1.6 Evidence-based youth policy
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Collecting, analysing and disseminating knowledge of young people’s living conditions is fundamental to Swedish youth policy. Today’s system started with the 2004 Youth Policy Bill. The bill stated that young people’s living conditions should be followed up regularly, using indicators within all relevant policy areas.
The current monitoring system is based on youth policy indicators, an annual report on young people's living conditions and periodic studies on young people’s attitudes and values. These elements form the main sources for Swedish evidence-based youth policy. This model was presented in 2004, with only minor changes in the 2014 Youth Policy Bill.
The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (MUCF) is responsible for conducting the studies included in the monitoring system. The studies are to be based on official statistics, youth surveys, dialogue with young people and youth organisations, qualitative studies and current research.
Policy themes informed by research
The research community is active within all relevant policy themes, such as education, labour market entry, health, culture, youth work, leisure, participation and so forth.
One example of how research informs policy priorities is that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Kungliga Vetenskapsakademin) presented in 2010 a review of the current state of knowledge concerning children’s and young people’s mental health. The results showed that there were basically no studies describing preschool children’s psychological well-being and no explanations as to why girls in their teens more often report that they suffer of mental health issues compared to boys. Therefore, the government decided to allocate, during the period 2012–2017, about 30 million euros (300 million Swedish kronor) for research on children’s and young people’s mental health.
In 2018, the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) decided on grants to be awarded six research environments within child and adolescent mental health. The total grant amount for 2018–2023 was 137.4 million SEK.
Also in 2018, three research councils, Forte, the Swedish Research Council and Vinnova issued a joint call for research focusing on mental health in newly arrived children and adolescents, and in children and adolescents with disabilities. Grants were awarded to research environments for up to six years.
Starting in 2022, Forte is responsible for a ten-year national research programme on mental health. The first call has opened for research applications on children’s and young people’s mental health. In total, SEK 70 million (about 7 million euros) is reserved for the period 2022-2025.
Since 2018, the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) finances research environments within child and adolescent mental health. The aim is to support research that leads to increased participation, inclusion and integration and establishment in society of newly arrived children and adolescents, as well as children and adolescents with disabilities, focusing on mental health. In total, the Research Council grants SEK 137.4 million (about 13,7 million euros) for the years 2018–2023.
Sweden’s innovation agency, Vinnova, has in 2022 launched a pilot initiative in order to offer civil society organizations the opportunity to co-create solutions that provide children with more equal chances of finishing school. Through this, Vinnova wants to contribute to new solutions that benefit society and improve the capacity for innovation in civil society.
Youth research 2008-2017, main findings
The Swedish Research Council for Health, Working life and Welfare (Forte), responsible for coordinating research on children and young people, had during 2016–2017 a government task of mapping Swedish youth research conducted since 2008.
The final report concludes that the majority of adolescents and young adults in Sweden have good living conditions when growing up. Prosperity and economic conditions have improved over the past two decades. However, during this period the poorest in society have increased in numbers and have not been able to benefit from the general improvements. It is evident that a low economic standard has a negative impact on the general living conditions for adolescents and young adults, representing an increased risk of physical and mental illness, inadequate relationships with friends and family, criminality, vulnerability to crime and insecurity, overcrowded housing, poor grades, unemployment, reliance on allowances and the intervention of social child welfare. Those adolescents who suffer most from the consequences are those who live with single parents (usually the mother), have foreign-born parents and/or live in households with a low socioeconomic status.
Schooling is of major importance for adolescents’ health, welfare and future opportunities for education and employment. Irrespective of family life, passing grades and good relationships with classmates and teachers are important in terms of minimising the risk of illness. Girls perform better than boys at school but demonstrate a higher degree of stress-related psychosomatic problems and take longer to establish themselves on the labour market. Boys with a foreign background struggle most at school, and around 50 per cent have no qualifications for upper secondary education after finishing compulsory education.
Adolescents and young adults growing up in families depending on social security support, who have had a contact person in the social services and/or who have been placed in housing outside their homes are particularly vulnerable. They run a major risk of failing at school, physical and mental illness, criminality and premature death.
The report also highlights areas in need of more research. More knowledge is needed of the living conditions of young people with different types of disabilities. The same applies to honour-related violence and oppression, suffered by many girls and women. In general, more knowledge is required on how adolescents and young adults themselves understand and perceive their situation. Of special interest is how they act and the strategies they adopt to influence their lives and their futures. Research relating to adolescents in their early teens (13–14) and young adults (20–25) is not as common as research relating to older teens (15–19). Among those areas to receive special focus in the report, more knowledge is required on leisure activities, participation and influence and criminality and vulnerability to crime, all according to the report.
Evidence-based evaluation of youth policies
In 2021, the Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) got an assignment to evaluate the monitoring system of the national youth policy. The assignment was reported to the government (Ministry of Culture) in March 2022.
Also in 2010, the government commissioned in 2010 the Swedish Agency for Public Management to evaluate the national youth policy monitoring system. According to the final report, the Swedish Agency for Public Management found certain needs to develop the system, as it was not supplying enough relevant knowledge and analysis, especially not to meet the needs of local governments. The government has since addressed the issues identified by the year 2010 evaluation.
Collecting and disseminating national statistical data on youth is a part of the Swedish youth policy.
Youth policy indicators 2006-2013
During 2006–2013, youth policy indicators were annually compiled by a number of government agencies. Generally, most of the about 80 indicators were based on existing data sources and hence not tailored to fit the overarching objectives. The Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs (Ungdomsstyrelsen) was coordinating the presentations and submitted an annual analysis – the report ‘Young today’ (Ung idag) – to the Government. The indicators were used as a basis for a follow-up of the overall objectives of youth policy.
In 2014, the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (formerly National Board for Youth Affairs) was commissioned by the Government to develop a web portal for showing statistics on young people’s living conditions, on both national and local level. The web portal should, according to the government task, build on and develop the indicator system of that time.
Youth policy indicators 2015 -
In 2015, the web portal for youth policy indicators, ungidag.se was developed and made public. Its purpose is to make youth statistics more accessible and frequently updated, through a simple and user-friendly tool designed for computers, tablets and mobile phones.
The web portal ungidag.se presents up-to-date official statistics on young people’s conditions. Today, 12 government agencies and the Swedish Sports Confederation (Riksidrottsförbundet) are responsible for providing statistics. The indicators (around 60) are grouped under six themes:
- Education and Learning
- Physical and mental health
- Economic and social vulnerability
- Influence and representation
- Work and housing
- Culture and leisure.
Still, most of the indicators are based on existing data sources and therefore not tailored to fit the overarching objective. The indicators show trends over time and users can compare groups of youth by:
- Swedish/foreign background
- age group
- place of residence (municipality/region), in case local level statistics are available (at the moment 23 indicators provide local level data).
The results can be displayed by line charts, bar charts, tables, rankings and maps, and contain a short analysis.
Given the government’s ambition to mainstream youth interventions across the policy areas of relevance to youth, the indicators are, wherever possible, directly linked to the objectives of relevant government agencies.
National youth reports
Besides the youth policy indicators, thematic studies are regularly undertaken, together with periodic attitude and value surveys.
- Young Today (Ung idag). Based on the youth policy indicators that are presented at the web portal ungidag.se, the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society delivers a yearly report to the government, where development over time and significant changes for the youth group as a whole, as well as for specific categories of young people are described.
- Thematic in-depth studies (Fokus). The government annually gives the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society a task of analysing young people’s conditions within a priority area such as health, employment, participation, disadvantaged youth, etc. Fokus 22 is about economic vulnerability of young people, Fokus 21 about young people’s political participation, while Fokus 20 describes young people’s experiences of sexual harassment in educational settings.
- Attitude and values studies (Young people with attitudes). The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (MUCF) carries out comprehensive attitude and value studies on regular basis. The study focuses on youth and young adults aged 16–29, but includes even the age group 30–64. The latest study was published in three parts in 2019 (previous studies were undertaken in 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2013).
The main principle is that research on young people is conducted by using general research funds. The Swedish Research Council for Health, Working life and Welfare (Forte), has annually been allocated 50 000 euros (500 000 Swedish kronor) from the government to coordinate research on young people.