Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 25–37

Children of perestroika: the changing socioeconomic conditions in Russia and Ukraine and their effect on the psychological well-being of high-school adolescents

Authors

    • The Bob Shapell School of Social WorkTel-Aviv University
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00127-009-0037-1

Cite this article as:
Tartakovsky, E. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol (2010) 45: 25. doi:10.1007/s00127-009-0037-1

Abstract

The present study investigates how the changing socioeconomic conditions in Russia and Ukraine affect the psychological well-being of high-school adolescents in these countries. Six indexes of psychological well-being, the adolescents’ perception of the economic conditions in their families, perceived parental practices (care and autonomy providing), and perceived social support were measured in 1999 and 2007. Macro-level socioeconomic conditions in Russia and Ukraine, as well as the adolescents’ perception of the economic conditions in their family, substantially improved from 1999 to 2007. However, the psychological well-being of the adolescents, as well as their perception of parental practices and the social support received from parents, peers, and teachers did not change. Russian adolescents consistently reported higher self-esteem and school competence than their Ukrainian peers, as well as higher parental care and autonomy providing, and higher social support received from peers. At the individual level, perceived parental care and autonomy providing, as well as perceived social support from parents, peers, and teachers were the major contributors to the adolescents’ psychological well-being. The obtained results are discussed in light of the conservation of resources and ecological systems theories.

Keywords

Psychological well-being of adolescentsPerceived social supportParental care and autonomy providingRussiaUkraine

Introduction

From the beginning of the twenty-first century, most of the republics of the former Soviet Union enjoyed a period of rapid economic growth and relative political stability which, however, in some countries, was accompanied by restrains of civil rights [6, 43]. This is in sharp contrast to the previous period of perestroika, which was characterized by drastic democratic reforms, but also by political turmoil, economic instability, and social unrest [57]. The effect of the recent socioeconomic changes on the psychological well-being of the citizens of the former Soviet Union has not yet been investigated, and this study aims to partially fill this gap. In the present article, we compare macro-level socioeconomic indexes in Russia and Ukraine in 1999 and 2007 and analyze socioeconomic changes that occurred in the two countries during these years. We compare the psychological well-being of adolescents who attended high schools in Russia and Ukraine in 1999 with that of adolescents who attended high schools in these countries in 2007. Finally, we examine the demographic, socioeconomic, and psychological characteristics of adolescents that are associated with their psychological well-being.

Theories and empirical findings related to the connection between socioeconomic conditions and psychological well-being

All psychological theories assume that better socioeconomic conditions are associated with the higher psychological well-being of individuals; however, two theories specifically relate to this issue. Conservation of resources theory assumes that individuals strive to obtain, retain, and protect resources, because they have both instrumental and symbolic values for them [26]. These resources include objects, conditions, personal characteristics, and finances. Accumulation of these resources leads to higher psychological well-being. On the other hand, when these resources are threatened with loss, when they are lost, or are not gained, individuals experience distress [27]. More beneficial socioeconomic conditions permit individuals to obtain and retain more resources and to decrease the probability of their loss. Therefore, better socioeconomic conditions in the individual’s family and in the country in general should be associated with higher psychological well-being.

Ecological systems theory assumes that the interplay between the inborn characteristics of an individual and the surrounding ecosystem determines the individual’s development and well-being [9]. The ecosystem includes several interactive levels: the family, community, country, and the global world. Ecological systems theory stresses the importance of social systems larger than the family, mainly the community and society, for the well-being of individuals. Ecological systems theory assumes that the well-being of children and adolescents depends on the quality of their social environment, which includes relationships with the parents and other significant adults, peers in the neighborhood and in school, and teachers in school [15]. Therefore, socioeconomic conditions in the country together with the socioeconomic conditions in the family may affect the quality of the adolescents’ environment and thus affect their well-being.

Two models were suggested to explain the association between the parents’ socioeconomic status (SES) and the children’s psychological well-being [53]. The family stress model assumes that the SES affects the parents’ psychological well-being and through this influences parenting practices, which, in turn affect the children’s development. The investment model assumes that higher SES enables parents to acquire materials, experience, and services that are beneficial to children’s well-being and development.

Empirical studies confirmed that low-status social groups had higher rates of difficult, harsh, and traumatic life events, and their physical and mental health was lower than that of higher SES groups [5, 53]. Individuals with lower income reported lower psychological well-being and happiness than those who had a higher income [23]. The adversary effect of low SES on parenting was also confirmed empirically. Poor families had higher incidences of inadequate caretaking, and an increased use of harsh punishment. The psychological well-being of children and their secure attachment to their mothers were associated with their parents’ income (see a review in [53]. However, the effect of the family’s SES was selective. It was strongest for the preschoolers and early school adolescents, and it was relatively weak for high-school adolescents. In addition, adverse economic conditions had a stronger effect on children’s school achievements and cognitive development as compared to children’s socioemotional development [53].

Cross-cultural studies demonstrated that psychological well-being differed across countries [13, 16, 56]. The highest well-being was found in Western European countries, the USA, Australia, and Canada, while the lowest psychological well-being was found in the countries of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, and some African and South American countries [13, 16, 56]. The socioeconomic variables that had the strongest correlation with psychological well-being cross-culturally were the level of economic development (as measured by the GDP per person) and the quality of the health and education systems. Other variables associated with higher psychological well-being included democracy and human rights, the value of individualism, and socioeconomic equality in the country [13, 21].

Few studies have investigated time trends in psychological well-being. A study in the USA, in which social competences and emotional and behavioral problems of children and adolescents were measured by the Youth Self-Report in 1976, 1989, and 1999, found that from 1976 to 1989, social competences decreased and problem scores increased, while from 1989 to 1999, a reverse tendency was found [4]. Although the differences were significant, the effect size of the changes was small (1–4%). Nevertheless, the authors argued that the economic decline at the end of the 1980s was responsible for the decreased social competency and increased psychological problems in American adolescents [3]. A similar study conducted in the United Kingdom found that conduct and emotional problems of adolescents measured in 1974, 1986, and 1999 steadily increased [11]. However, the authors found no connection between the increase in psychological problems and changes in socioeconomic indicators [50]. Finally, a study conducted in the Netherlands in 1983 and 1993 found no significant change in children’s and adolescents’ psychological well-being [54]). These cross-country inconsistencies in the time trends do not reveal any causative factor [50]. No study of time trends in psychological well-being was ever conducted in the countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU). The present research aims to address this gap.

Socioeconomic conditions and psychological well-being in the FSU in the 1990s

Economic conditions in all countries of the FSU declined in the 1990s compared with the pre-perestroika period [44]. State support of industry and agriculture stopped, while the market did not succeed in creating enough new jobs. Devaluation of the local currency and inflation led to numerous bankruptcies and the inability of many employers, including the state, to pay employees. Inequalities in income distribution increased, social benefits and security were reduced and material hardships including a shortage of food, clothes, and housing affected large segments of the population [8, 20]. In 1995, more than two-thirds of the population in Russia perceived their economic situation as worse than 5 years before (Rose 1995, cited in [20]. Between 1991 and 2000, the alcohol intake of men in Russia increased by a fourfold factor, the prevalence of drug addicts grew almost nine times, and the number of HIV infections increased almost tenfold (Koshkina 2003, sited in [22]. In the 1990s, life expectancy in all republics of the FSU was much lower than in developed countries [8, 10, 17].

Only a few studies have examined the psychological well-being of Russian adults in the 1990s. One such study found that the psychological well-being of Russians was second to last among 55 nations [13]. Ukraine was not included in the study of Diener et al., but another comparative study conducted in four former Soviet Republics found that Ukrainians had higher psychological distress than Russians [10]. All studies that compared Russian and western adolescents found there to be lower psychological well-being among Russian adolescents. Russian adolescents reported less positive attitude to life, a lower level of self-esteem, and a higher level of depression than American adolescents [21, 31]. Russian students had the second lowest level of well-being among the 39 countries studied by Balatsky and Diener [7]. Russian adolescents reported more emotional and behavioral problems than adolescents from seven developed countries [33, 45, 55]. Among Russian 7–14 year-olds, the prevalence of psychiatric disorders was about 70% higher than that found in Britain [18]. Russian adolescents reported a higher frequency of everyday problems, more global and personal worries, and less optimism than American adolescents [31, 32].

Several factors were found predicting adolescents’ well-being in the FSU. Adolescents from smaller towns reported lower psychological well-being than their peers in Moscow [7]. Family cohesion and adolescent–parent closeness were negatively correlated with depressed mood and frequency of tobacco and alcohol use [41]. The mother’s mental health, alcohol problems in the family, and domestic violence were associated with more emotional and behavioral problems in adolescents [18].

Socioeconomic changes in Russia and Ukraine in the twenty-first century

The current study focuses on Russia and Ukraine. These two countries comprise about 80% of population and territory of the further Soviet Union [30]. They both have predominantly Slavic population and were among the most developed republics of the USSR. However, the two countries differ greatly in their natural resources, which are abundant in Russia but scarce in Ukraine. In both countries, intense political struggle between liberal and conservative forces and the transition from the state-owned to the free-market economy took place in the 1990s [57]. However, the political situation in the beginning of the twenty-first century differed substantially in the two countries. In Russia, the situation changed in 1999, with the beginning of Putin’s presidency. During the following decade, the political situation in Russia was stable, while civil rights were curbed, and the state partly regained its control over the economy [6, 43]. In contrast to Russia, the first decade of the twenty-first century in Ukraine saw a continuation of the political struggle, which, however, was accompanied by political freedom and the further development of the market economy [1].

In order to examine how socioeconomic conditions in Russia and Ukraine in the twenty-first century differed from those in the 1990s, we compared several macro-level indexes, using measurements from 1999 to 2007. Eight socioeconomic indexes were chosen for the comparison (Table 1).1
Table 1

Macro-level socioeconomic indexes of Russia and Ukraine, 1999–2007

Macro-level indexes

Russia

Ukraine

1999

2007

1999

2007

GDP per capita ($)a

4,000

12,100

2,200

7,600

GDP annual growth rate (%)a

−2.0

6.6

−6.0

6.0

Life expectancy at birth (years)a

61.3

67.1

63.0

70.0

Infant mortality rate (1/1,000 live births)a

23.0

15.1

21.7

9.9

Prison population rate (1/100,000 citizens)b

688

628

478

345

Corruption Perceptions Index (on a scale 0–10)c

2.4

2.3

2.6

2.7

Press Freedom Index, on a scale 0–100 (2002–2007)d

48.0

56.9

40.0

26.8

Human Development Index (on a scale 0–1)e

0.747

0.802

0.721

0.788

aCoutsoukis [12]

bInternational Center for Prison Studies [29]

cTransparency International [51]. Higher CPI indicates less corruption

dReporters without Borders [37]. Higher PFI indicates less freedom of press

eUnited Nation Development Program (2007). Higher HDI indicates higher standard of life in a country

  • GDP per capita reflects economic conditions and the standard of living

  • GDP annual growth rate reflects the dynamic of economic changes

  • Life expectancy at birth reflects level of nutrition, public health, and medicine

  • Infant mortality rate reflects the standard of living and the population’s health

  • Prison population rate reflects the crime level

  • Corruption Perceptions Index reflects moral conduct2

  • Press Freedom Index reflects civil rights and the level of democracy3

  • Human Development Index reflects the standard of living in a comprehensive manner.4

Seven out of eight indexes improved in Ukraine and six indexes improved in Russia from 1999 to 2007. The Corruption Perceptions Index in both countries did not change. The Press Freedom Index became worse in Russia, indicating stronger oppression of civil rights in 2007 as compared to 1999. Therefore, from 1999 to 2007, both Russia and Ukraine became wealthier, healthier, and safer countries. However, both countries did not improve their moral conduct, and although there was an improvement in civil rights in Ukraine, there was a stronger civil rights’ oppression in Russia.

Russia had more positive indicators than Ukraine in the GDP per capita, the GDP annual growth rate, and the Human Development Index. However, Ukraine was ahead of Russia in life expectancy, infant mortality rate, prison population rate, the Corruption Perceptions Index, and the Press Freedom Index. Therefore, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, Russia was more developed economically as compared to Ukraine; however, it was less democratic, more corrupt, more crime-ridden, and less healthy. In both 1999 and 2007, all indexes indicated that the standard of living in Russia and Ukraine was lower than that in developed countries [12]. However, in 2007, Russian and Ukrainian economies were developing at a higher rate than the economies of developed countries, and the gap between the Russian and Ukraine economies and the economies of developed countries was decreasing.

Hypotheses of the research

Based on the conservation of resources theory [26], ecological systems theory [9], and the results of previous studies on the relations between socioeconomic conditions and psychological well-being, the following hypotheses of the current research were formulated:
  1. 1.

    The improved socioeconomic conditions in Russia and Ukraine in 2007 as compared to 1999 should cause improvement in the perceived economic conditions, parental practices, perceived social support, and the psychological well-being of adolescents.

     
  2. 2.

    Since the economic conditions in Russia are better than those in Ukraine, the psychological well-being of Russian adolescents should be higher than that among Ukrainian adolescents. The same should be true regarding perceived economic conditions, parental practices, and perceived social support.

     
  3. 3.

    The following factors should be associated with higher psychological well-being of Russian and Ukrainian adolescents: better perceived economic conditions in the family, parental care and autonomy providing, and higher perceived social support. Higher SES (higher education and professional occupation) of the parents, a family composed of two adults, and life in a large city should also be associated with higher psychological well-being.

     

Method

Sampling

Adolescents who are 15–16 years old studying in the 10–11 grades in Russian and Ukrainian public schools were the target population of this research. 1,229 adolescents took part in this study. 489 adolescents were questioned in 1999 (348 in Russia and 141 in Ukraine) and 740 adolescents were questioned in 2007 (461 in Russia and 279 in Ukraine). Socio-demographic characteristics of the two samples are presented in Table 2. As the comparison demonstrates, the two samples were almost identical, with two exceptions: a slightly higher proportion of Ukrainian adolescents in the 2007 sample (38 vs. 29%; χ2 = 10.29, p < 0.01) and the higher average number of siblings in 2007 [0.96 (1.01) vs. 0.84 (0.76), t(1,167) = 2.06, p < 0.05).5
Table 2

Socio-demographic parameters of the samples

 

1999 sample

2007 sample

Number of participants in the sample

489

740

Percent of participants living in Ukraine*

29

38

Percent of participants living in large cities (with a population of one million or more)

52

49

Percent of males in the sample

40

42

Percent of adolescents, whose mother has a tertiary education

59

60

Percent of adolescents, whose father has tertiary education

58

62

Percent of adolescents, whose father is unemployed/employed in unqualified work/employed in professional or managerial work

9/32/59

8/36/56

Percent of adolescents, whose mother is unemployed/employed in unqualified work/employed in professional or managerial work

19/30/51

18/33/49

Percent of adolescents living with one parent

24

23

Number of siblings*

0.84 (0.76)

0.96 (1.01)

Percent of adolescents living in a three-generation households

17

22

Number of rooms in the family’s apartment

2.82 (1.11)

2.87 (1.14)

Number of people in the household

3.74 (0.90)

3.75 (1.05)

Percent of adolescents from ethnically mixed families

12

14

* The difference is significant (P < 0.05)

Procedure

This study applied a three-step stratified sampling procedure. At the first step, the city in which adolescents were questioned was chosen; at the second stage the school was chosen; and at the third step the class was chosen.

Adolescents participating in this study were questioned by psychologists working in their schools. The psychologists were chosen from participants of a professional seminar organized by an international charity organization for school psychologists in the FSU. From 21 psychologists who attended the seminar, 17 represented Russia and Ukraine, and they all agreed to join the study. Since the psychologists were invited to the seminar according to regional quotas (their participation was subsidized), all regions of Russia and Ukraine had equal chance to be represented. All four main geographic regions in Russia (central, north, eastern, and southern) were represented by at least two cities. In Ukraine, the four cities (5 in 2007) represented all the four main regions of the country.

In 1999, the study was conducted in 12 cities in Russia and in 4 cities in Ukraine; in 2007, the study was conducted in 8 cities in Russia and 5 cities in Ukraine. The regions covered included eight large cities (over 1 million citizens), and eight smaller cities (less than 1 million citizens). The smallest city included in the study had 135,000 citizens, while the largest (Moscow) had 10.4 million citizens. All cities where the study was conducted in 2007 were the same as those in 1999, except one city that was added in Ukraine.

Each psychologist participating in the study worked in several schools (the numbers varied from 3 to 7). Among their schools, they were asked to choose a school, where students best represented the city population. All chosen schools were public schools, without any particular religious, ethnic, professional or other affiliation. The schools varied in their number of high-school classes (from 3 to 5 classes), which in Russia and Ukraine include the 10th and 11th grades. Classes consisted of 25–30 students. In 2007, about 70% of schools included in the study were the same that participated in the study in 1999.

One class was randomly selected in each school. All adolescents attending classes on the day when questioning was conducted were asked to fill out the questionnaires. The adolescents filled out the questionnaires in their classes during school hours. Signed informed consent was obtained from all adolescents participating in the study.6 The adolescents were assured of the anonymity of their answers and of their right not to participate in the study. Less then 3% of the students refused to participate in the study.

To check for the representativeness of the obtained sample, its socio-demographic characteristics were compared with the characteristics of the samples in previous studies of Russian adolescents [21, 3133, 45]. The present sample was very similar to the samples obtained in the previous studies of high-school adolescents in the FSU in its gender composition (a higher percent of girls), city size (about 1:1 ratio between large and middle-size cities), parents’ education (most having tertiary education), and family structure (about 1/4 single-parent families). The comparison with the data provided by the Interstate Statistical Committee of the CIS [30] also confirmed that the present study sample was representative of the adolescents living in large cities and middle-size towns.

Instruments

The current study used self-report paper-and-pencil questionnaires. The questionnaires were in Russian, and it took 40–60 min to fill them out. The questionnaires were translated from English to Russian by the researcher. After that, they were back translated to English by an English native speaker and the disparities were ironed out by a team of three multilingual journalists and translators. Item and functional equivalence, as well as the structure of all the scales used in this study were tested in previous studies conducted among Russian and Ukrainian adolescents and among immigrants from these countries [19, 3840, 45, 47, 48, 58].

Measures of psychological well-being

The study applied six indexes of psychological well-being. Four indexes measured positive psychological well-being: general self-esteem, body image, social competence, and school competence. Two indexes measured negative psychological well-being (distress): emotional and behavioral problems and loneliness. All questionnaires used 5-point Likert scales, except the Youth Self-Report that used a 3-point scale. Middle to high correlations between the six indexes of psychological well-being (from 0.27 to 0.62) indicated that they measure a common construct. Internal consistencies of the scales measured by Cronbach α are provided below separately for the Russian and Ukrainian samples for the 2007 measurement.

Self-esteem was measured by the Self-liking/Self-worth scale [46]. This scale consists of 20 positively and negatively formulated items reflecting feelings of social worth and personal efficacy. Item examples: “Owing to my capabilities, I have much potential”; “It is often unpleasant for me to think about myself” (reversed). Internal consistency of the scale was 0.87 in the Russian sample and 0.82 in the Ukrainian sample.

Body image was measured by the body image scale of the Offer Self-Image Questionnaire [35]. This scale consists of 14 items measuring the perception of one’s physical appearance and physical abilities. Item examples: “I feel strong and healthy”; “I feel unhappy with my body” (reversed). Internal consistency of the scale was 0.81 in the Russian sample and 0.80 in the Ukrainian sample.

Social competence was measured by the short form B of the Texas Social Behavior Inventory (TSBI) [25]. This 16-item scale measures feelings of perceived competence and comfort in social situations. Item examples: “I enjoy being around other people and seek out social encounters frequently”; “I would describe myself as socially unskilled” (reversed). Internal consistency of the scale was 0.85 in the Russian sample and 0.85 in the Ukrainian sample.

School competence was measured using items from the multifaceted academic self-concept scale [34]. This scale consists of ten positively and negatively formulated items related to the subjective perception of one’s abilities in performing various school tasks. Item examples: “I am a good pupil”; “Compared with my classmates, I must study more than they do to get the same grades” (reversed). Internal consistency of the scale was 0.68 in the Russian sample and 0.70 in the Ukrainian sample.

Behavioral and emotional problems were measured by the Youth Self-Report questionnaire (YSR) [2]. The YSR includes 112 items grouped into 9 syndromes, which in turn are grouped into scores measuring internalization, externalization, and total problems. The internalization problems score is computed by summing the withdrawn, somatic complaints, and anxious/depressed syndromes’ scores. The externalization problems score is computed by summing the delinquent behavior and aggressive behavior syndromes’ scores. The total problems score is computed by summing all the symptom scores obtained. Internal consistencies of the scales in the Russian and Ukrainian samples were as follows: internalization (0.89, 0.89), externalization (0.87, 0.85), and total problems score (0.93, 0.93).

Loneliness was measured by a Short-Form Measure of Loneliness [24]. This scale measures distress associated with inadequate social contacts. It consists of eight items, positively and negatively formulated, from the revised UCLA Loneliness Scale. Item examples: “I lack companionship”; “I am an outgoing person” (reversed). Internal consistency of the scale was 0.81 in the Russian sample and 0.83 in the Ukrainian sample.

Perceived social support

Perceived social support was measured by a Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support [59]. This questionnaire consists of 12 items, which are divided into 3 subscales relating to social support received from parents, peers, and teachers. Item examples: “There is a teacher who is around when I am in need”; “My family really tries to help me”; “I have friends with whom I can share my joys and sorrows”. Internal consistencies of the scales in the Russian and Ukrainian samples were as follows: parents (0.83, 0.82), peers (0.84, 0.87), and teachers (0.87, 0.88).

Perceived parental practices

Perceived parental practices were measured by the Parental Bonding Inventory [36]. This questionnaire reflects the adolescent’s perception of the mother’s parenting behavior. The questionnaire includes two scales: care-rejection and autonomy providing-control. The care-rejection scale consists of 12 items referring to the warm, sensitive, and available aspects of the parental representation versus cold, insensitive, and rejecting aspects. The autonomy providing-over control scale consists of 13 items referring to the mother’s encouragement of the age-appropriate autonomy of the child versus over controlling. Cross-cultural studies confirmed the universal character of the two dimensions of parental bonding [38]. Example items for the care-rejection scale are: “My mother appears to understand my problems and worries”; “My mother seems emotionally cold to me” (reversed). Example items for the autonomy-over control scale are: “My mother encourages me to make my own decisions”; “My mother makes me dependent on her” (reversed). Internal consistencies of the scales in Russian and Ukrainian samples were as follows: care-rejection (0.86, 0.84), autonomy providing-control (0.83, 0.77).

Perceived economic conditions

Perceived economic conditions of the adolescents were assessed using a one-item scale on which the participants were asked to assess the economic conditions of their families compared to other families in Russia or Ukraine on a 5-point scale, from 1—‘much worse’ to 5—‘much better’. Perceived changes in economic conditions of the adolescents were assessed using a one-item scale where the participants were asked to assess how the economic conditions of their families changed over the last year on a 5-point scale, from 1—‘became much worse’ to 5—‘became much better’.

Socio-demographic characteristics

Gender: 1, male; 2, female.

City size: 1, more than 1 million citizens; 2, less than 1 million citizens.

Family composition: 1, single-parent family; 2, two-parent family. The category of two-parent families included families where both biological parents lived together with the adolescent and families where a biological parent and a step-parent lived with the adolescent.

Parents’ education was a sum of the mother’s and father’s education measured as 1, secondary, 2, tertiary.

Parents’ occupation was a sum of the mother’s and father’s occupation measured as 0, unemployed; 1, manual or clerical occupation; 2, professional or managerial occupation.

Results

ANOVAs were conducted in order to compare perceived economic conditions in the family, psychological well-being of the adolescents, parental bonding, and perceived social support in 1999 and 2007. Country, socio-demographic characteristics of the adolescents’ family, and the participants’ gender were included in the analyses as predictors. Table 3 presents the means and standard deviations of the variables for the Russian and Ukrainian samples separately.
Table 3

Perceived economic conditions, psychological well-being, parental bonding, and perceived social support in Russian and Ukrainian adolescents: mean values and SD

Variables

Russia

Ukraine

1999

2007

1999

2007

Perceived economic conditions

3.39 (0.74)

3.49 (0.72)

3.01 (0.77)

3.48 (0.65)

Perceived economic change during the last year

3.32 (0.76)

3.53 (0.74)

3.23 (0.81)

3.62 (0.71)

Internalizing problems scores

17.67 (9.54)

16.99 (9.03)

17.75 (8.21)

16.79 (8.97)

Externalizing problems scores

18.75 (8.26)

19.17 (8.31)

18.07 (7.08)

18.77 (8.38)

Total problems scores

61.43 (24.24)

60.92 (23.38)

61.55 (19.66)

59.94 (23.39)

Loneliness

2.03 (0.82)

1.99 (0.77)

2.16 (0.77)

2.07 (0.80)

Self-esteem

3.81 (0.54)

3.83 (0.55)

3.68 (0.43)

3.69 (0.52)

Body image

3.65 (0.63)

3.65 (0.65)

3.56 (0.55)

3.58 (0.63)

Social competence

3.65 (0.58)

3.67 (0.61)

3.56 (0.48)

3.57 (0.63)

School competence

3.49 (0.67)

3.44 (0.63)

3.27 (0.66)

3.36 (0.65)

Parental care

4.13 (0.65)

4.04 (0.76)

4.00 (0.62)

3.99 (0.69)

Parental autonomy providing

3.52 (0.64)

3.54 (0.69)

3.39 (0.60)

3.41 (0.63)

Perceived social support from parents

3.92 (0.91)

3.80 (0.94)

3.80 (0.82)

3.82 (0.89)

Perceived social support from peers

3.93 (0.95)

3.95 (0.89)

3.63 (0.95)

3.78 (0.99)

Perceived social support from teachers

2.68 (1.17)

2.87 (1.24)

3.05 (1.19)

2.83 (1.24)

A significant effect of time was found for the perceived economic conditions in the family [F(1,1134) = 38.62, P < 0.001]. In 2007, both Russian and Ukrainian adolescents perceived economic conditions in their families in a more positive way than did their peers in 2000. The Levene tests for homogeneity of variance yielded not significant [F(1, 1180) = 0.30, ns]; it confirmed that the dispersions of the scores of the perceived economic conditions in the family were similar in the 1999 and 2007. A significant interaction effect of time and country on perceived economic conditions in the family was found [F(1,1134) = 10.86, P < 0.01]. Post hoc comparisons demonstrated that while in 1999 Russian adolescents perceived the economic conditions in their families in a more positive way than did Ukrainian adolescents [t(484) = 4.98, P < 0.001], the difference between the two countries was not significant in 2007 [t(694) = 0.12, ns].

A significant effect of time was found for the perceived change in the economic conditions in the family over the last year [F(1,1135) = 29.24, P < 0.001]. In 2007, both Russian and Ukrainian adolescents perceived the change in the economic conditions in their families over the last year as more positive than did their peers in 1999. The Levene tests for homogeneity of variance yielded non-significant [F(1, 1181) = 0.05, ns]; it confirmed that the dispersions of the scores of the perceived change in economic conditions in the family over the last year were similar in the 1999 and 2007 samples. No significant interaction effect of time with other predicting variables on the perceived change in economic conditions in the family over the last year was found.

No significant effect of time or its interaction with socio-demographic variables on the indexes of psychological well-being, parental bonding, and perceived social support was found.

To test the differences between Russian and Ukrainian adolescents, the main effect of country on psychological well-being, perceived parental practices, and perceived social support was examined. A significant effect of country was found on the following dependent variables: self-esteem [F(1,986) = 8.28, P < 0.01], school competence [F(1,992) = 5.36, P < 0.01], parental care [F(1,1130) = 4.22, P < 0.05], parental autonomy providing [F(1,1129) = 4.62, P < 0.05], and perceived social support received from peers [F(1,961) = 9.70, P < 0.05]. In all these variables, Russian adolescents reported higher scores than their Ukrainian peers.

To examine the effect of various factors on psychological well-being at the individual level, zero-order correlations between the socio-demographic characteristics, perceived economic conditions, parental bonding, perceived social support, and the indexes of psychological well-being were computed (Table 4).7
Table 4

Zero-level correlations between the variables

 

Emotional and behavioral problems

Loneliness

Self-esteem

Body image

Social competence

School competence

City size

−0.07

−0.00

−0.04

0.03

0.01

−0.06

Gender

0.12*

−0.04

0.07

0.06

0.10*

0.04

Parents’ education

−0.06

−0.16*

0.18*

0.15*

0.15*

0.18*

Parents’ occupation

−0.02

−0.12*

0.15*

0.17*

0.20*

0.17*

Family composition

0.02

0.03

0.03

0.08

0.01

0.04

Perceived economic conditions

−0.19*

−0.21*

0.22*

0.24*

0.22*

0.16*

Perceived economic change during the last year

−0.05

−0.15*

0.12*

0.09

0.17*

0.04

Parental care

−0.35*

−0.43*

0.40*

0.36*

0.36*

0.20*

Parental autonomy providing

−0.37*

−0.25*

0.29*

0.22*

0.19*

0.21*

Perceived social support from parents

−0.22*

−0.31*

0.22*

0.24*

0.26*

0.15*

Perceived social support from peers

−0.11*

−0.44*

0.24*

0.26*

0.40*

0.11*

Perceived social support from teachers

0.03

−0.15*

0.09

0.04

0.18*

0.16*

P < 0.05

City size and family composition were not significantly correlated with any index of psychological well-being. Gender was correlated with only two indexes of psychological well-being (girls reported more emotional and behavioral problems but higher social competence then boys); however, the effect size of gender was small (about 1%). Parents’ education and occupation were positively correlated with all indexes of psychological well-being, except emotional and behavioral problems. Perceived economic conditions were positively correlated with all indexes of psychological well-being, while the perceived change in the economic conditions of the family in the last year was correlated only with three indexes of psychological well-being: self-esteem, social competence, and loneliness. Parental care and parental autonomy providing were correlated with all indexes of psychological well-being. Perceived social support received from parents and perceived social support received from peers were correlated with all indexes of psychological well-being, while perceived social support received from teachers was correlated only with three indexes of psychological well-being: social competence, school competence, and loneliness.

Hierarchical regression analyses were conducted in order to explore the relative impact of the four groups of predicting variables whose zero-level correlations with psychological well-being were significant (parents’ education and occupation, perceived economic conditions in the family, parental care and autonomy providing, and perceived social support). The six indexes of psychological well-being were included in the analyses as dependent variables. Each analysis had four steps. At the first step, parents’ education and occupation were included as independent variables. At the second step, parents’ education and occupation and two measures of perceived economic conditions in the family (economic conditions as compared to other families and the change in economic conditions over the last year) were included as independent variables. At the third step, parents’ education and occupation, two measures of perceived economic conditions in the family, and the two measures of parental bonding (care-rejection and autonomy providing-control) were included as independent variables. Finally, at the fourth step, parents’ education and occupation, two measures of perceived economic conditions, two measures of parental bonding, and two measures of perceived social support (social support received from peers, and teachers) were included as independent variables. Perceived social support received from parents was not included at the fourth step of the analysis, because it was highly correlated with parental care (0.67). The results of the hierarchical regression analyses are presented in Table 5.
Table 5

Hierarchical regression analyses of the six indexes of psychological well-being

 

Emotional and behavioral problems

Loneliness

Self-esteem

Body image

Social competence

School competence

Step 1, R2

0.01, ns

0.03**

0.06***

0.04***

0.05***

0.05***

Step 2, R2

0.03*

0.06***

0.08***

0.08***

0.09***

0.06***

Step 3, R2

0.18***

0.21***

0.21***

0.17***

0.17***

0.11***

Step 4, R2

0.20***

0.32***

0.23***

0.19***

0.27***

0.14***

P < 0.05; ** P < 0.01; *** P < 0.001

Step 1 included two predicting variables: parents’ education and occupation

Step 2 added two measures of perceived economic conditions (economic conditions as compared to other families and the change in economic conditions over the last year)

Step 3 added the two measures of parental bonding (care-rejection and autonomy providing-control)

Step 4 added two measures of perceived social support received from peers and teachers

Parents’ education and occupation explained 1–6% of the variance in the adolescents’ psychological well-being, while their prediction of the emotional and behavioral problems was not significant. The addition of perceived economic conditions in the adolescent’s family did not significantly improve prediction; the four variables together explained 3–9% of the variance in the six indexes of psychological well-being. The addition of parental bonding significantly improved prediction in five out of six indexes of psychological well-being (except school competence); the six independent variables explained 11–21% of the variance in the six indexes of psychological well-being. Finally, the addition of perceived social support received from peers and teachers significantly improved the prediction only in two out of six dependent variables (loneliness and social competence). All eight predicting variables accounted for 14–32% of the variance in the six indexes of psychological well-being; the prediction was highest for loneliness and lowest for school competence.

Discussion

The main goal of this study was to examine how macro-level changes in socioeconomic conditions in Russia and Ukraine affected the psychological well-being of adolescents in these countries. In addition, the individual-level effects of perceived economic conditions in the family, parental practices, and social support on the adolescents’ psychological well-being were investigated. Measurements were conducted among high-school adolescents in 1999 and 2007. The adolescents were drawn from public schools in cities and towns of different sizes dispersed over the entire territory of Russia and Ukraine. The 1999 and 2007 samples had almost identical socio-demographic characteristics.

Macro-level indexes demonstrated that the socioeconomic conditions in both Russia and Ukraine substantially improved from 1999 to 2007. However, there was no decrease in corruption in both countries, and civil rights became more oppressed in Russia. Positive socioeconomic changes in the country lead to the improvement in the socioeconomic conditions in the families. In 2007, adolescents evaluated the economic conditions of their families more positively than did their peers in 1999. In addition, in 2007, more than in 1999, adolescents felt that the economic conditions of their family improved during the last year. Homogeneity of variances in the two variables measured in 1999 and 2007 indicated that the macro-level socioeconomic changes in Russia and Ukraine positively affected the economic conditions of the entire population and not only a small segment.

However, the improvement in the socioeconomic conditions in the country and in the families did not lead to a positive change in the adolescents’ psychological well-being either in Russia or in Ukraine. None of the six indexes of psychological well-being measured in this study changed significantly in 2007 as compared with 1999. Moreover, the externalizing problems score (reflecting delinquent and aggressive behavior of the adolescents) changed in the direction opposite to that hypothesized, thus indicating not only a lack of the improvement but also some aggravation of these problems. A comparison of the Youth Self-Report total problems scores obtained in this study with those measured in seven developed countries by Verhulst et al. [55] revealed a full standard deviation difference in favor of the adolescents from developed countries [total scores and SD: 60.9 (23.2) vs. 37.6 (21.0)]. Therefore, the psychological well-being of Russian and Ukrainian adolescents did not improve in the post-perestroika period, and it remained much worse than that of their peers in developed countries.

The lack of improvement in psychological well-being despite the improvement in the socioeconomic conditions seems to contradict the conservation of resources theory and the ecological systems theory. However, several post hoc explanations may be suggested. One explanation relates to the factor of time. It is possible that not enough time has elapsed in order for the effect of the improved socioeconomic conditions on the adolescents’ psychological well-being to become significant. Only 8 years separated the two measurements in this study. This means that the adolescents who participated in the study in 2007 spent half of their life under the harsh conditions of the 1990s, while only the second half of their life was lived in the improved socioeconomic conditions. Adolescents, who will live most of their lives under the benign socioeconomic conditions that now exist in the FSU, may demonstrate higher psychological well-being in the future.

Another explanation relates to the magnitude of improvement in the socioeconomic conditions. Conservation of resources theory assumes that resource gain is less potent in changing the individuals’ psychological well-being than resource loss [27]. If the improvement in socioeconomic conditions is not big enough, its effect on psychological well-being of individuals may not be significant. Analysis of the macro-level indicators demonstrates that despite the considerable improvement, neither Russia nor Ukraine reached the level of developed countries [52]. Therefore, when the socioeconomic conditions in these countries will further improve, positive changes in the psychological well-being of their citizens may become significant.

A third possible explanation is that in order to affect psychological well-being, not only socioeconomic conditions in a country and in the family need to improve, but also parental practices and the overall relationships between people in society. The current study demonstrated that neither perceived parental practices nor perceived social support changed from 1999 to 2007 in both Russia and Ukraine. This may be a reason for the absence of change in the adolescents’ psychological well-being. Parental practices and interpersonal relationships in society depend not only on the socioeconomic conditions, but also on the values and cultural norms which prevail in the country, and these values and norms are resistant to change [42, 53].

The fourth possible reason for the lack of change in psychological well-being is related to corruption, which remained very high in both Russia and Ukraine during the last decade. Recent cross-cultural studies (e.g., [49] demonstrated that corruption has a strong negative effect on psychological well-being. High levels of corruption may be related to the adolescents’ feeling of alienation as they live in a country lacking positive norms and moral standards. Living in a corrupt country may also decrease the adolescents’ ability to maintain a sense of mastery due to one’s inability to rely on certain beliefs, for example, if one studies well, then one can succeed in life. Therefore, positive changes in the moral conduct of countries undergoing rapid economic development may be crucial in ensuring the psychological well-being of their citizens. This is particularly true for adolescents, who are at the formative stage of identity exploration.

In the present study, Russian adolescents reported higher self-esteem and school competence than their Ukrainian peers. In addition, Russian adolescents reported higher perceived parental care and autonomy providing, and higher social support received from peers. These differences in the psychological variables may be a result of the macro-level differences between the two countries. Analysis of socioeconomic indexes conducted in this study revealed an incongruity: economic conditions in Russia were better than those in Ukraine, while life expectancy, infant mortality, crime rate, and civil rights were better in Ukraine. A previous study conducted in the 1990s also found a similar incongruity [20]. Since all of the psychological variables were more positive in Russia, this finding suggests that the economic conditions in a country have a stronger effect on psychological well-being, parenting practices, and interpersonal relationships in a country than other socioeconomic indicators. These results are consistent with the results of a cross-cultural study of Diener et al. [13] who found that a country’s GDP was the strongest predictor of the psychological well-being of its citizens.

However, in addition to the difference in the level of economic development, other cultural and political factors may also affect the psychological differences between Russian and Ukrainian adolescents. For instance, the lower school competence of Ukrainian adolescents may be a result of the “Ukrainiazation” of their schools. From the end of the 1990s, in almost all schools in Ukraine teaching was reverted to Ukrainian rather than Russian, as before [1]. At the same time, a significant proportion of adolescents in Ukraine are ethnic Russians, whose mother tong is Russian. Their command of the Ukrainian language is limited, which may have caused a decrease in their school competence. Further investigation of cultural and political factors that may affect the adolescents’ psychological well-being, parenting practices, and interpersonal relationships in the FSU is warranted.

The city size and family composition had no significant effect on the psychological well-being of adolescents in Russia and Ukraine. Parents’ education and occupation had only a small effect on the adolescents’ psychological well-being, and the same was true for the effect of perceived economic conditions in the adolescents’ families. Perceived parental practices (care and autonomy providing) and social support received from parents and friends were major contributors to the adolescents’ psychological well-being. Social support received from teachers also contributed to the adolescents’ psychological well-being, but its impact was only significant for three out of six indexes of psychological well-being: school competence, social competence, and loneliness.

These findings corroborate the family stress model, which argues that socioeconomic conditions affect adolescents’ psychological well-being mainly through the psychological well-being of their parents, which, in turn, find expression in their parental practice and social support they provide to their children [53]. In addition, these findings corroborate the ecological systems theory, which argues that the social support received from outside the family, mainly from peers and teachers, contributes to the adolescents’ psychological well-being [15]. Little support for the investment model [53] was found, since positive changes in the family economic conditions had a very small direct impact on the adolescents’ psychological well-being.

Conclusion

The results obtained in this study warrant several important conclusions. First, changes in adolescents’ psychological well-being do not follow macro-level socioeconomic changes that occur in a country. While the socioeconomic conditions in Russia and Ukraine substantially improved from 1999 to 2007, the adolescents’ psychological well-being did not change significantly. It is likely that stronger changes over a longer period of time are needed in order to have a significant impact on the psychological well-being of individuals. For now, despite substantial socioeconomic changes, the psychological well-being of Russian and Ukrainian adolescents remains much worse than that of their peers in developed countries.

Second, the main factors that affected the adolescents’ psychological well-being in this study were parental practices and social support received from parents, peers, and teachers. However, the parental practices and social support that adolescents received from their social environment did not change in both Russia and Ukraine. This indicates that these variables are more influenced by values and cultural norms rather than by socioeconomic conditions. Values and norms are preserved in a society even during times of substantial socioeconomic changes, and their preservation may be responsible for the lack of change in psychological well-being. At the same time, cross-cultural differences in values and norms are fairly constant [28], which may explain why the psychological differences between Russian and Ukrainian adolescents found in this study remained relatively constant over time.

The results obtained in this study are limited in their scope, because they relate only to Russia and Ukraine and to a narrow age group of 15–16 years old. The effect of socioeconomic changes on psychological well-being, parental practices, and social support should be investigated in other countries undergoing socioeconomic transitions, particularly in the rapidly developing countries of Eastern Europe, China, India, and Brazil. If it will be confirmed in further studies that improved socioeconomic conditions do not impact the psychological well-being of citizens, this will emphasize the need for special programs aimed to improve parental practices and interpersonal relationships in these changing societies.

Footnotes
1

These indexes were chosen because: (1) they reflect a wide range of socioeconomic parameters; (2) they are provided by international organizations and their calculation is based on well-established scientific methodology; (3) data for these indexes existed for both 1999 and 2007.

 
2

The international public organization Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of public office for private gain.” The Corruption Perceptions Index orders the countries of the world according to “the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians.” The Corruption Perceptions Index is a composite of independent surveys. A higher score means less perceived corruption. A score of five and above out of ten is a “clean score” demonstrating that a country is not corrupt [51].

 
3

The international public organization Reporters Without Borders compiles Press Freedom Index by asking its partner organizations (14 freedom of expression groups from around the world) and its network of 130 correspondents, as well as journalists, researchers, legal experts and human rights activists, to answer 50 questions designed to assess a country’s level of press freedom. The survey asks questions about direct attacks on journalists and the media as well as other indirect sources of pressure against the free press. The lower the score of the Index, the higher the freedom of press [37]. This index began to be calculated from 2002; therefore, data regarding 1999 does not exist.

 
4

The Human Development Index reflects achievements in the most basic human capabilities—leading a long life, being knowledgeable, and enjoying a decent standard of living. Three variables were chosen to represent these dimensions—life expectancy, educational attainment, and income. The Human Development Index is the product of a selected team of leading scholars, development practitioners, and members of the Human Development Report Office of the United Nations Development Program [52]

 
5

The higher number of the adolescents’ siblings in 2007 probably reflects a success of governmental policy stimulating child birth in both Russia and Ukraine [14].

 
6

Parental consent was not obtained in this study, because of a cultural norm existing in Russia and Ukraine that leaves the decision regarding participation in a study to adolescents. Psychologists conducting the study approached the adolescents’ parents asking them for their consent. However, the parents answered that this decision is a sole prerogative of the adolescents. However, the school principal’s permission for conducting a study was required according to the Russian and Ukrainian law. It was received after the content of the questionnaires was agreed upon with the school principals.

 
7

Since externalizing and internalizing problems scores of the YSR were highly correlated with the total problems score, only the total problem score was used for correlation analysis. Correlation analyses are presented for the 2007 measurement; however, the obtained correlation coefficients were very similar in 1999 and 2007. Since the patterns of correlations in the Russian and Ukrainian samples were similar, the two samples were pooled.

 

Acknowledgments

The author is profoundly thankful to the Russian and Ukrainian psychologists who helped to conduct this study. The author is also grateful to the adolescents who participated in this study.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009