What got rural young people in New Hampshire to want to return home later in life
Whether people in rural, northern New Hampshire return to their home county later in life doesn’t just depend on their perception of the job prospects there but whether they thought adults listened to them in their youth.
That’s one of the findings of a rare, decade-long study that followed hundreds of young people in Coos County, New Hampshire, and that could influence discussions about the prospects of youth in Maine. This state has seen its number of working-age people steadily decline, particularly in more rural areas.
Starting in 2008, researchers with the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy set out to better understand young people’s aspirations, choices and challenges, and invited all seventh- and 11th-grade students at public schools in Coos County to fill out a survey. Similar to parts of Maine, pulp and paper mills once served as the economic backbone of Coos County, which borders Canada.
Over the next 10 years, the researchers surveyed a total of 831 participants, including those who stayed in Coos County and those who left, up to six times. They wanted to know what influenced their decisions to leave or stay, and what drew back those who returned.
After all, young people can determine a place’s direction. “Youth have been leaving rural communities for decades, and yet a vibrant future depends on young people staying or returning,” Mil Duncan, a professor emerita and Carsey senior fellow, wrote in the study, which was funded by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, in addition to the National Science Foundation.
It seemed this was an area that could use improvement, as youth in Coos tended to believe that adults did not value their opinions. The economy was not the only thing that influenced whether people wanted to return to Coos.
“Instead, our findings suggest that young adults who leave Coos are more likely to return if they felt heard within their communities of origin during their youth. In light of the relatively low levels of perceived voice among Coos youth between 2008 and 2013, community leaders in Coos County might therefore do well to develop community programming with an eye toward convincing them that adults in Coos care about their concerns and opinions,” the study stated.
Here are some additional findings:
The vast majority of youth survey participants felt that people in their area were “caring, helpful, and friendly,” that they were “willing to help their neighbors,” that they “can be trusted,” and that the towns are safe and close-knit. But only about half of respondents (52 percent) agreed that people “care what kids think.” They felt bored (85 percent) and cut off from other communities (57 percent), thought the population was too small (66 percent), and felt that people judged others unfairly (71 percent) and liked to gossip (90 percent).
— Nonetheless, people’s feelings of attachment to their community can act as a buffer for the harmful effects of stress. Even among the most “stressed out” Coos youth, positive feelings about their home offset their risk for substance use later on.
More concerning, according to the study, is that those with the lowest aspirations were almost exclusively boys. Later on as adults, 50 percent of those youth were not working or in school.
— What predicted people’s aspirations for themselves? The researchers found that young people’s aspirations in 12th grade were strongly related to four qualities instilled earlier in high school: their attachment to their community, grades, school belonging and their perception of their parents’ aspirations for their futures.
— Young people in Coos with the highest aspirations were the least likely to see themselves living in the county in adulthood, an issue that other rural communities have faced as well.
— However, those with the greatest feelings of attachment to their area may be more likely to return later on, even if they leave for a little while.
Read the full study here.
This article originally appeared on www.bangordailynews.com.