From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Youth subculture and health

This project builds on the work of the youth team exploring the relationship between youth subcultural identity and its potential influence on health and health behaviours.  It draws upon data from the 11-16/16+, PaLs studies and external international collaborations.

The media routinely link certain youth subcultures with particular problematic behaviours with little scientific evidence. For example, segments of the media suggest that Goth, Emo and ‘alternative’ subcultures have a major influence on encouraging teenagers self-injuring behaviours. Youth in the 11-16/16+ study who strongly identified with the Goth youth subculture were over ten-times more likely to attempt suicide or self-injure than their non-Goth peers. Adjusting for social background and other health behaviours such as substance use made little difference to these associations. Consistent with media portrayals, youth from Goth and alternative subcultures are indeed at high risk for suicidal and self-injuring behaviours. However, further investigation found many participants began self-injuring either before they identified with the subculture, or at approximately at the same time. This challenges the direction of influence suggested by the media.

Our 2014 study found a similar pattern among German adolescents who identified with alternative youth culture (Goth, Emo, Punk, etc.). Around half of our alternative adolescent participants self-injured.  Alternative teenagers were four times more likely to self-injure and six times more likely to attempt suicide than other teenagers. The study also compared the reasons alternative and non-alternative adolescents gave for engaging in self-injury. The reasons were similar among both groups, i.e. primarily to regulate emotions and communicate distress. However, a minority of alternative adolescents self-injured to reinforce their group identity, i.e. ‘To feel more a part of a group’.

Youth from disadvantaged or marginalised urban youth subcultures are labelled, in a derogatory manner, as Chav or Neds (Scottish slang). Our 2012 study found that contrary to common assumptions many adolescents from both affluent and non-affluent backgrounds readily identify as Chav or Neds. This is probably because within the adolescent social world that identity confers a degree of status, power and ‘respect’.  Identifying with this group is a strong predictor of many negative health and antisocial behaviours. For example, teenagers who strongly identify with marginalised youth subcultures are over seven times more likely to regularly experience alcohol-related problems and nearly three times more likely to be physically attacked or hurt.  Adolescent (sub)cultural identity has a far stronger link to health and antisocial behaviours than social class.

Recent work explores the link between subcultural identity, violence and victimisation. Following media reports highlighting that alternative youth are frequent targets of bullying, victimisation, physical violence and the recent (2013) policy decision by Greater Manchester Police to record violence targeted towards alternative individuals as hate crime, we estimated the prevalence of victimisation within the alternative community. We confirmed that alternative youth experienced particularly high rates of victimisation and assault which remained high after accounting for social background, area deprivation, drug use and criminal involvement. Alternative youth are approximately six times more likely to be victims of violent crime (physical assault or mugging) with a similar rate for early victimisation, i.e. being physically and verbally bullied during childhood or adolescence.

Publications

2014

Young R, Sproeber N, Groschwitz RC, Preiss M, Plener PL. Why alternative teenagers self-harm: exploring the link between non-suicidal self-injury, attempted suicide and adolescent identity. BMC Psychiatry 2014;14:137

open access  

2012

Young R. Can Neds (or Chavs) be non-delinquent, educated or even middle class? Contrasting empirical findings with cultural stereotypes. Sociology 2012;46:1140-1160

open access  

2006

Young R, Sweeting H, West P. Prevalence of deliberate self harm and attempted suicide within contemporary Goth youth subculture: longitudinal cohort study. BMJ 2006;332:1058-1061

pubmed  open access  

Project Leader

Project Staff