups.

Teenagers from disadvantaged families are more at risk of bullying and violence, more involved in criminal activities and skip school more often than others.

New measures are needed

About Young in Oslo 2015

The purpose of the survey is to map different aspects of young people's everyday lives and their living conditions, and to look at changes over time by comparing findings with three previous Young in Oslo surveys (from 1996, 2006 and 2012).

The report summarises responses from more than 24,000 young people. The response rates are 86 per cent in lower secondary school and 72 per cent in upper secondary school.

In order to determine what social and financial resources young people have access to through their families, the researchers have prepared a measure of social background based on the 'sum' of the parents' level of education, whether they go on holiday, whether the respondents have their own bedroom, whether the family has a car etc. On this basis, the respondents were divided into three groups: people with few, medium and most socio-economic resources.

The survey uses question modules from Ungdata, which allows comparisons to be made between young people in Oslo and in the rest of the country. The City of Oslo commissioned the report.

‒ The survey Young in Oslo provides a good knowledge base, and the next step should be to carry out a more systematic investigation of why so many of these young people fare so badly and consider what measures can be implemented, Andersen points out.

‒ Since the differences between city districts and the social differences are so pronounced and stable, we need ask whether the services offered by the City of Oslo today are good enough for all groups.

Oslo youth focus on higher education

Most young people in Oslo plan to study at a university or university college, and the percentage who study is higher in Oslo than in the rest of Norway. A few more girls than boys expect to take higher education.

‒ Plans for higher education are closely linked to socio-economic background, Andersen says.

‒ Among the group with the lowest level of educational and financial resources in the family, 70 per cent expect to take higher education, while the figure is 86 per cent for the group with the highest level of family resources.

Immigrant background less important than social background

In many areas, young people from immigrant backgrounds are not very different from other young people in Oslo.

However, there are three areas where an immigrant background is highly significant:

Young people in Oslo from immigrant backgrounds use far less alcohol and drugs, and they spend more time on homework and less on exercise and organised leisure activities.

Mental health problems are increasing

Mental health problems are more prevalent among young people in Oslo than in the rest of the country. The proportion of girls who report a high level of depressive symptoms has almost doubled since 1996.

Young people from disadvantaged families suffer most. Of this group of teenagers, 20 per cent have depressive symptoms, while the same is true of 15 per cent of teenagers from the most advantaged families.

Girls experience much greater problems than boys in all age cohorts. However, the problems peak towards the end of upper secondary school, when about three in ten girls show signs of depressive symptoms. It is among young people of upper secondary school age that Oslo differs most from the rest of the country.

‒ The fact that more and more young girls are struggling with mental health problems is one of the most problematic findings from this survey, Andersen emphasises. – Mental health problems and stress can place significant limitations on young people's everyday lives.'

‒ We have to work harder to find good ways of preventing mental health problems. This should be a focus area in the years ahead, Andersen believes.

Read the Norwegian version of this article at

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