Untangling the complex relationship between poverty and belonging using Ungdata Junior

Christer Hyggen, Mette Løvgren

A significant number of Norwegian children are growing up in families at risk of poverty. The number has been on the rise for the last two decades. As we speak about 12 percent of all Norwegian children grow up in households at risk of poverty. While poverty in Norway does not compare to poverty in other parts of the world, relative poverty within an affluent society may leave the affected at a disadvantage.

credit: pexels – laís regina

The risk of poverty is not evenly distributed. Children who grow up in households where the main providers are single parents have low education and weak connections to the labor market are at greater risk than others. And the risk is particularly high for children with immigrant backgrounds. The risk of growing up in a poor household is higher in cities  – and often in particular parts of the larger cities.

Growing up in families at risk of poverty may have adverse consequences for the child, in both the short and the long term. A large body of research from the last two decades on growing up in relative poverty in an affluent country has identified a range of potential consequences of lack of economic resources on the child, for the family, and at an institutional/ societal level. It may affect a child’s development, health, quality of life, parental support, participation, trust, and sense of belonging to mention just a few.

Figure 1. A descriptive model for understanding dimensions of Belonging in relation to poverty

This figure is a very simplified attempt at capturing and systemizing some of the complexity. We have developed this model, based on the influential work by Bronfenbrenner, in order to visualize how the lives of economically disadvantaged children need to take into account a wide range of arenas, actors, and institutions surrounding, affecting, and interacting with the children.

In BELONG, we will challenge usual preconceptions of the phenomenon by using the concept of belonging – moving beyond traditional concepts of social integration/ marginalization and participation – or maybe even bullying – concepts that we in the youth research department are more familiar with. In short, we will apply the lens provided by the complex concept of belonging addressing children’s experiences and connections and overlapping dimensions – people, places, and materials – and their sub-dimensions – such as peers, parents, schools.

One of the tools and empirical basis we will use in BELONG is Ungdata and Ungdata junior.

credit: pexels – katherina holmes

For more than a decade, Ungdata has been the most comprehensive source of information on adolescent health and well-being at the municipal, regional and national levels in Norway. Presently close to 800 000 youth from nearly all Norwegian municipalities have participated in Ungdata and Ungdata junior. The age range is from 10 years till 18 or 19 years – from 5th grade in compulsory school to 3d and final year of high school.

The data cover various aspects of young people’s lives, like relationships with parents and friends, leisure activities, health issues, local environment, well-being, and school issues.

credit: pexels – monstera

NOVA – Norwegian social research at OsloMet, is responsible for the national coordination of the project, while a large infrastructure based locally in municipalities and at schools secures the implementation. Ungdata will provide an important empirical contribution to the BELONG project and help us towards our goal of an increased understanding of practices causing marginalization and social exclusion of minority and majority children of low-income families.

In particular, we believe Ungdata will be able to contextualize, generalize and explore the importance of relative differences in poverty for practices of belonging.

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