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  • Public defence: 2017-08-25 10:00 Myrdal, Växjö
    Hiltunen, Linda
    Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Studies.
    Lagom perfekt: Erfarenheter av ohälsa bland unga tjejer och killar2017Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
    Abstract [en]

    The pursuit of restrained perfection: Experiences of ill health among adolescent girls and boys

    Rates of self-reported mental health problems among young people in Sweden are alarmingly high. Despite several contributions to the literature, knowledge about the subjective health of adolescents is still scarce; specifically, little is known about their experiences of subjective ill health. The aim of this thesis is therefore to study how young people themselves understand the root causes of ill health – or the risk of suffering from ill health – and how they perceive their own ability to cope with these challenges. The thesis also aims to increase our understanding of the fact that girls persistently report higher levels of ill health than boys. Theoretically, the thesis is mainly inspired by symbolic interactionism, but it also relates to, and employs concepts from, the fields of social inequalities in health, research on gender and health, educational research on health, and the sociology of emotions. The thesis applies a mixed-methods approach, and so the conclusions are drawn from a combination of quantitative and qualitative data. The statistical analyses are based on a survey of 497 adolescents, and the qualitative studies build on essays written by the same adolescents, describing their experiences of ill health. I also conducted interviews as a complementary source. The empirical findings are presented in five chapters. The statistical analyses described in the first of these chapters show that the level of ill health in my sample corresponds well with previous studies, whereas the regression analyses reveal that variations in ill health depend on adolescents’ experiences of social relations and status. I also find that these measures interact systematically with gender. The qualitative analyses of the essays and interviews in the following chapters provide more detailed insights into the daily lives of adolescents. A significant finding in these chapters is that ill health is rooted in adolescents’ striving for perfection in several spheres in everyday life. Furthermore, the gender analysis shows that girls, to a greater extent than boys, adhere to norms of behaviour concerning social competition, social relations, and schoolwork. I argue that this “gender regime” helps explain why girls report higher levels of ill health than boys. The results described in the final empirical chapter show that most adolescents employ proactive and reactive strategies to cope with ill health. Still, the resources needed to formulate successful strategies are highly unequally distributed. Notably, adolescents who experience social exclusion appear to have very limited prospects of coping with their situation.