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Research review sheds light on the lives of rural youth

Postdoctoral Researcher Lauri Julkunen‘s study Youth and changing rural regions in the Nordic countries: an overview of history and research priorities summarises previous research and historical knowledge on rural youth across four Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark from the early 20th century to the 2020s.

Need for historical knowledge about rural youth

– Many of the phenomena affecting the lives of young people in rural and sparsely populated areas, such as migration, changes in economic structures or education policies, involve long-term development trends with broad structural, cultural, and political dimensions, tells researcher Lauri Julkunen from University of Jyväskylä.

In contemporary youth studies focusing on the present challenges, however, the historical perspective is often missing. Youth and changing rural regions in the Nordic countries: an overview of history and research priorities contributes to this need for basic knowledge and historical perspectives. It provides a concise overview of the changes in rural youth in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark since the first half of the 20th century. During this period, rural areas in all countries have undergone significant transformations: the decline in the importance of primary production has led to various challenges such as depopulation and the scarcity of services. Youth and changing rural regions in the Nordic countries explores how this transformation of rural areas has affected the lives of young people living in those areas.

Rural youth – overlooked topic in youth research

In addition, the review offers an overview of previous literature on rural youth in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, showing which kinds of research priorities can be identified in the field.

– Overall, youth studies can be criticized for “metrocentrism”: the focus has been on urban places and urban youth cultures, whereas rural youth has stayed largely in the margins of youth research, says project leader Kaisa Vehkalahti from the University of Jyväskylä. When rural young people have been studied, the focus has often been on youth mobility and on the factors that make young people leave rural areas. However, this review shows that also other aspects have been – and continue to be – relevant, Vehkalahti continues.

From agrarian Nordic societies to contemporary challenges: widening educational opportunities, youth mobility and globalisation

The overview is divided into four thematic and loosely chronological chapters. The first chapter examines the life courses of young people in agrarian societies, as all Nordic countries largely were in the first part of the 20th century. Thematic focal points include the significance of work in young people’s lives and the role of expanding education in shaping rural youth. The second chapter starts from the period after the Second World War, when migration to cities accelerated across Nordic countries. Although rural depopulation is not a straightforward development, questions concerning staying or leaving have been at the center of research on young people in rural areas for a long time.

The third chapter examines the welfare state reforms after the Second World War, such as the birth of the comprehensive school, from the perspective of young people in rural areas. Issues of regional equality placed rural youth in the spotlight in a new way in the 1960s and 1970s, which was also reflected in research, and in discourse on exclusion towards the end of the century. The final chapter brings the reader close to the present day and looks at rural youth in an increasingly globalised world.

– The longstanding urban-rural dichotomy has not lost its grip but it takes on new meanings in present-day culture. On the other hand, digitalisation, for example, has diminished the role of the physical location and provided opportunities for multi-locational rural youth, Lauri Julkunen points out.

Nordic project on rural youth

The review is part of the project The Future of Nordic Youth in Rural Regions: A Cross-national Qualitative Longitudinal Study in four Nordic Countries (2022–2025) (Visit an external site. The link opens in a new tab.), which aims to generate knowledge on the lives, experiences, and perceptions of young people living in various sparsely populated and rural areas. One of the aims of the project is to place the challenges facing rural regions today in a broader historical context. The study has been funded by the Future Challenges in the Nordics – People, Culture and Society (Visit an external site. The link opens in a new tab.) -programme, which funds humanities and social science research in areas that pose major challenges for the Nordic societies in the 21st century.

Publication details

The overview is published as an open access publication in Finnish and English by the Finnish Youth Research Society.

Kansi Youth and changing rural regions in the Nordic countries

Lauri Julkunen: Youth and changing rural regions in the Nordic countries. An overview of history and research priorities. ISSN 1799-9227, ISBN 978-952-372-055-8, Finnish Youth Research Network / Finnish Youth Research Society, Internet publications 184. 90 pages.

Nuoret ja muuttuva maaseutu Pohjoismaissa

Lauri Julkunen: Nuoret ja muuttuva maaseutu Pohjoismaissa. Katsaus historiaan ja tutkimuksen painopisteisiin. ISSN 1799-9227, ISBN 978-952-372-054-1, Nuorisotutkimusseuran/Nuorisotutkimusverkoston verkkojulkaisuja 183. Sarja: Kenttä. 90 s.

Announcement of the report

The publication event (in Finnish) on Wednesday 21 February. Participation is possible both on-site at the Jyväskylä University Library (room: B116 Tietoniekka) and via remote connection: participation link (Visit an external site. The link opens in a new tab.).

More information

PhD Lauri Julkunen
University of Jyväskylä 

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