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Survey: One in six kids from low-income families insecure about the future

The report explored how children's financial situation affects their faith in the future and their mental wellbeing.

lapsi harmaassa hupparissa katsoo ulos ikkunasta
Image: Elva Etienne / AOP

One in six kids from low-income families in Finland said they don’t believe their dreams will come true, according to the Children’s Voice 2019 survey published by children's rights NGO Save the Children on Wednesday. The corresponding figure for children from well-off families was seven percent.

Only eight percent of children from low-income families in Finland said they were satisfied with their family's financial situation, while the figure for higher-income groups was 92 percent, according to the report which explored how children's financial situation affects their faith in the future, opportunities for participation in hobbies, susceptibility to bullying, and mental well-being.

Children from low-income families were more likely to bring up money or health as a barrier to their dreams, which the survey pointed were very traditional — a home of their own, a meaningful job, travelling and a family.

Poverty correlates with lack of prospects

Of the respondents, 11 percent estimated that their family was 'poor' or 'quite poor', while 21 percent described their family as 'rich' or 'quite rich'. This is in line with Statistics Finland data — approximately 12 percent of the Finnish population came from low-income households in 2017. This refers to households with incomes lower than 60 percent of the median.

Among well-heeled families, up to 82 percent of kids said they believe their financial situation will be stable in the future and approximately 90 percent responded that they believe they will have permanent employment. Only 51 percent of children from low-income families responded that they believe they will have stable finances and 77 percent expected to have permanent employment.

"I'm worried that I may become unemployed and an alcoholic like my father and my brothers," one responded admitted.

"Poverty often correlated with a lack of prospects. We dare not think about the future when we don’t know if we can afford it — let’s manage today or tomorrow and then see what happens. This way of thinking affects the child at an early stage," said Aino Sarkia, coordinator of Child Poverty for Save the Children.

A total of 565 children aged 13-17 years participated in the Voice of the Child 2019 survey. The estimates are based on the children's own experiences and perceptions, and not on the actual income of the families.

Too much pressure, too little support

Only 53 percent of children in the survey said that they are currently satisfied with their mental wellbeing. The study pointed out that families’ wealth was reflected in the responses — children from low-income families were clearly more unsatisfied with their mental wellbeing than children from more well-to-do families. Regardless of their background, over 70 percent of children felt they had to work harder than others.

"Their mental wellbeing is alarming — we seem to have a lot of young people who are not doing too well. They are under pressure at school to succeed and have a lot to do in an already hectic life. There’s probably awfully little leisure time in young people's lives," Sarkia said.

Approximately a quarter reported hoping for more support to reach their goals. Only 70 percent of children from low-income families said their custodians support them in their studies compared to 91 percent of children from wealthy families . Around 79 percent of children from low-income families said that they have more often been supported by their friends.

About 40 percent of low-income group kids also said they have been belittled for their dreams, most often by their own guardians.

"The poor financial situation puts pressure on parents and the stress is reflected in the family atmosphere and parenting. Does a parent have the resources to give their child the encouragement and support that young people really long for?" questions Sarkia.

Poor kids endure guilt and bullying

The family's financial situation also affects the children’s opportunities to participate in hobbies.

As many as 61 percent of children from low-income families reported not participating in paid activities. For wealthy families, the corresponding figure is 34 percent — with many citing lack of motivation and time as an obstacle to pursuing a hobby.

"We can’t afford it. And even if we could, I’d feel guilty that my parents are sacrificing their own hobbies and spare time so that I could have the opportunity for a hobby," a respondent from the low-income group stated.

Thirty-nine percent said they feel guilty because of their family’s financial situation — of this group, 76 percent described themselves as poor or quite poor.

Children of low-income households even admitted to feeling like a burden to their parents. As a result, they try to limit their spending and try to contribute to the family’s finances, the report said.

In contrast, kids from well-off families felt guilty about having friends who don’t necessarily have similar opportunities that they enjoy.

Up to a third of children from low-income homes said that they have been bullied because of their weak finances.

The data for the report was collected nationally in Finland using an online form earlier this year. Of the 565 respondents, 68 percent were girls and about 29 percent were boys.

At the time of the survey, 52 percent of participants were studying in a comprehensive school, 39 percent in upper secondary school and seven percent in vocational school.

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