Quarter of young adults in Ireland have above normal stress levels according to new report

Quarter of young adults in Ireland have above normal stress levels according to new report

A NEW report into growing up in Ireland has found that a quarter of all 20-year-olds in Ireland have reported above normal stress scores, with young women more likely to report above normal stress than men.

The report also found that over a fifth of 20-year-old men and almost a third of 20-year-old women had elevated scores on a measure of depressive symptoms.

Over 5,000 20-year-olds were surveyed for the report as part of the 'Growing Up in Ireland' study from the Economic and Social Research Institute whit has been ongoing since 1998.

Participants were interviewed at ages nine, 13, 17/18 and 20 years of age, with the last round of interviews taking place before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Those involved believe the study will provide a crucial understanding of the impact of the public health emergency on a wide range of outcomes in the months and years to come.


Physical activity and leisure

Overall, 65% of young adults achieved the national recommended guidelines for physical activity, with more males (71%) partaking in sufficient levels of activity when compared to females (59%).

Many leisure activities were almost universally pursued by all 20-year-olds. Over 95% used the internet, listened to music, and socialised with friends, while 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, playing team sports or individual sports. In terms of other leisure activities, young women were more likely to regularly go walking, to read or to sing/play an instrument.


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, with 70% partaking in a Higher Education (HE) course, 17% in a Post-Leaving Certificate course and 10% had taken another further education (FE) course.

Participation in higher education was strongly structured by family background.  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.

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.

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%).

Almost two-thirds of students also worked in a job during term time. Much of this group worked up to 20 hours per week and earned €200 or less a week.


Technology and internet 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.

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%).

Over a quarter had posted information online that 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.


Physical and socio-emotional health and well-being

As at younger ages, most young people reported being in excellent (27%) or very good health (47%).

However, 16% of 20-year-olds reported having a longstanding condition or illness, a small increase from the 14% reporting similar conditions at 17/18. The most prevalent of these were psychological or behavioural conditions, and diseases of the respiratory system.

Nearly a quarter of 20-year-olds (24%) were overweight and a further 13% were obese at 20 years of age. This represented an increase since age 17/18 when 20% were overweight and 8% were obese.

The likelihood of obesity was greater amongst young women and those from less advantaged backgrounds, and those who had an overweight or obese parent.

Fifteen per cent of 20-year-olds reported being ‘daily’ smokers, while a further 23% said they smoked ‘occasionally’. Nearly 60% of young adults had ever tried cannabis, while 18% took cannabis occasionally and 6% took it more than once per week.

Almost all young adults (96%) had consumed alcohol by the age of 20, increasing from 90% at age 17/18. The average age for having their first full alcoholic drink was 16.



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.


Dr Fergal Lynch, Secretary General of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth said:

"As a longitudinal study Growing Up in Ireland has generated scientifically robust evidence for policy.

"These detailed findings will be an important resource for our Department and our focus on equality, but also for policy makers working across a variety of Government Departments and agencies, in areas that touch on young people’s lives such as health, education, employment and socioemotional well-being."