As a means of researching into how young people experience being at home, the first step will be to identify reference points in past research, to be used as a theoretical background for later analysis. In this context, it should be noted that these approaches are often formulated for adults or children, rather than explicitly for adolescents.
First, it can be stated that there are few studies overall studying subjective well-being at home as a separate dimension. Only rarely are questions asked about people’s specific experience of their home, e.g. with items such as “I am satisfied with my home” or “I have a good time at home”, or about potential factors influencing that experience (Casas et al., 2013; Klöckner & Beisenkamp, 2006; Rees & Main, 2015). In some studies, these questions are asked with reference to people’s extended living environment, such as the city district (Beisenkamp et al., 2011) or area where they live (Beisenkamp et al., 2011; Müthing & Razakowski, 2016). Available results regarding the assessment of the living environment of 9–15 year olds show that more than half of the children surveyed feel "very good" (56%) in it (Müthing & Razakowski, 2016). Until now, few questions have tended to be asked explicitly about how they experience their own home.
Instead, investigations into children’s and young people’s general well-being look into their living space or individual aspects related to it, such as how often they have moved, whether the family rents or owns their home, what condition the property is in, or whether it is overcrowded (Marcal & Foweler, 2015). Their perception and description of their living space are operationalised as predictors for their well-being or for their opportunities to develop (Coley et al., 2013). Studies on the relationship between people’s living space and their mental health and well-being have found strong links in the case of adults (cf. Clair, 2019).
So far, few findings are as yet available on the exceptional situation of the lockdown caused by the pandemic, especially in relation to adolescents and young adults. The studies which have been carried out (e.g. Calmbach et al., 2020; Decent Jobs for Youth, 2020; Langmeyer et al., 2020; Orgilés et al., 2020) only ask occasional or very specific questions about the respondents’ experiences in their home environment. The “lockdown-specific influencing factors” discussed in this article can thus not be fully explained based on the current state of the research. Moreover, in view of the limited research situation, the following exposition also includes studies from the context of various countries, even though the specifics of the lockdown may have been quite different.
Considering these restrictions, this chapter must be understood and read as reflecting theoretical frames of reference approximately. Possible factors influencing the way people experience their homes are explained following the model of previous studies on well-being and youth, theoretical discourses on youth, and initial assumptions and findings on the effects of lockdown. This article includes four types of predictor: 1. aspects that may play a predictive role in the particular context of lockdown, 2. the socio-demographic variables of sex and age, 3. factors related to the respondents’ social spaces and financial situation and 4. aspects focusing more on their social and emotional situation.
Lockdown-specific Influencing Factors
One question this article will address is whether any factors specifically related to the COVID-19 situation and lockdown influence people’s experience of their homes; and if so, what form their influence takes. As yet, that question remains unanswered, although some possible influencing factors can be identified from a handful of studies and preliminary theoretical considerations.
One potential factor influencing people’s well-being in their home could be whether they are actually able to leave it. Initial findings on young people who have been in quarantine indicate that this experience strongly affects the respondents’ mental health (OECD, 2020; Orgilés et al., 2020). Among others, a family study by the German Youth Institute (DJI) shows that, in the parents’ opinion, young people who have access to their own garden or patio cope somewhat better with the situation during lockdown than those who do not (Langmeyer et al., 2020).
Youth studies particularly emphasise the significance of peers and social connections at this stage in life. Especially friends are considered to be particularly important for them and their well-being by young people (Andresen et al., 2019; Wolfert & Quenzel, 2019; Calmbach et al., 2020). More than half of the participant of the Shell Youth Study 2019 say that they enjoy meeting friends. The satisfaction with their circle of friends is rated quite high by the young people overall, but the 12–25 years old are less satisfied when they have contact with the majority of their friends exclusively via social media (Wolfert & Quenzel, 2019). This result is of high interest in times when the opportunities to meet in person are significantly limited. In view of this, the questions of whether the young people are in touch with others of their age, and how satisfied they are with those ties, are taken as possible predictors. This links in especially with the hypothesis that the opportunity to be in contact with people from outside their own household has multiple social functions: as well as offering them a means of escaping a space which may be perceived as confined, it can also combat loneliness and gives them a chance to discuss the current situation and face up to any challenges which arise together (Fischer et al., 2020; Geis-Thöne, 2020). Analyses by the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) show that young people in particular feel lonely and miss their friends during the crisis (Entringer et al., 2020).
It is also conceivable that young people’s experience of their home is closely connected to how satisfied they are with the way they are currently living their life in the conditions of lockdown. The extensive social contact restrictions have made it impossible to carry out a large number of activities, not just in the context of school and vocational training but also in private, e.g. due to the closure of youth centres or because of sports training being cancelled. Since leisure activities were considered important by young people for their everyday satisfaction before the pandemic as Calmbach et al. (2020) show, it can be assumed that limiting them also has an impact on their well-being. At the same time, the young people and young adults may have come up with other activities (old or new) to keep them satisfied in their domestic environment. It is also conceivable that, in the conditions of lockdown and what may be perceived as a “release” from certain scheduled commitments and social obligations, some might consider themselves especially satisfied with the way they have spent their time (Andresen et al., 2020a), which would in turn affect how they experience their home.
As described in the introduction, young people and young adults are in some ways particularly profoundly affected by lockdown and its possible long-term consequences. The extent to which these young people worry about what is going on during the lockdown in Germany could be related first to their general well-being during that time and second to the well-being at home. The assumption can thus be made that if they themselves feel worried, this will be reflected in their home environment. The extent to which they feel as if attention is being paid to their worries may also be tied in with their experience at home. It is conceivable that the people living with the respondents, to whom they can talk about their worries, might have a negative effect on their well-being at home if they give the impression of not listening.
Socio-demographic Influencing Factors
The socio-demographic factors of the respondents’ age and sex are examined as distinguishing criteria behind response patterns in almost all studies on children and young people; not only those on well-being. Findings on their experience of their home environment so far differ considerably in that respect. Of the previous studies on children’s well-being at home, the 2018 LBS Kinderbarometer, which surveyed children between the ages of 9 and 14, indicated that the well-being they experienced in their living environment decreased slightly as they aged (Müthing et al., 2018). In terms of the “family life” indicator, which partly represents well-being at home, the Children’s Worlds study also revealed slight differences related to the respondents’ age, but not to their sex (Rees & Main, 2015). Other studies show some significant differences between the sexes in questions about how respondents assess their living situation. In the study of Casas et al. (2013) girls score higher in 19 of 26 items on satisfaction, e.g. how satisfied they are with the house or flat where they live and with the people who live with them. Findings by the international Youth and Covid-19 Survey and the SINUS Youth Study also indicated that there were sex-related differences in how people viewed the situation brought about by the lockdown (Calmbach et al., 2020; Decent Jobs for Youth, 2020).
Socio-spatial Parameters and Financial Situation
The type of housing where young people live can be seen as inextricably linked to their experience of their home – especially in times when they are subject to externally imposed social contact restrictions. Thus, for example, the risk of loneliness is named for people living alone during the COVID-19 pandemic (Mental Health Foundation, 2020).
In the context of the restrictions related to COVID-19, the DJI child study shows that situations of conflict and chaos which negatively affect the family atmosphere, and thus also the children’s experience, occur more frequently when there are several children living in a household (Langmeyer et al., 2020). Studies show that enough space in the flat or house is important for the well-being of children. If they consider their home to be too small, they are less satisfied in different areas of life, especially their living environment and their family live (Beisenkamp et al., 2011). The Shell Youth Study also shows that a cramped housing situation can increase the stress and conflict potential in a family (Wolfert & Quenzel, 2019). In times when there are few opportunities to escape their homes by going out to visit friends, child and youth work facilities, shops, cafés or pubs, this aspect may weigh especially heavily on their well-being. Several studies theorise that having enough space, their own room and a place where they are not disturbed, for example when studying or listening to music, might be a relevant factor influencing the young respondents’ home experience, opportunities to develop and education, and include questions on this subject (Klöckner & Beisenkamp, 2006; Langmeyer et al., 2020; Lopoo & London, 2016). Young people themselves also rate the importance of an undisturbed place as important for their well-being (Calmbach et al., 2020). In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic have been found to perceive primary schoolers, at least from their parents’ point of view are dealing better with the situation when they have a place of retreat (Langmeyer et al., 2020). This is likely to be at least as important for adolescents and young adults.
Almost all studies on well-being and situation in life include questions on socio-economic factors. In many of them it can be shown that the socio-economic situation is linked with the well-being of a person or family. A study of Rees and Bradshaw (2018) shows that “children living in poorer families and with parents who were less well-educated were more likely to have low life satisfaction, low happiness and high sadness” (ibid., p.40). Studies which have already been published about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic indicate that people’s perception of the current situation and possible stressors correlate with socio-economic factors. The worse their financial situation is, the worse they consider their individual situation to be (Langmeyer et al., 2020).
It must also be assumed that a precarious financial situation can have a negative impact on the family climate (Wolfert & Quenzel, 2019) or even the general climate at home.
Atmosphere at Home; Support and Protection
Apart from the material resources available in respondents’ homes, their relationships with co-habitants – unless they live alone – must also be considered significant (Andresen et al., 2019; Geis-Thöne, 2020; Rees & Main, 2015). With this in mind, their satisfaction with the atmosphere at home, and their specific experience of protection and support are assumed to be relevant to their home experience (cf. Beisenkamp et al., 2011; Rees & Main, 2015). The authors of the Children’s Worlds + study also highlighted the significance of high-quality relationships, pointing among other things to the relationships which children and young people have in their homes. Most of the children (8-14 years) asked in this study answered that someone in their family took care of them, although the number dwindled considerably as children grew older, from the ages of 9–14 (Andresen et al., 2019). Other studies also indicate the importance of family and social relationships for young people. Time with the family is perceived as positive by most respondents and many of the young people describe the relationship with their parents as good (Wolfert & Quenzel, 2019). Many young people name their mother as an important contact person when they have worries or problems besides friends and the partner (Berngruber et al., 2018). However, it is also shown that there are significant differences according to social class of origin—the proportion of those who report a problematic relationship increases the worse the socioeconomic situation of the family is (Wolfert & Quenzel, 2019). In the international discourse on well-being, particular importance is ascribed to feelings of protection, which is seen as fundamental to the development of children and young people (Rees & Main, 2015).
The different factors which are presented as influencing well-being at home will be examined later in this article with regard to how they actually affect young people in their homes during lockdown, based on the data from the JuCo study.