The Growing Up in Ireland children come of age

The life of a 17/18-year-old in 2016

The latest research findings from the Growing Up in Ireland study provide significant insights into the lives of 17- and 18-year-olds in Ireland. The data are published in the latest Key Findings reports from the national longitudinal study of children.

Dr Katherine Zappone, TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, will launch the reports at the Growing Up in Ireland annual research conference on 3rd November in Croke Park.  The conference will also discuss 22 papers from multi-disciplinary researchers using data from various rounds of the study.

The information in the Key Findings reports are the first results from interviews with just over 6,000 17/18-year-olds who have been participating in the study since 2007, when they were 9 years old.  The findings focus on four aspects of their lives:

  1. Education and Early Work Experiences  (Read publication here)
  2. Health, Weight, Physical Activity and Diet  (Read publication here)
  3. Life Satisfaction, Relationships and Mental Health  (Read publication here)
  4. Risky Health Behaviours and Sexual Activity (Read publication here)

Education and Early Work Experiences

  • 17/18-year-olds are on the cusp of a new stage in their lives, with the transition from secondary school to further education or the workforce.  To assist them in these transitions it is important to understand their experiences of the education system: whether or not they liked school, how they fared academically and the skills they developed.
  • 84% of participants were still in school, 10% in Further or Higher Education (Post-Leaving Certificate course or at a university or Institute of Technology). 2% were working, 2% were training and 2% were not in education, work or training.
  • A third of 17/18-year-olds who were still in school had part-time jobs – 35% of females and 31% of males.  On average those with a part-time job spent 9 hours per week working during term-time, with an average income of €72 per week.
  • Nearly half (49%) of 17/18-year-olds in their Leaving Certificate year were taking grinds when they were interviewed and a further 20% said they were planning to take them before they sat their Leaving Certificate in June 2016.  Taking grinds was more common among females (53%) than males (45%).  Young people from higher income families were more likely to supplement their education in this way – e.g. 63% among 17/18-year-olds in the highest income group (quintile), compared with 33% of young people in the lowest income group.
  • Overall, young people had a generally positive attitude towards teachers and school when they were interviewed.  94% agreed that ‘..most of [their] teachers were friendly..’ and that they could talk to [their] teachers if they had a problem..’.  A sizeable minority (24%), however, said that they ‘..disliked being at school’.
  • Although there was no difference between males and females in their attitudes towards teachers and school in general, attitudes varied significantly by the young person’s social class background.  39% of those from the most socially disadvantaged backgrounds disliked school, compared with only 19% of those from the most socially advantaged group.
  • Educational performance from 9 years on is consistently related to level of mother’s education, with young people from more educationally advantaged homes having higher scores in English and Maths at 9 years, 13 years and in the Junior Certificate exams.

Height, Weight, Physical Activity and Diet

Growing Up in Ireland has been documenting the issue of overweight and obesity among children and young people for nearly a decade and the latest findings indicate that the statistics aren’t improving.

  • Based on their parent’s assessment, the vast majority of 17/18-year-olds were in good health.
  • Overweight and obesity, however, continue to be a problem at 17/18 years of age, in line with earlier rounds of the Growing Up in Ireland study, as well as with international trends – 20% were overweight and 8% were obese.  Females were more likely to be overweight or obese than males – 31% compared to 26%.
  • There was also a strong relationship between weight status and the social status of the young person’s family.  For example, 4% of 17/18-year-olds whose mother had a degree were obese, compared to 14% of those whose mother had left school at Junior Certificate or earlier.
  • There is evidence to indicate that once weight problems develop they persist in adolescence – for example, almost two-thirds (65%) of those who were obese at 13 years were still classified as being obese 4 years later – although 26% were classified as overweight and 9% had become non-overweight between 13 and 17/18 years of age.
  • The majority (76%) of 17/18-year-olds had normal blood pressure, though 22% were in the intermediate category and 2% were in the high High blood pressure was strongly associated with weight status – those who were classified in the overweight or obese categories were much more likely to have intermediate or high blood pressure.  For example, 20% of those in the non-overweight category had intermediate or high blood pressure.  This compares with 29% of 17/18-year-olds who were overweight and 46% of those who were obese.

Life Satisfaction, Relationships and Mental Health
Emerging adulthood brings new opportunities, but also responsibilities and sources of stress.  How young adults navigate the changes in their lives at this time will influence their current and future well-being.

  • 17/18-year-olds are generally satisfied with their lives, although there was some evidence to suggest that young people from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds felt less satisfied with life.
  • Family and health were rated as being among the most important things in the lives of young people, with the lowest rating being assigned to issues such as religion and politics.
  • Most 17/18-year-olds had a positive relationship with their parents.  The vast majority of young people felt they could rely on their parents and were not disappointed by them, though a minority (around 10%) often/always felt let down by a parent.
  • One in ten 17/18-year-olds reported that they had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or both by a medical professional.  Females were more likely than males to report having received a diagnosis (13% compared to 8%).
  • 17% of 17/18-year-olds said they had ever ‘...hurt [themselves] on purpose – sometimes known as self-harm – 11% in the last year.  Self-harming was twice as common among females (23%) as males (12%).
  • Young people who had emotional or behavioural difficulties at 9 or 13 years were at greater risk of experiencing similar difficulties as young adults.

Risky Health Behaviours and Sexual Activity
Adolescence is often characterised as a time of self-discovery, of new experiences, of forging new relationships.  It is often a time of experimentation with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs as well as first sexual experiences.  Many of these behaviours can have important consequences in terms of health, education and relationships, as well as interaction with the criminal justice system.

  • The majority of 17/18-year-olds had consumed alcohol – 89%.  A minority (6%) of 17/18-year-olds said they drank 2-3 times per week, 40% drinking 2-4 times per month and 48% monthly or less. In general, males tended to drink more often than females.
  • When the young people were interviewed four years ago at 13 years of age 16% of them said they had already drank alcohol (more than a few sips).  These young people who had early experience of alcohol were more likely to be frequent drinkers and to consume more units of alcohol in a sitting when they drank, by the time they were 17/18 years of age.
  • 51% of 17/18-year-olds said that they had never smoked – 12% said they smoked ‘occasionally’ and 8% said they smoked daily.  Smoking was strongly related to family social group – 5% of young people from Professional/Managerial backgrounds said they smoked, compared with 17% of those from the most disadvantaged social group.
  • As with drinking alcohol, smoking from an earlier age was associated with heavier smoking by the age of 17/18 years – 31% of those who had smoked a cigarette by 13 years smoked daily by the time they were 17/18 years old, compared with only 6% of those who hadn’t smoked by 13 years.
  • Just over one-third of 17/18-year-olds had tried e-cigarettes (also known as vaping) – 40% of males compared with 28% of females.
  • When asked if they had ever used cannabis 69% of 17/18-year-olds said they had not; 17% used it ‘once or twice’; 4% said they ‘used to use it but not now’, 8% said they used it ‘occasionally’ and 2% said they used it ‘more than once a week’.

17/18-year-olds were asked a series of questions about their romantic and sexual experiences. The questions referred to a hierarchy of ten romantic and sexual activities such as holding hands, kissing, touching etc., culminating in questions on oral sex and sexual intercourse. This meant that because the activities were presented sequentially, there were several points at which this particular section of the interview could end, depending upon the young person’s responses to earlier questions.

  • 40% of 17/18 years olds reported that they had had oral sex, while 33% reported that they had had sexual intercourse.  Males were more likely to report being sexually active than females (45% compared to 39%).
  • 56% of 17/18-year-olds who reported having had sexual intercourse also reported that they always used a condom, although a sizeable minority (11%) said they never used one.  Further, 79% of 17/18 year-olds who had had sexual intercourse said that they or their partner always used some form of contraception, although 6% said that they never/hardly ever used any form of contraception.
  • 13% of 17/18-year-olds said that they felt a little pressure and 4% said they felt a lot of pressure to have sex.  6% also said that they were afraid of losing a partner through not having sex with them.

James Williams, Research Professor at the ESRI, commented:

The importance of the Growing Up in Ireland study is that it provides very detailed and often sensitive information from nationally representative samples of children in order to highlight the areas of young people’s lives where they most need support. A significant finding from the research published today is the importance of early interventions in behaviours that compromise health, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol or smoking at an early age is associated with more frequent and higher levels of consumption by the age of 17/18, which points to clear ways we can help teenagers to make healthier choices. The findings published today represent only a small part of the data available from the latest round of the study, which covers multiple aspects of young people’s lives and provides a valuable picture of people transitioning to adulthood in Ireland today.

Welcoming the publication of the first published findings from the 17/18 data collection, Dr. Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs stated:

I note some of the very positive findings presented today, the majority of 17/18 year olds are healthy, they have positive views of their lives, as well as a positive perception of school, and a substantial majority of 17/18 year olds still in school report they intend to go on to tertiary education;  The key findings however also raise some areas of concern, for example, children from families who are better off educationally or financially continue tend to fare better than those who are less well-off across a range of outcomes.

I welcome the rich contribution the Growing Up in Ireland study is making to our knowledge of children’s lives in Ireland. The addition of data on 17/18 year olds will make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of child development over time. It is important that these initial findings, and more detailed findings that will emerge once the data is examined in more detail, are used and understood by those involved in making policy and providing services. I know the data for example is directly relevant to a number of recent policy initiatives including, for example, the National Obesity Strategy and the National Sexual Health Strategy.