Many hold strong opinions about young adults – such as where they wish to live, what careers they aspire to, and their areas of concern. Barometer X takes these young people seriously and has inquired about their views.
The preferences, life situation and plans of young adults are in many ways the key to the future development of Norway’s regions and the country as a whole. That is why it is so important to understand where they want to live, what jobs they want to do and the things they care about. As we take young people seriously, we have asked them what they think.
Our survey includes questions on a range of topics. It covers ties to the region, the environment and sustainability, where people to choose to live, their work and education, health and quality of life, and discrimination. As well as presenting data from the survey, we have put the figures into a wider context using a rich variety of sources: statistics from other surveys and public registers, newspaper articles and reports.
Northern Norway is currently experiencing a growing challenge to maintain its population and secure access to workers, particularly in more rural municipalities. Nevertheless, our survey shows that people have strong ties to the region which have grown slightly over the past two years. Most people also believe that Northern Norway is a good place to live. They are very proud of the region’s natural environment, history, culture, music and sport, but also of its achievements in science and technology. In spite of this, one in four young adults is considering moving away from the region over the coming five years. A significant proportion expect to live in a bigger town after they move. Many young adults believe that their municipality/county should make more of an effort to involve local residents in important decisions. However, only a few are considering running for political office, whereas there is greater interest in participating in volunteering for NGOs and at cultural events. Overall, fewer people say they want to contribute by volunteering than in the previous two years.
Interest in environmentally friendly options has been on the up for many years, but the latest survey indicates a levelling off. One of the areas where people most support sustainable development is in their interest in locally produced food, although this has fallen slightly since last year. The cooling interest in green issues can also be seen in a decline in the number of people who prioritise eco-friendly travel options, and falling interest in green investment funds and sustainable shares. This is happening at a time when the EU taxonomy and other regulations are imposing ever-increasing demands on societies to be sustainable.
Recent years have put strain on people’s life situations and mental health, with the Covid-19 pandemic isolating them from interaction with colleagues, students and other people. This year’s survey reveals an improvement in both mental and physical health, with a significant increase in the number who are satisfied. Three quarters of young adults, who are often just starting a family and embarking on their careers, are also pleased that they have enough time to pursue their interests in their day-to-day lives.
After another year when prices rose faster than wages, and with several interest rate hikes hitting people with big loans particularly hard, almost three quarters of respondents expressed concern about their personal finances, with a significant proportion of them being very concerned. That number has risen over the past two years. Women are more worried than men, younger people are more concerned than older people, and the highest proportion of young adults who are worried is found in the biggest and smallest municipalities. Like last year, a quarter of young adults are worried they would be unable to cope with an unexpected expense without taking out a loan. In spite of the pressure on personal finances, almost 60 percent of young adults report saving in equity funds, which is not just an increase since last year, but also a record level. Men are more likely than women to save in equity funds, and the difference is even bigger when it comes to investing in individual shares.
When choosing a job, a good social environment is by some margin the most important criterion in this year’s survey, followed by being able to do work that interests you and earning the highest possible salary. It is only in fourth place that we find having a stable and secure job. The fact that having a stable and secure job is a lower priority than a few years ago may be due to exceptionally low unemployment. Men give greater priority than women to a high salary, doing a job that interests them and career prospects. Women are more likely than men to prioritise opportunities for lifelong learning, the social environment and having a secure job. Well over half of respondents partly or fully agree that Northern Norway offers good career prospects, and 80 percent of the students in the survey expect to get a relevant job in the region. That is higher than last year. Looking ahead at the coming ten years, 65 percent of respondents say they would like to take a further education course and/or develop their skills in other ways. That is slightly lower than last year. The majority of respondents would only embark on this if given financial support, and three quarters are willing to change job in order to develop their skills. In municipalities other than Tromsø/Bodø (centrality level 3), a clear majority prefer online courses to in-person ones.
Healthcare services, communications, educational opportunities, venues for socialising/leisure activities and measures to create jobs and encourage population growth are the things that young people rate as most important in terms of making somewhere an attractive place to live. Of the things that are important to people, but where they are least satisfied, communications stand out – particularly the high cost and long journey times for travelling outside the region, as well as public transport services. We should also mention the big gap between the importance respondents place on healthcare services, venues for socialising, encouraging population growth and educational opportunities, and their satisfaction with them.
Over 60 percent of young adults have experienced or witnessed discrimination over the past half year. That is slightly lower than last year and even further below the level two years ago. The most common reasons for discrimination were ethnic background/immigrant status, followed by gender and sexual orientation. For all of the above types of discrimination, the number of people observing them has fallen.
The survey shows that young people in the region are concerned about population trends. With respect to the declining birth rate, the reasons given are complex. Three of the main areas highlighted by the survey are: young people moving south, financial circumstances, and people prioritising their own job/career. Worries about the future and the difficulties of finding a big enough home are also mentioned by many people. In the free-form answers, it was also mentioned that career planning causes people to delay having children.
Regional ties, pride and community involvement in Northern Norway
Ties to Northern Norway in the light of global population trends
Many developed countries in Europe and elsewhere are facing challenging demographics, with low birth rates. This has put the spotlight on stimulating population growth, including measures to make places more attractive, particularly to young adults, who are both a mobile age group and the people who provide local communities with new generations of children. Where you cannot compete on the factors that attract people to major population centres, local residents’ sense of belonging and regional identity will influence a region’s ability to hold on to its population in an era when both people and the labour market are highly mobile.
Northern Norway is currently facing a rapidly growing challenge to maintain its population and secure access to workers. This issue was brought to the fore by the Norman committee’s report on demographics (NoU 2020:15). Moreover, the region has experienced an increasing concentration of its population as a result of internal migration from rural areas and small municipalities to the larger towns. The situation has been exacerbated in recent years by declining labour immigration during and after the pandemic, and the influx of refugees fleeing from wars, poverty and the expected impacts of climate change adds to the uncertain outlook.
Our survey shows that young adults have strong ties to Northern Norway.
Their bonds to the region are roughly as strong as their bonds to Norway, but considerably stronger than their bonds to the county and municipality where they live. While 52 percent of respondents say they have very strong ties to the region, 32 percent say they have strong ties. The equivalent figures for ties to Norway are 50 and 34 percent, respectively. As the proportion reporting strong ties to their county and municipality are lower than two years ago, whereas the proportion feeling ties to the region increased over that same period, it appears that the regional identity is more stable than any links to the county and municipality.
Percentage who feel very strong ties to Norway, Northern Norway, their county in Northern Norway and their municipality of residence.
One possible explanation for people having stronger ties to the region than to their county/municipality is that the general pattern of migration to bigger towns, with many respondents having moved away from their home municipality in order to work or study, for instance, means that people have weaker ties to the municipality where they currently live. For a long time there has also been another trend that may have diminished local ties, which is that a growing proportion of the population has an immigrant background, which may either apply to the young people themselves or to their parents. They have often had a limited amount of time to establish local ties, and their decision to emigrate to Norway may have been more related to Norway as a country than to the local community where they live. The survey data does not allow us to analyse this directly, but we do know that many immigrants move on out of the region to other parts of Norway, which could support this hypothesis.
We have also looked in more detail at whether the stronger regional identity, compared with perceived local ties, varies by age, sex, educational level and the type of municipality where you live. The data does allow us to do this. There are differences, but we did not find any big variations in the sense of belonging by any of these four factors. Perhaps the clearest difference relates to national identity, where a very high proportion of women, 95 percent, feel strong or very strong ties to Norway, as opposed to 75 percent of men.
Ties have a big influence on where people choose to live, and on the extent to which they return to their home municipality or region after studying or in order to start a family. 71 percent of respondents with strong or very strong ties to the region believe that they will still be living there in five years. Only 42 percent of those with few or no ties say the same.
Community involvement and trust in politicians
Residents’ perceptions of democracy, community involvement and trust in politics have really moved up the agenda in recent years. That has led to strong feelings in the region, particularly with respect to the debate and decisions about merging and splitting up counties and municipalities. One of the key topics of debate was how merging municipalities and counties would affect community involvement and the distance between residents and politicians. And most recently the question of trust in politicians has come under the spotlight after revelations and media stories suggesting leading politicians should have been disqualified from appointing certain people to important public positions and involving politicians and their related parties owning and trading shares.
In spite of this backdrop, a clear majority of young adults believe that politicians do act in the best interests of residents.
51 percent agree or strongly agree that they do, whereas 26 and 5 percent respectively partly or fully disagree. With only a small proportion remaining neutral, there are signs that opinions are becoming somewhat polarised in this area. The results are slightly more positive than in the surveys last year and the previous year. People with a higher education have the highest levels of trust in municipal/county politicians acting in the best interests of residents, but women also have more trust than men. The differences between age groups and between rural and urban municipalities are smaller.
Percentage of respondents who agree that the county/municipality where they live acts in the best interests of its residents.
The results are less good when it comes to involving service users. 29 percent of respondents partly or fully agree that the municipality takes suggestions from residents into account when making important decisions, whereas as many as 52 percent partly or fully disagree. The worst results of all came in response to the question of whether young adults believed that their county/home municipality works actively to improve user involvement. Only 25 percent agreed partly or fully with this, whereas 50 percent disagreed that they are working to improve in this area. For both of these questions, the respondents’ views were roughly unchanged from the previous two years.
Percentage of respondents who agree that the county/municipality where they live is working to increase resident involvement in important decisions.
In spite of the mixed opinions about politicians and the work they do, by European standards Norway and Northern Norway have very high levels of trust in politicians, the police and the legal system. This can be seen from the results of the European Social Survey. That isn’t a new phenomenon: Norway and the other Nordic countries have a long history of being amongst the European countries with the highest levels of trust in their institutions (Kleven, 2016).
Young adults’ interests and life situations vary considerably, which is reflected in which local activities they are able and want to involve themselves in. Over the past three years, a change can be observed in the overall level of interest in the activities we have asked about, but there is greater stability in the areas where they participate and can imagine contributing to the development of their local community.
What stands out is that almost everyone, 86 percent, votes or would consider voting in elections.
Since young people’s turnout at local elections has been significantly lower than this, at around 50 percent, there is a substantial gap between their good intentions and their actual participation in the democratic process. The high number wanting to vote in elections is independent of sex, age, urban/rural municipality and educational level.
Apart from voting, the highest level of interest is in getting involved through NGOs, at 33 percent. When asked whether they are members of an NGO or would consider joining one, and whether they have volunteered or would consider volunteering at cultural events, 27-28 say yes to each of those questions. For volunteering at cultural events, this is lower than last year, when 37 responded in the affirmative. Women are once again more likely than men to volunteer at cultural events and through NGOs. In the most remote municipalities, significantly more people participate or would consider doing so, through NGOs, by volunteering at cultural events and by being active members of an organisation.
Norway has a voluntary sector that generates a large amount of added value. Figures for 2021-2023 from the Association of NGOs in Norway show that 55, 58 and 62 percent of people, respectively, had taken part in voluntary work over the past twelve months. Before the pandemic, the figure was even higher, with 66 percent of people saying they had done so in 2020. According to the report, many people have been prevented from participating by the pandemic, but they want to contribute when the opportunity arises. The most recent figures suggest that volunteering has recovered somewhat but is still at lower levels than before the pandemic.
In general, people are less likely to participate in areas that involve politics and expressing opinions than in other areas that contribute to local development. The exception to this is the proportion willing to influence developments by “Boycotting products or companies”, which 25 percent say they would do. That is also higher than the equivalent number last year.
However, respondents appear to have a higher threshold for taking part in activities that require greater commitment or that could be controversial. Very few say they want to write letters to the editor or express their opinions on social media, while slightly more say they would participate in demonstrations or take on political office. One reason for this may be that people who participate in the public debate often end up on the receiving end of hate speech. A 2018 report shows that nine percent of all comments investigated on the Facebook pages of the TV channels NRK and TV2 contained hate speech. This puts many people off taking part in the debate.
Compared with the two previous years, the data suggest that over that period there has been a general decline in levels of participation and willingness to participate in several of the areas that affect the development of local communities.
Percentage who have helped develop their local community, or are considering doing so, by…
There is strong agreement that Northern Norway is a good place to live. A solid 80 percent partly/fully agree with that statement, with 48 percent being fully and 32 percent being partly in agreement. Only ten percent partly/fully disagree. Once again this year, slightly more women (86 percent) than men (78 percent) partly/fully agree that Northern Norway is a good place to live, and slightly more people with a higher education (83 percent) than without one (78 percent) partly/fully agree. Compared with past surveys, there is a higher level of satisfaction than in the two previous years, both in terms of more people saying they fully agree and fewer being dissatisfied with living in Northern Norway. Unsurprisingly, a majority of the latter group, 73 percent, believe that they will have moved away from the region within five years.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements about living in Northern Norway?
Both in travelogues written by foreign visitors and in literature, Northern Norway’s natural environment and history is presented as beautiful and exotic, and in a way that engenders pride. This includes stories of people settling and overcoming the harsh environment, and managing to create great wealth, particularly from minerals, hydroelectric power and coastal industries. The growing recognition of the importance of fish exports from Northern Norway to the economy at the time when the Norwegian state was created, and the role of Northern Norway during World War Two, are particular sources of pride. An overwhelming 96 percent of respondents are also somewhat or very proud of Northern Norway’s natural environment. The proportion who are very proud is 89 percent, and only one percent are not proud. Almost as many people are somewhat/very proud of the region’s history, but the proportion who are very proud is 47 percent and seven percent are not proud of it. It is the 18-24-year-olds, the youngest age bracket that we survey, who are most proud of its history. Both in the case of the region’s natural environment and history, the levels of pride are similar to last year’s survey.
Music and entertainment is ranked third highest in terms of what people are proud of. 25 percent report being very proud of Northern Norwegian music and entertainment, while 44 percent are somewhat proud. Those levels are around the same as last year. Northern Norway’s cultural scene has blossomed in recent years, with the schools of the arts, and music and drama courses, playing an important role. More people are studying music and drama at university college/university level and taking it up as a profession. Performers from Northern Norway are gaining greater exposure through TV productions and competitions, concerts and festivals, and online streaming, and they are winning prizes.
There is less interest in art and literature, with a plurality of people (36 percent) saying they are somewhat proud, while the proportion who are very proud is 11 percent and a substantial 29 percent have no opinion.
Women are prouder of Northern Norway’s art and culture than men, those in the 25-34 age bracket are prouder than 18-24-year-olds, young adults in small towns and rural municipalities are prouder than their counterparts in the biggest towns, and people with a higher education are prouder that those without one.
Sport is one of the areas that many people are proud of (61 percent), and where a high proportion of all respondents (29 percent) also say they are very proud. The youngest age groups, 18-24 and 25-29-year-olds, as well as men, are most proud of Northern Norway’s sporting achievements. The popularity of sport, which was even higher in 2023 than last year, may reflect the fact that in a major sport like football, two teams from Northern Norway are at the top of the domestic league.
“Achievements in science and technology” and “Promoting sustainability” have tended to be roughly half way down the list of things that people are proud of in Northern Norway, but pride in the region’s achievements in science and technology has risen. 59 percent of respondents are now somewhat/very proud of this area. In this case, the biggest towns (centrality levels 3 and 4) are most positive.
Northern Norway’s economy is slightly below half way down the list of the things respondents say they are proud of. A modest 44 percent say that they are somewhat or very proud of this, which is roughly unchanged since last year. This is in spite of the fact that a number of industries are performing strongly, economic growth has been higher in the region than in Norway as a whole over the past decade and unemployment has been low. One of the big challenges is the tight labour market, where it has become more difficult to recruit the key workers needed to generate economic growth in the private sector from overseas. The lack of access to electric power for new businesses, partly due to environmental and climate-related restrictions, and conflicts of interest over developing new areas, may mean we should temper our optimism about Northern Norway’s economic prospects.
The area where fewest people say they are proud of Northern Norway is its political influence and influence on public debate.
Although it is an improvement over last year’s survey, only five percent of people said they are very proud of Northern Norway’s political influence, and four percent are proud of its influence on public debate. Admittedly, around 25 percent say that they are somewhat proud of these aspects of the region, but almost half of respondents say that they are not at all or not very proud of Northern Norway’s achievements in these areas. Northern Norway is far away from the Norwegian parliament, and on lists of Norway’s most powerful people, there are barely any northerners.
In summary, people are prouder of Northern Norway than last year in around half of the areas we asked about, while in the rest the situation is roughly unchanged. The biggest positive changes are in the areas of political influence, influence on public debate, science and technology and sporting achievements, as well as in art and culture. Several of these areas are the ones that people were least proud of to start with.
Percentage who are somewhat or very proud of Northern Norway’s…
Attitudes towards sustainable good and services
The heat waves, forest fires, landslides and floods of recent years have brought the forecast impacts of climate change into sharp relief. The IPCC expects temperatures in the Arctic to rise twice as fast as the global average. Climate change will alter precipitation patters and cause longer droughts.
This will also affect global food production. In the north, the impacts include shorter winters, and in recent years higher sea temperatures have meant the cod arrive later and are increasingly caught further north. In the case of farmers in the north, grass production has suffered from alternating drought and excessive rainfall.
Ocean plastic is another frightening development that is contaminating and affecting the whole food chain and our access to healthy food. One of the areas where Norway has made a big effort is in the transport sector, where it aims for all new car sales to be electric from 2025, whereas planned investments in wind power are facing growing resistance.
There has been growing interest in environmentally friendly options for a number of years. Countries have set themselves ambitious goals of reducing CO2
emissions, and for a long time young people have been going on climate strikes because measures are being introduced too slowly. But the survey suggests a more nuanced picture of how opinions are changing, with interest levelling off in some areas and falling slightly in others.
At this year’s school elections, held at the same time as the municipal and county elections, it was not the typical “green” parties that did best, which led to discussions about whether environmental issues have lost some of their momentum amongst a section of young people. This has occurred in parallel with contentious cases over the past year where projects related to the green energy transition, such as wind farms, have come into conflict with nature conservation and protected areas, complicating the situation and making it more difficult to choose between conflicting green priorities.
One of the areas where people most support sustainable development is in their interest in locally produced food. Our figures show that 67 percent of respondents consider this important, although that is down from 72 percent in last year’s survey. This can be seen in the context of figures for the sale of local food at grocery stores, which had been rising year after year, but which fell by five percent in 2022. There may also be other explanations for the decline in this case, such as challenges relating to distribution to grocery stores, but the trend is the same. We know from several surveys that when people are feeling the pinch, they often have to choose grocery stores’ “bargain products”. One positive thing was that the decline in the sale of local food was less pronounced in Northern Norway than elsewhere in the country.
Another possible indication that interest is levelling off is that in this year’s survey 44 percent of the young people say they want to travel in a way that is eco-friendly. That is lower than last year (47 percent) and even further below two years ago, when 51 percent said that they wanted to do this.
Interest in green investment funds and sustainable shares has fallen since last year.
44 percent of people think that green funds are somewhat or very important, while 41 percent consider that to be true of sustainable shares. The equivalent figures last year were 50 and 45 percent, respectively.
The EU, various countries outside the EU, financial institutions, etc. are introducing increasing numbers of guidelines and requirements for businesses and nations with respect to what they must do to meet sustainable development goals. The EU taxonomy is one of the tools being used to achieve this.
The taxonomy is a classification system – Regulation (EU) 2020/852 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2020 – that establishes a framework to facilitate sustainable investment. The classification system is meant to help the EU become climate-neutral by 2050, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the EU’s climate and environmental objectives and the Paris Agreement. This is impacting a growing number of areas of society; for instance it is being referenced in the requirements in tender documents and for funding investments, as well as in various other contexts such as “green loans” granted on better-than-normal terms.
Interest in green loans has fallen sharply since last year. Only 30 percent of respondents think green loans are somewhat or very important, whereas last year 42 percent thought so. In order for the EU taxonomy to be effective and facilitate more investments meeting stringent sustainability goals, businesses, public sector entities and households need to be aware of green incentives and guidelines. Various surveys, including the Expectations Barometer for Northern Norway (2022 and spring 2023) reveal that there was not much awareness of the EU taxonomy, or indeed of green loans, and that the financial benefits were insufficient for it to be worth meeting the criteria in order to obtain financing on slightly better terms.
In almost all of the areas that we asked about, there are considerable differences between the sexes in how much importance they place on sustainable development.
Women are more likely than men to believe that sustainable financial investments (green investment funds and shares) and loans, locally produced food and eco-friendly travel are important. The smallest difference is for locally produced food, which both women and men consider highly important. Another aspect is that there are many more women who have no view at all on shares, funds and loans. That appears to reflect the fact that men in general invest more in shares and investment funds, whereas women more often put their money into a bank account. 28 and 32 percent of the women in the survey have no opinion on green investment funds and shares, respectively, while only 15 and 18 percent of men have no view on the importance of these types of investment. These notable differences were also apparent in last year’s survey.
Percentage who believe that the following products and services are somewhat or very important.
In recent times, Norway has been a peaceful, stable and wealthy haven in the north, far removed from the world’s biggest crises. Potential risks relating to climate change have “flashed red” in the distant future, while financial crises, oil price crises etc. have passed. Supported by a robust welfare state, residents have had reason to feel more secure than people in most parts of the world.
At the start of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic led to extremely stringent restrictions on the permitted activities and mobility of the population and companies in order to slow the spread of infection. The news was full of stories about children and adults who were cut off from social contact, putting strain on their mental and physical health. Physical health came under strain as a result of gyms being closed and the many limitations on training in groups and competitive activities. Statistics Norway’s qualify of life survey (2021)
showed that Norwegians became less satisfied with their lives during the pandemic.
After the most severe impacts of the pandemic were over, the war in Ukraine started in February 2022, generating fear that it would spread and that it might lead to nuclear war. Several million refugees poured into other European countries. So how did important aspects of the health of young adults change from before the war until shortly after the war started? Statistics Norway’s quality of life survey (2022)
showed only small changes from the previous year. The centrality level of the municipality in which people lived had no impact on their satisfaction with life, and people in Northern Norway were just as satisfied as people elsewhere. There were only small differences between the sexes, but a higher proportion of women than men expressed dissatisfaction with their physical health. Men were also slightly less satisfied than women with their social relationships. The 18-24 age bracket, and to some extent 25-44-year-olds, were least satisfied with life in general, and pensioners, particularly in the age bracket 67-79, were most satisfied by some distance. Young adults aged 18-24 stood out in terms of their low satisfaction with their mental health and sense of purpose in life.
By the time of last year’s survey of young adults, in the autumn of 2022, many things were back to normal in terms of Covid-19 after over two years with the virus, but in the meantime the world, including Norway, had also had to face the impacts of the war in Ukraine, which had by then been going on for half a year, and whose duration and outcome were still very uncertain. In terms of overall satisfaction with life, 30 percent of respondents to that survey said they were satisfied or very satisfied, while 21 were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. Around half were moderately satisfied with their lives. That meant slightly more people were satisfied or very satisfied with life, and fewer were dissatisfied, than the previous year, when the pandemic was still having a bigger impact on the country. In terms of physical and mental health, two thirds of respondents answered that they were satisfied or very satisfied, roughly in line with the previous year, but slightly more were satisfied with their mental health. Men, people with a higher education and the eldest respondents were most satisfied with their health.
By the time of this year’s survey in the autumn of 2023, people had endured yet another year of uncertainty about the global political situation. The influx of refugees is affecting an ever growing number of Norwegian municipalities, which are having to cope with the financial impacts, provide more housing and increase the capacity of municipal services. The loss of manufacturing capacity in Ukraine, the boycott of Russian businesses and disruptions to transport corridors has led to further price increases and shortages and delivery delays affecting goods and commodities around the world. When Russian oil and gas supplies were halted and boycotted, it resulted in a dramatic increase in energy prices, particularly during the winter, while interest rates and prices in general have risen faster than wages. It remains uncertain how the situation will develop over the coming winter. The war now appears likely to last longer than previously assumed. Even though the war began before the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic were completely over, the war has disrupted the day-to-day lives of people in Norway less than the periods when the country was almost completely locked down during the pandemic.
Against that backdrop, this year’s results show that 74 percent of young adults are satisfied or very satisfied with their physical health, while 25 percent are not very satisfied or dissatisfied with their health. That is quite a clear improvement, with more people satisfied and fewer dissatisfied. The equivalent figures last year were 66 percent satisfied/very satisfied and 35 percent not very satisfied/dissatisfied.
Percentage who are satisfied or very satisfied with their physical health.
With respect to mental health, 75 percent of respondents this year stated that they were satisfied or very satisfied, while 24 percent were not very satisfied or dissatisfied. Once again this is an improvement, with both more people being satisfied and fewer being dissatisfied than the previous year. Last year, 67 percent said they were satisfied/very satisfied, whereas 33 percent were not very satisfied/dissatisfied.
In long-running surveys, Statistics Norway and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have asked students about their health and quality of life, and the results show that rising numbers are suffering from a poor quality of life, mental health problems and loneliness. The situation has been particularly problematic during the pandemic, with student life being hit hard and less social interaction. Is it possible that this year’s survey of young adults in Northern Norway marks a turning point in the negative trend?
Percentage who are satisfied or very satisfied with their mental health.
The term young adults covers various age groups, with the younger 18-24-year-olds being more likely to be studying, and less likely to have a steady partner, while the 25-29 and 30-34 age brackets are more often beginning to settle down, including being in a steady relationship, having young children and owning a home.
How do they experience the time pressures of trying to fit everything they have to do into the day and still have time for the things they enjoy? In terms of this, 68 percent respond that they are satisfied or very satisfied, while 24 percent are not very satisfied and 7 percent are dissatisfied. A comparison between different groups shows that there are small only small variations between the sexes, age groups and types of municipality of residence. However, a higher proportion of those with a higher education say they are satisfied with the amount of time they have to do the things they enjoy.
Percentage who are satisfied with their lives in terms of having time to do the things they enjoy.
Personal finances in a turbulent time
Widespread concerns about personal finances
Disruptions to global supply chains, with shortages and delivery delays affecting commodities and goods, have led to high inflation in recent years. The weakening of the Norwegian krone has also made imported goods and services even more expensive. In spite of a tight labour market with significant wage increases, wages have fallen in real terms over the past few years, since prices, including energy prices, have risen faster than household incomes. High debt levels, and frequent interest rate rises, combined with a decline in real wages, make for tighter household finances. This raises the question of whether people, and young adults in particular, have their personal finances under control and are able to repay their loans. Concerns about the future are evident in the rapid slowdown in major purchases like new cars and the number of houses under construction falling to its lowest level in ten years. A new report by SIFO (September 2023) reveals that more people are experiencing financial difficulties and are having to cut their expenditure on basic necessities.
In our survey, when asked how concerned they were about their personal finances, 72 percent of young adults responded that they were somewhat or very concerned, with ten percent being very concerned. Last year, the equivalent figures were 68 percent and 12 percent, while two years ago, they were 63 percent and 8 percent. Our figures confirm that an ever growing number of young adults in Northern Norway are concerned about their personal finances, which matches the general trend in Norway. Women are more concerned than men (77 vs. 68 percent), and the younger people are, the greater the concern. When municipalities are grouped by their centrality level, concern is greatest in the ones in level 3 (Bodø/Tromsø) and 5 (the smallest urban municipalities, typically with under 10,000 inhabitants). For municipalities in level 3, high house prices may be a factor, while in the smallest towns the cause may be uncertainty surrounding jobs and the loss of urban functions and services to bigger towns and regional capitals.
Percentage of respondents who are concerned about their personal finances.
When asked whether they could cope with an unexpected expense without taking out a loan/credit facility, 64 percent say that they would manage without taking out a loan, while 24 percent would probably not manage. Those are the same proportions as last year. There is no difference between men and women, while the younger age groups are slightly less likely than the older ones to say they can cope with an unexpected expense without taking out a loan. There is no difference between types of municipalities, while people with a high education level are more likely than other groups to believe they could cope with an unforeseen expense without having to take out a loan.
Savings and financial investments
Like last year, almost half of all Norwegians (48 percent) are saving in equity funds. That is the highest level since the Norwegian Fund and Asset Management Association (VFF) started its surveys in 2001. And the proportion of 18-30-year-olds saving in equity funds has never before been as high as in 2023. 53 percent of people in this age group are investing in these funds, and the figure is similar for the 30-40 age bracket. “Bearing in mind that interest rate rises and higher prices are reducing the ability of households to save, the results of this year’s survey are, perhaps, a little surprising” comments VFF. Its explanation for the proportion of young people putting money into equity funds continuing to rise is that a growing number of people may have understood that it is smart to start saving early. Of those who invest in equity funds, a significantly higher proportion of women than men have monthly savings plans, while a higher proportion of men say they invest when the timing is good, or when they have extra money available.
In response to our survey, 59 percent of young adults say they already have money in equity funds, which is slightly higher than last year’s 56 percent. A further 21 percent plan to start investing in equity funds over the coming five years. Fewer people invest in shares than in funds, which is perhaps natural, as it is seen as both more challenging to research individual shares and a riskier investment. 41 percent of respondents own shares, which is a slight increase from last year.
Percentage of men and women who have invested, or plan to invest, in equity funds.
Amongst young adults, slightly more men than women have money in funds, but the difference is considerably bigger when it comes to investments in shares, which are owned by 52 percent of men and 30 percent of women. The older people in the survey were most likely to have invested in funds and shares. In the 30-34 age bracket, 68 percent have money in funds and 55 percent in shares, whereas in the 18-24 age bracket the proportions are a good 20 percentage points lower in both cases. The figures also reveal that people with a higher education are more likely to save in funds than other groups, but not in shares. We found no differences in these forms of saving between municipalities grouped by their centrality level.
Percentage of men and women who have invested, or plan to invest, in shares.
With respect to other forms of saving than funds and shares, most people have a savings account (86 percent), while 73 percent have a young people’s housing savings (BSU) account.
Education and work
Once again in this year’s survey, the biggest group of respondents are those in paid work (71 percent), with 68 percent being employees and 3 percent being self-employed. 22 percent are students, and 2 percent are apprentices. The rest are outside the labour market for various reasons or prefer not to answer.
Of those who are studying, including apprentices, 80 percent believe that they will find a relevant job in the region after completing their studies. The equivalent figure last year was 77 percent, while in 2021, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, only 62 percent expected to find a relevant job in the region. The fact that expectations of finding a relevant job rose again in 2023 suggests a further improvement in the labour market for students, as well as perhaps a tighter labour market for employers.
Male and female students have the same expectations of finding a relevant job, whereas last year more female than male students expected to find one. It is hard to say whether this reflects differing trends in the labour market for traditionally female- and male-dominated occupations or just random short-term fluctuations. Around half of the students in the survey were taking a higher education and the other half were in upper secondary education/studying for a trade certificate. Both of these education levels prepare people for occupations with major labour shortages in Northern Norway, such as tradespeople with vocational training and healthcare professionals with a higher education, with men being overrepresented in the former category and women in the latter.
Percentage of male and female students (including apprentices), who believe they will find a relevant job in Northern Norway after completing their studies.
Of the respondents who are working, 45 percent expect to change employer over the next two years.
Being a good place to live is important to attracting people to the region, but good job opportunities and career development prospects often determine where people choose to live. With respect to that, 56 percent agree that Northern Norway offers good career opportunities, an increase from 51 percent last year, and there are marginally more women than men who think this. Nevertheless, significantly fewer people are positive about their career prospects than the proportion who agree that the region is a good place to live. 26 percent of respondents completely disagree with the statement that there are good career opportunities in Northern Norway.
More men than women believe that career opportunities are lacking in the north of the country. That may be related to the fact that more men work in the private sector, and that there are many jobs requiring a higher education in the public sector, where many women work. Apart from that, it is the eldest respondents and those living in the biggest towns who are most likely to disagree with there being good career opportunities in Northern Norway.
Percentage of women and men who believe that working in Northern Norway provides good career opportunities.
An interesting job and good social environment are the top priorities when choosing a job
When we ask in the survey what people’s most important criteria are when choosing a job, we are very well aware that this depends on the individual’s circumstances in life, such as their finances, qualifications, the strength of the labour market and the social safety net. If global and local conditions have changed a lot, will we also start to see people change their priorities? In the survey, we ask the young adults to choose a maximum of 3 out of a total of 14 criteria that are potentially important when choosing a job. Over the past two or three years, everyone has suffered the impacts of global events such as the pandemic, war and inflation – is that reflected in the survey results?
Two years ago, 44 percent of the survey’s respondents included having a stable and secure job as one of their three most important criteria. This put it in second position amongst the 14 criteria. Last year, when the labour market and business environment had improved quite a lot after the pandemic, having a secure job fell to fourth place, below criteria such as a good working environment and having an interesting job.
This year’s survey confirms many of those trends. The position of most of the criteria for choosing a job remains stable in terms of how important or otherwise they are considered. Well clear at the top in this year’s survey is a good social environment, followed by doing work that interests you and earning the highest possible salary. It is only in a relatively clear fourth place that we find having a stable and secure job. The percentage of respondents who chose these criteria were 54 percent for a good social environment, 45 percent for doing work that interests you, 42 percent for earning the highest possible salary and 35 percent for having a stable and secure job. The fact that wellbeing and having an interesting job are ranked so highly suggests that most young people consider salaries to be acceptable and take it for granted that they will have a job in the future, as well as trusting that the country provides a good “safety net” if you become sick or unemployed. The sense of job security is supported by the low unemployment in 2023, with the counties of Northern Norway having the very lowest unemployment, with just 1.3-1.5 percent being completely unemployed over the whole year leading up to the time of the survey. That represents a completely different labour market than in the period after the pandemic, which made thousands of people suddenly redundant and created job insecurity.
Given moderate priority, half way down the list of criteria, we find good career opportunities, having good managers, having a flexible workplace and working hours, opportunities for lifelong learning/professional development and having a workplace close to where you live. Only ten percent of people of both sexes put good pension and insurance schemes in their most important criteria.
Men give considerably more importance to earning the highest possible salary, and somewhat more importance to doing a job that interests them and, to a lesser extent, good career opportunities. Women give higher priority to good opportunities for lifelong learning/professional development, as well as to a good social environment and, to a lesser extent, having a stable and secure job. The people with the highest level of education have job security as a very low priority; their priorities are good career prospects and being able to do a job that interests them. People without a higher education place considerably more importance on having a stable and secure job, but also on earning as much as possible.
Once again this year, diversity, sustainability and status are low on the list of priorities. That does not mean that these criteria are of no importance to the respondents, but they are a lower priority than other criteria when individual respondents can only select what they consider to be the three most important criteria.
Most important criteria when choosing a job (a maximum of three can be selected).
Looking at the coming ten years, 65 percent of respondents say that they would like to take a further education course and/or raise their skills in other ways, 20 percent say they have no such plans and 16 percent have no opinion. This represents a decline from the previous two years, and is closer to the levels seen in 2020. Significantly more women than men, 77 percent compared with 54 percent, want to take further and continuing education. People with a higher education are more interested in further/continuing education, but there is little difference between age groups. With respect to type of municipality, it is only the ones in centrality level 6 that differ slightly from the rest, having a lower interest in further education.
Of the people who respond that they want to do further education/raise their skills, well over half are willing to move in order to do so and 73 percent are willing to change jobs for the sake of their development.
A high proportion, 72 percent, would only go ahead if there were financial support to prevent it hurting their personal finances. A similar number would only want to take a further education in the specialist area of their choice, while half would consider getting qualifications outside the sector where they currently work.
Distances are big in Northern Norway. Many respondents, particularly in the smallest municipalities, would have to travel a long way to take a further education at an educational institution in a bigger town, unless they can develop their skills in some other way, such as through internal training at their workplace. 44 percent say that they would prefer online learning to in-person tuition at the institution in question. The top age bracket, the 30-34-year-olds, are notably more positive towards this than younger people, while in the towns in centrality level 3, which are Tromsø/Bodø, a significantly lower proportion would prefer online to in-person courses. This shows how decentralised training provision, consisting in whole or in part of digital platforms, gives more people access to lifelong learning. Above all, it is absolutely essential for young adults with families who live in rural municipalities.
Percentage who partly or fully agree with the following statements.
Where young people live
The biggest challenge for Northern Norway is its demographics. With net emigration and a low birth rate, the population outlook is not sustainable in terms of providing the labour force needed for economic growth and the public sector’s provision of welfare services. This is happening in spite of the survey showing that there is a strong regional identity and that people have a strong desire to live in Northern Norway. Looking ahead, the central scenario in Statistics Norway’s population projection, MMMM, sees an annual decline of around one percent over the coming decade for the age group covered by our survey.
Of the young adults in our survey, 67 percent say that they expect to remain resident in Northern Norway for the next five years. That figure is unchanged from the previous two years, but notably lower than in 2020. It comprises two separate groups, with 49 percent expecting to live in the same municipality as they currently do, and 18 percent expecting to move to another municipality within Northern Norway.
At 27 percent, the proportion expecting to move out of the region is quite high and includes a small number who are thinking of moving abroad. By age group, the expectation that they will move out of the region is highest, by some margin, amongst 18-24-year-olds. The oldest age group in the survey is most settled. This group is more likely to have finished their studies, and to have a job, family and their own home. By municipality type, expectations of leaving the region are highest in the municipalities in centrality level 3, Tromsø and Bodø, where 36 percent expect to leave, while they are lowest in the urban municipalities in level 2, which typically have 10,000-30,000 inhabitants, where 18 percent of respondents expect to leave the region within the next five years. We found no difference between men and women, or between people with/without a higher education, in terms of how many expect to move out of the region.
Where do you expect to live for the next 5 years: in the municipality where you currently live, or do you plan to move somewhere else?
Independently of whether or not respondents expected to remain in the same municipality, or move within or away from the region, we asked them whether they would live in a municipality with more or fewer inhabitants in the future. Their responses provide a clear indication that the population will continue to be concentrated in bigger towns over the coming years. 38 percent of the young adults in the region expect to live in a municipality with a higher population than their current one, while only half as many, 17 percent, expect to live in a municipality with a lower population. One third think they will continue to live in a municipality of around the same size.
What is the population of the municipality where you expect to live in 5 years?
Knowing what is important in the lives of the generation of young adults – who provide local communities with their workforce, expertise and a new generation of children – is vital in order to develop places that are attractive to live. For young adults to consider somewhere a good place to live, it needs to offer many services and activities. Access to some services and types of infrastructure is considered absolutely essential, and these days young people also demand high quality services. These are issues that we have investigated. We also know that being close to family is an important factor in determining where people choose to live, which it is difficult to do anything about, but it can be compensated for by facilitating good social networks for young adults who are ready to settle down.
Health services are most important of all, just like last year. 76 percent consider this to be very important, and 20 percent quite important. Both primary and specialist healthcare providers are struggling to recruit qualified healthcare workers, which has left many of them short of qualified healthcare personnel like GPs, nurses, etc. Within specialist healthcare provision, financial pressures and shortages of various specialist services are leading to struggles over the hospital structure and over retaining acute care services, maternity wards, various types of surgical specialities and intensive care services. This is going to lead to a number of battles within Helgeland, Lofoten/Vesterålen, Narvik/Harstad, Tromsø/Bodø and in Finnmark. The common denominator is plans to concentrate acute care, resource-intensive urgent and emergency care and highly specialised services in fewer locations.
Ranked by what people consider most important, healthcare services are followed by travel costs to other parts of Norway and abroad, which occupy a clear second place, followed by journey times to other parts of the country and abroad, venues for socialising and leisure activities, but also measures to promote population growth and to create more jobs. These factors, as well as many others, are all important aspects of local communities.
Which services and opportunities is it important or very important to have where you live?
We also compared what is important to people with how satisfied they are with the various services available where they live. The biggest gap is between the importance people place on moderate travel costs and their dissatisfaction with the current high travel costs, putting it at the top of the list of things that young people in Northern Norway want to see improved. Other areas where there is a big gap between the importance of the service and people’s satisfaction with what is on offer where they live include healthcare services, journey times to other parts of the country, venues for socialising, measures to promote population growth, public transport services, sustainable jobs, leisure activities and educational opportunities. The importance of journey times to where people choose to live is an issue in many regions and industries, including in the Norwegian Armed Forces, which employs 2,000 long-distance commuters, many of them in Northern Norway. One important factor is that many people want to be close their families. The same applies to workers in the servicing and supply industries and petroleum sector in Northern Norway (Nilsen & Karlstad, 2019, Eikeland & Karlstad et al. 2009).
There are big differences in satisfaction levels with the various services amongst young people, for example with respect to healthcare services, where people living in municipalities in centrality level 3 (Tromsø/Bodø) are much more satisfied than other people. There are also a number of areas where people in the most rural municipalities, particularly those in centrality level 6, are most dissatisfied. This is particularly true of journey times to other regions/other parts of Norway, public transport services, measures to promote population growth, venues for socialising and educational opportunities, but also applies to road infrastructure and sustainable jobs. One area where all of the groups of young people covered by the survey are very dissatisfied, regardless of where they live and their sex, age and educational level, is travel costs for long journeys.
Which services do young adults consider important/very important and to what extent are they satisfied/very satisfied with the provision of those services where they live?
The housing market has been particularly hit by high inflation and uncertainty over people’s personal finances. Housebuilding has ground to a halt, and after many years of steadily rising house prices the situation has changed considerably. Inflation and interest rate rises have left their mark, and in the autumn of 2023 house prices are falling, and people in Northern Norway are also struggling to sell their houses. Many housing projects have been put on hold, and in several areas there are housing shortages, partly on account of the steady influx of refugees in recent years, which means municipalities are hoovering up rental units. However, the situation varies between places and from year to year, even within Northern Norway, and recent trends have been slightly less negative in Northern Norway than elsewhere.
People who are already on the “housing ladder” are in a better situation, provided that rising interest rates do not force them to sell. In Norway, there is more of a tradition of home ownership than in other countries, and 82 percent of people were owner-occupiers in 2021. The proportion of people who rent has been rising slightly. That may be because high house prices and greater inequality are making it more difficult to get on the housing ladder.
Our survey is of young adults, the group who are least likely to be owner occupiers. Many are students, have recently moved somewhere new or haven’t saved up enough equity to buy their own home. The first-time buyer index shows that fewer and fewer homes are available within the budget of a typical first-time buyer. When the threshold for owning your own home becomes higher, the number of people unable to get on the housing ladder rises. Most first-time buyers purchase a home with someone else. Across Norway, this applies to around 60 percent of people. One consequence of the strain on people’s finances may be the trend we have seen since the start of 2022, when there was a clear upturn in the proportion of buyers opting for co-ownership in tandem with rising house prices, and the proportion doing this has remained high and risen further as of the latest report in mid-2023.
Of the respondents in our survey, 45 percent own their own home. 36 percent rent privately or live in student accommodation, while 14 percent still live at home with their parents. Since last year, the number living with their parents has risen, which may be due to tighter finances. There was also an increase in young people living at home with their parents at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which may have been due to educational institutions doing more of their teaching online.
What is your current housing situation?
Of the people who own their home, 57 percent live in a detached house, 10 percent in a terraced house and the rest in a flat. There are big differences between towns and rural areas. In the two biggest towns, Tromsø and Bodø, 59 percent state that they live in a flat, compared with 10 percent in the most remote municipalities (levels 5 and 6). There are also big differences between the age groups, with the proportion living in a detached house rising sharply with age. Almost 70 percent of 30-34-year-olds live in a detached house, whereas this is only true of a third of the youngest age bracket.
60 percent of the homeowners own their property jointly with their partner, while 36 percent own it by themselves. Only 3 percent say they own their home jointly with their parents, and no one reports owning it with friends.
Various forms of discrimination have moved even higher up the agenda in recent years. This is the result of things like the Me Too movement and subsequent public debate, and gun violence against the LGBT community followed by parades to raise awareness about it. There have also been TV series about immigrant communities and the clash between their religion/culture and Western values, a film about Sámi identity against the backdrop of the damming of the River Alta-Kautokeino for hydropower and, more recently, protests after Fosen wind farm was built in a reindeer husbandry area.
Various kinds of discrimination have previously been documented in e.g. Statistics Norway’s quality of life survey. 23 percent of respondents to that survey had suffered discrimination over the past year. In a more recent survey of discrimination against people with an immigrant background as many as 41 percent said that they had experienced discrimination. A literature review of Nordic research on discrimination, harassment and equality produced for the Research Council of Norway provides useful insight into these widespread problems.
62 percent of all of the people who participated in our survey reported experiencing or witnessing discrimination. That is slightly lower than last year, when the equivalent figure was 66 percent, and even further below the level two years ago. The most common form of discrimination is based on ethnic background/immigration status, which has been experienced or witnessed by 33 percent of respondents, which is also lower than last year. It is followed by sex discrimination, at 24 percent, and discrimination based on sexual orientation, at 22 percent, which are both well below last year’s levels. Around 10-15 percent of people have witnessed or experienced discrimination based on religion/faith, age or disability.
Percentage of people who have experienced or witnessed various forms of discrimination over the past six months.
Women are more likely than men to report witnessing or being the victims of discrimination. The biggest difference is for discrimination based on ethnic background/immigration status, where the experience of women pushes up the overall level, but the women in the survey are also more likely to have suffered discrimination for their sexual orientation and sex discrimination. The biggest towns (centrality level 3) are over-represented when it comes to discrimination based on sexual orientation. This may be because they are home to a higher concentration of people in the LGBT community, who often move to bigger towns. This is explained by them offering “more openness, as well as bars and other venues where you can meet other people in the LGBT community”. In the case of immigration status/ethnic background, our survey found the highest levels of discrimination in the biggest towns (level 3) and the most rural municipalities (level 6), respectively. This could again be because these groups are to some extent geographically concentrated, but driven by two separate mechanisms. On the one hand, ethnic minorities/immigrants want to live in bigger towns, as can be seen, for example, from the fact that a significant proportion of Norway’s internal migration towards larger towns consists of people who were originally immigrants. Meanwhile, in smaller rural municipalities the concentration tends to be the result of a significant increase in the labour force when there is seasonal work available, and the fact that when large numbers of refugees arrive they are more visible in municipalities with few residents.
When asked to what extent they thought the various forms of discrimination occur in Northern Norway, for all of the categories of discrimination “only” 3-5 percent of people thought that they were very common. Discrimination due to immigrant status/ethnic background was the category of discrimination that was considered “quite common” by the highest number of people (30 percent), followed by around one in five people believing that discrimination was quite common due to sexual orientation, gender and religion/faith.
Discrimination is a widespread and serious problem. It can affect people’s career opportunities and social life, as well as their quality of life. Statistics Norway’s quality of life survey shows clearly that people who have experienced discrimination are on average less satisfied with their lives.
The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) was estimated to be 1.41 children per woman in 2022. That is the lowest level ever measured in Norway. With the exception of 2021, the TFR has fallen every single year since 2009, when the TFR was 1.98 per woman. The increase in fertility in 2021 proved to be a one-off event in the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are now back on trend. The fact that we are having fewer children is not new. In the 19th
century, Norwegian women had on average 4.5 children each. When the war broke out in 1940, that number had fallen to well below 2. After a few large cohorts in the post-war period, the birth rate has generally continued its decline.
The decline is particularly notable in the 25-34 age bracket. With the proportion of women who have not had any children by the age of 30 rising to 54 percent, from 42 percent ten years ago, it is unlikely that the current generation of women will have as many children as previous generations had. One important reason for the decline in fertility is that a growing number of women are waiting longer to have their first child. Two years ago, the average age of first-time mothers passed 30, which is two years higher than it was ten years ago. The main reason why the number of children is falling is not that fewer people are having children, but rather that fewer are having a second or third child. Northern Norway has traditionally had a higher birth rate than the rest of Norway, but this has evened out. Generally, only Oslo, Innlandet and Vestfold/Telemark have lower fertility rates now.
Declining fertility is not a phenomenon that is unique to Norway. Our Nordic neighbours are also experiencing sharp declines. Denmark and Sweden have slightly higher fertility rates, but Finland has a significantly lower TFR of 1.32. This shows that the decline in fertility cannot simply be explained by factors within Norway, and that it is part of an international trend. The reasons for the decline, which has happened in almost all countries, are complex. At the global level, it has been pointed out that this is exacerbating the problems caused by a shrinking workforce and rising healthcare and pension costs, while fewer highly educated workers entering the labour market will also reduce innovation and economic growth.
We want to know more about what young people in Northern Norway think are the most important reasons why fewer children are being born in the region. The results confirm that there are many reasons why people do not have any children, or do not have another child.
The causes of the low fertility rate can be split into two main categories – the number of young women of childbearing age living in the region and how many children each of them has in total. In our survey, the first of those is the third most commonly cited reason for the low birth rate in Northern Norway. 68 percent of respondents say that “young people moving south” is an important reason for why fewer children are being born. The equivalent figure last year was 75 percent.
Amongst the various reasons given as to why young people living in the region are having fewer children, two factors stand out. Financial circumstances and career are ranked as the most important reasons, which are, of course, related, as your personal finances depend on your job. As many as 72 percent of respondents say that prioritising your job/career is an important factor when planning the number of children you will have, and this can also be linked to the rising age of first-time mothers. This is also related to more people taking long higher education courses as part of their career planning.
With respect to your personal finances, your job is important, as are whether you are a one or two-income household, high housing costs, buying a car, energy costs, financial support, etc. 78 percent of respondents cite “too high expenses” as an important factor for choosing to have fewer children. In addition, 66 percent say that “too little financial support” is a major reason why young adults do not have the money and time to have more children. More people than last year cited too high expenses and too little financial support as important reasons for not having more children.
Percentage who believe that the following are important reasons why fewer children are being born.
Six out of every ten respondents think that concern about the future is having a big impacts on the birth rate. However, only nine percent believe that wanting to reduce your impact on the climate and environment is an important factor. Perhaps this is because people are more worried that other future problems will directly affect them and their children, at least here in Northern Norway.
48 percent of respondents say it is difficult to find a big enough home for more children, while last year this was cited by 62 percent of people. In towns, until this year house prices had for a long time been rising much faster than the consumer price index. In the biggest towns, the number of people mentioning housing as a problem is particularly high. This particularly affects people without a higher education, which may be because their incomes are lower. In rural areas it can be hard to find homes for sale. This is partly because the market price of used homes is often lower than that of new homes, and that used homes in rural areas are often snapped up as holiday homes by well-off families from the towns. In addition, it has been difficult to get a mortgage for new-builds, while many people have also struggled to sell their homes for an acceptable price in the current market.
In many places, the quality and availability of kindergartens, schools and after-school clubs is inadequate according to 42 percent of respondents. Particularly in rural municipalities, this is given as an important reason for low fertility rates, as it was last year. In the most remote municipalities (levels 5 and 6), 55 percent of respondents now think this is important. This view is only held by 34 percent of people in towns. Women are also less satisfied than men with the quality of kindergartens/schools/after-school clubs. Even if the number of kindergarten places is now much higher than a few decades ago, distances to both kindergartens and schools may have increased. In 1995 there were 865 kindergartens in Northern Norway, as opposed to just 615 in 2021. Thirty percent of the region’s schools providing compulsory education have disappeared since 2002. Primary schools and kindergartens are continuing to close down in smaller communities in municipalities.
In the responses to our survey, more women than men cite insufficient parental leave, to some extent concern about the future and too little financial support as reasons for low fertility. The durations of parental leave and the paternal quota have been the subject of much debate, and several changes have been made to the paternal quota since it was introduced in 1993. Since 2018, fathers (or co-mothers) have had a 15-week quota.
In the survey, some of the questions also allowed people to add their own explanations to the options given. There, several people mentioned healthcare services for women during pregnancy and childbirth in rural areas as a reason for the declining birth rate. This is very consistent with the shrinking difference between fertility in towns and rural areas. Health care services and local maternity wards generate strong feelings and having to travel a long way to a maternity ward, particularly for first-time mothers, can increase the risk of complications. Other reasons added by respondents include less help from family than in the past because fewer people live where they grew up, the need for both parents to have a job in order to secure the family finances, leading to “stress and time pressures” in people’s day-to-day lives. Several people also mention greater openness about and acceptance of people not wanting to have children.
Overall, the results show that there is not a single main reason why the birth rate is falling. It is the combined impact of financial pressures, leisure activities, public services, greater difficulty getting help from family, future prospects and housing that lead many people to choose not to have children, or not to have a second or third child. The complexity of this topic is supported by earlier research, which highlights financial considerations, flexibility at work, norms and expectations in society, and the cost and quality of public services.
Methods and definitions
The survey was carried out by NORCE Norwegian Research Centre AS in 2023, having been commissioned by Sparebank 1 Nord-Norge. The survey was opened for responses on 1 August, and the last response was submitted on 13 September.
A link to the survey was shared throughout the Bank’s network of contacts and on social media during that period. In addition, NORCE distributed a link through its own channels and certain other ones, as well as sending a link by text message to 6,000 randomly selected people in Northern Norway within the survey’s target age groups. In total, 884 people clicked on the link to the survey. Of those, 413 went through all of the pages and clicked “Complete” on the final page. Respondents were able to skip questions they didn’t want to answer. After reviewing the responses, the final selection consisted of 393 respondents.
The target group were residents in Northern Norway aged 18-34. The first question asked them whether or not they were in this target group. Those who failed to answer this question, or responded that their age was under 18 or over 34, were omitted from the final selection.
The final selection was weighted by gender, age group (18-24, 25-29, 30-34) and municipality levels 3-6 (Statistics Norway’s definition). The participants were compared with population data for the region. For municipality levels, Statistics Norway’s actual municipality of residence for 2021 was used, but projected to 2022 by using changes in the official (registered) population from 2021-2022 by municipality. Respondents belonging to groups that were under-represented in the survey were weighted up, which means their answers count a bit more than the ones of groups that were over-represented. The weightings vary between 0.44 and 2.82.
Since participants were self-selecting, they may represent a somewhat biased selection, even if they have been weighted by the criteria we can control. It may be that our participants are more engaged with issues than other people. Since the questionnaire is relatively long, it may be that the participants are people with a higher than average level of engagement who want to express their opinions.
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