Growing Up in Ireland: Work, study, leisure – and living with parents

Posted on: 14 December 2021

Growing Up in Ireland today [14th of Dec 2021] published a new report on the lives of 20 years olds. The study provides valuable insights into the health and well-being of young people and finds that most young adults are still in education, living with their parents and spending more time online.

Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) is the national longitudinal study of children. It is carried out by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin. The report focuses on young adults who were aged 20 in 2018/19 and who have been followed by the researchers since they were just 9 years old. Over 5,000 20-year-olds described their lives and well-being in the areas of health, work, home, education, relationships, and leisure time. Their accounts were complemented by interviews with their parents who, in most cases, had also been participating in the study for over a decade.

Dr Desmond O’Mahony, the report’s co-lead author, said: ‘While the majority of 20-year-olds report good physical health and enjoy supportive relationships with their parents and peers, today’s young adults face significant future challenges, with a quarter found to be overweight and another 13% obese, a large increase since the previous study wave at 17/18 years. Furthermore, over a fifth of young men and almost a third of young women report elevated symptoms of depression, which is a worrying trend for the mental health of Ireland’s young adults’.

The research captures a key phase in the young adults’ lives as they make the transition into post-school education, training, and employment, form an adult identity and forge new relationships with peers and others. The timing, shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be crucial in understanding the impact of the public health emergency on a wide range of outcomes in the months and years to come.

Professor Richard Layte, Department of Sociology, Trinity, who chaired the report launch today, said: “This report provides valuable insights into the health and well-being of young people in Ireland at an important point in their lives when many are taking their first steps into adult roles in the work place and exploring romantic relationships. The majority of 20-year-olds are thriving and report good physical and mental health as well as supportive relationships from friends and family. However, a worrying development is the significant minority reporting above normal levels of stress and symptoms of depression. The fact that this is more likely among less advantaged young people is also a concern. Similarly, the increase in overweight and obesity among this group may well have long term consequences for health and well-being.”

The transition to adulthood

Economic status

Over two-thirds of 20-year-olds (69%) were primarily in education or training. Over a quarter (26%) were in employment, either full- or part-time, with just 5% not in employment, education, or training (NEET). Twenty-year-olds whose own parents had high levels of education were more likely to be still in education as their main activity: Just over half (52%) of the young adults whose parents had a Junior Certificate or lower level of education were still in education compared to 81% of young adults whose parents had a degree or higher. In contrast, of the 26% per cent of 20-year-olds who had already transitioned into employment, 39% came from households where their parents had a Junior Certificate or lower level of education, compared to 17% from households where their parents had a degree or higher. Nearly 1-in-10 (9%) 20-year-olds reported financial strain (difficulty or great difficulty making ends meet).

Living with parents

The majority (68%) of 20-year-olds were still living with their parents, with only about a third (32%) reporting another non-parental address. Even among the minority with a non-parental address, almost all (87%), spent several nights a month in their parents’ home and 82% still considered their parental address to be their ‘main address’. Twenty-year-olds who were in education or training were more likely to have an address outside of the parental home (38%) than those who were in employment (20%) or NEET (21%). Twenty-year-olds still living in the family home were almost equally split between wanting to live at home (56%) and preferring to live independently (44%). Only 31% of 20-year-olds living at home said their living situation had nothing to do with their finances.

Post-school education and training participation

Higher and further education

A very high proportion (87%) of all 20-year-olds had taken part in at least one education/training course since they left school; 70% had taken a Higher Education (HE) course, 17% had taken a Post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) course and 10% had taken another further education (FE) course. While rates of HE participation were high across all groups, participation was strongly structured by family background. Breaking HE participation down by parental education, it was found that 86% of 20-year-olds from a household where parents had degree-level qualifications went on to HE compared to 48% of those whose parents had the equivalent of Junior Certificate qualifications or lower.

Patterns of HE access were similar when explored by social class. Almost all (91%) of the 20-year-olds from families with a professional background went on to participate in HE compared to 51% of those in the lowest socio-economic group. Overall, 11% of those who entered HE courses and 18% of those who had entered FE courses dropped out of them. For HE, the drop-out rate for 20-year-olds whose parents had Junior Certificate qualifications or lower was 16% compared to 9% for those whose parents held degree-level qualifications. FE non-completion was not strongly related to social background but was strongly related to family type, with 24% of 20-year-olds from single parent families dropping out compared to 15% of those from two parent families.

Influences on course choice

The most highly rated factor in choosing a further/higher education institution was whether it provided the course or subject the young person wished to take: 71% said this was ‘very important’. However, being able to live at home while studying was a ‘very important’ factor for almost one-third (31%) of young people doing a course. This increased to 44% of 20-year-olds from less advantaged families where parents had the equivalent of Junior Certificate qualifications or lower. There were noticeable gender patterns in the type of FE/HE course studied by 20-year-olds. Young women were more likely to take social science, health, and education courses while young men were more likely to take agricultural science and engineering courses. Among those who had taken part in FE/HE courses, 35% had engaged in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) course. STEM participation was more common among men than women (41% versus 28%), and more common among those whose parents had at least degree-level education at 40% versus 29% of those whose parents held Junior Certificate level education or below. Finally, STEM participation was more common for those in the upper fifth of Leaving Certificate grades (51%) as opposed to lowest fifth (25%).

Labour market experiences

Full and part time employment

Just over a quarter of the 20-year-olds (26%) were in employment as their main economic activity. They were usually in full-time permanent contracts (71%). These were most often either in unskilled jobs such as cleaning (43%), or non-manual occupations, such as clerical work (36%). A further 15% were in skilled manual roles; 7% were in managerial positions, including a small group of professional-class workers. Almost two-thirds of students also worked in a job during term time. Much of this group (85%) worked up to 20 hours per week and earned €200 or less a week (82%).

Future expectations

Nearly half of 20-year-olds hoped to be in a managerial/technical position by the age of 30 (45%) and a further 22% overall hoped to be in a professional role. More men anticipated being in professional roles in ten years compared to women (25% versus 20%). Those from families in the highest fifth of incomes were twice as likely to hope to be in a professional role by age 30 than those whose families were in the lowest fifth of incomes (30% vs 16%). Similarly, more 20-year-olds in education hoped to be in professional employment by age 30 compared to their peers in employment (27% versus 14%). All 20-year-olds were asked what they wanted from a job: Having a job that was ‘interesting’ was important for nearly two-thirds of young adults (63%). The second highest-rated quality was ‘job security’ (52%). Those who were already in employment were more likely than those still in education/training to place high importance on gaining ‘promotions’ (41% versus 34%), having a job which is ‘a step on the career ladder’ (42% versus 35%) and ‘being their own boss’ (22% versus 14%).

Relationships with others

Social and practical support

Friends were an important source of emotional support, with 86% of all 20-year-olds saying they would talk to friends about their thoughts and feelings. This was followed closely (in terms of someone to talk to) by the 20-year-old’s mother (69%), a romantic partner (67%), another relative (52%), or their father (43%) (where applicable). Friends and parents were also important sources of practical support and information for things such as ‘problems with coursework’ (50% seeking support from friends vs 14% from parents) or ‘being short of cash’ (13% seeking help from friends vs 88% from parents).

Romantic and sexual relationships

Just over half (57%) of 20-year-olds were in a romantic relationship of some kind at the time of the survey. Most (84%) of the young adults had had sexual intercourse, with just over half becoming sexually active between the ages of 17/18 and 20. While most (85%) of the young adults answered that a condom would be the most effective method of preventing STDs, just a third of sexually active 20-year-olds used condoms on every occasion of sexual intercourse.

Leisure time and technology use

Physical activity and leisure

Overall, 65% of young adults achieved the national recommended guidelines for physical activity. Characteristics associated with greater likelihood of being sufficiently physically active were gender (71% of males, 59% of females), family socio-economic advantage (74% for 20-year-olds with higher educated parents versus 58% for those with lower educated parents) and being economically ‘active’ (68% in education/training, 65% for those in work, 39% for those not in education, training, or employment). Many leisure activities were almost universally pursued by all 20-year-olds. Over 95% used the internet, listened to music, and socialised with friends. Over 80% attended pubs/clubs or watched television. However, young men were more likely than young women to participate in active pursuits such as attending the gym (64% versus 57%), playing team sports (58% versus 24%) or individual sports (36% versus 23%). In terms of other leisure activities, young women were more likely to regularly go walking (68% versus 48%), to read (47% versus 37%) or to sing/play an instrument (31% versus 25%).

Technology use

Over half of all 20-year-olds said they typically spent over three hours online per day, with over 20% usually spending five hours or more online. Over 90% of all 20-year-olds used the internet for social media, watching video content, searching for information, and messaging and calling people. Outside of these core internet activities, there were marked gender differences in some categories of online activity, with young men more likely to use it for gaming (68% versus 16% women), betting (16% versus 3%), dating (30% versus 21%) and pornography (64% versus 13%). Considering behaviours used to manage their online presence, 44% of all 20-year-olds included location information on social media posts they made. Over a quarter (26%) had posted information they later regretted. Almost four-in-ten (39%) had deleted comments that appeared on their profile, and 51% had removed identifying information like tags that can appear on photos posted online.

Read the full report here.