Being Clever Has Not
Taught Young How
To Be Happy
By Alexandra Frean - Social Affairs Correspondent
Record levels of educational achievement among young people have done nothing to help them to feel good about themselves, research published today shows.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show a significant rise in the proportion of students achieving two or more A levels or the equivalent. The proportion of women who had achieved this level has doubled since the 1970s to 25 per cent. The rise for men has been more modest with a rise of just over half to 21 per cent over the same period.
The study, Social Focus On Young People, shows that in 1999 and 2000, 24-year-olds with degrees were paid about £100 a week more than those with GCSE grade C.
However, the study also reveals a deep and growing sense of insecurity among young people, particularly concerning their appearance.
Large numbers of young women regularly attempt to lose weight even though they are not too heavy, indicating the enormous pressure many feel to be unhealthily thin.
The study suggests that the mismatch is a result of "peer group pressure" playing havoc with women's perception of their self-image - 20 per cent of females aged between 16 and 24 whose weight was within the "desirable" range for their height and build thought that they were overweight. The same rate for young men was just 2 per cent.
The report also showed that this self-consciousness increases with age. Two in five women aged from 20 to 24 think that they are too fat compared with one in five girls aged from 13 to 15.
A proportion of males worry about appearing too puny. The report shows that 28 per cent of young men aged 16 to 19 are trying to gain weight at any one time, even though only 18 per cent think that they are too light.
Publication of the figures follows attempts by the Government last week to discourage the media from using images of ultra-thin models and to help young people to develop a more healthy body image.
The report also demonstrates an increase in ill health among young people, due principally to a rise in diseases such as asthma.
Twenty per cent of people aged from 13 to 24 reported a long-standing illness in 1998-99 compared with just 12 per cent of the same age group in 1975.
Cases of meningitis and septicaemia have increased five-fold over the past 20 years. The study said that this may be due to greater awareness of the diseases rather than a rise in the incidence of infection.

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