The Future of Nordic Youth in Rural Regions: A Cross-national Qualitative Longitudinal Study in four Nordic Countries

The Nordic countries rank among the most rural OECD countries when measured according to the proportion of rural areas and to the size of rural population. They are also known for the Nordic welfare state model, defined by e g. relative gender equality, egalitarian income distribution, political stability and free education. However, during the last decades, regional differences have grown. Ageing and depopulation of rural areas have become an acute challenge for all Nordic societies. Out-migration and marginalization rural young people have gained attention in the media. Although the demographic challenge is palpable, there is a substantial knowledge gap in the existing research: we know very little about the everyday life of young people who live in different rural regions.

The Future of Nordic Youth in Rural Regions responds to this need by examining the future of rural youth in four Nordic countries: Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The project aims to generate a wider understanding of the lived experiences, future orientations and transitions to adulthood among young people growing up in divergent rural areas.

The project builds on unique longitudinal data with 196 rural young people and young adults (b. 1998–2005). They represent ten geographically, demographically and socio-economically divergent regions, ranging from the Arctic Sámi region to the southern agricultural regions of Denmark. The study combines and reanalyses data already collected through national studies in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark since 2013. In addition, new comparable data (qualitative as well as quantitative) will be collected to pinpoint specific characteristics and problems related to the future of Nordic rural youth, and to produce policy-relevant knowledge aimed at their benefit.

The project is pioneering, as it establishes the first cross-national qualitative longitudinal study of rural young people in the Nordic countries. Longitudinal data opens unique possibilities to capture the processual nature of youth transitions. A longitudinal setup, where the same young people are followed systematically, allows us to observe how belonging is structured gradually at different moments in time, and to determine which factors play a role in different points of life. Through a longitudinal contribution, it is also possible to understand the processual nature of how young people perceive their past, present, and future.

The multidisciplinary project combines history, sociology, education, cultural studies and geography and is coordinated by the University of Jyväskylä.