Whether a young person is from a richer or poorer family may determine the age and the level of difficulty of going from a young person to an adult. The definition of youth transition seems vague. It generally means the time period when ‘young people take increasing responsibility for themselves, their relationships and the decisions about their lives that shape their future prospects’ (HM Treasury, 2007). It is a principle that can be applied that to several key areas of adulthood, such as transition from education to work, moving out from home and starting a new family. The aim of this essay is to look at how social background could affect how long the speed of someone’s transitions in the mentioned areas. It will attempt to come to a conclusion afterwards. For simplicity, social class will be divided into working-class and middle-class.
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First of all is the transition from education to work. The main theory linking social class with this transition is that adolescents from middle-class backgrounds are more likely to stay in education at university level than youths from less well-off backgrounds. This could be because of more than one reason. This is because a person’s level of education is likely to affect their children’s. For example, a mother from the working-class probably would not have had a higher education and may not have performed well in school as a child or adolescent herself. As a consequence, she may not have seen education as important as a parent from a middle-class background. This could possibly affect her child’s education in two ways. The first way is that the parent’s unfavourable attitude towards education means that they are unlikely to encourage their child to pursue a university education. This is referred to by Jones (2002, p.9) as ‘cultural capital.’ The second way is that parents who did not do well academically might have, as a result, low expectations of their children, expecting them to be similar to their parents. This would also mean parents not favouring university education. The importance of these two relationships between a parent’s social background, ‘cultural capital’ and low expectation, is that children who do not study at university level (normally a three year course) are likely to get some form of employment sooner than those who go to university. For the same reasons, teenagers from wealthier backgrounds probably have better educated parents and are, perhaps, expected to attain a university degree. From this, it can be said that social class may influence the timing of transition to adulthood as children from less well-off backgrounds are more likely to move from education to employment earlier than those from middle-class backgrounds.
It can also be said that this transition is made earlier and easier for working-class youths simply because their parents cannot afford to pay for their university fees. Therefore there is little choice for them but to get a job. This is another example of the influence of social class. Teenagers from a wealthier background could have the option to delay transition into work by furthering their qualifications at university, because there is money available from their parents or other sources.
On the other hand, however, this theory is may not be very convincing. This is because there is usually financial aid available to those who do not have the money themselves, such as government loans, grants and university bursaries. According to Jones (2002), 68% of student income is from loans. This suggests that a high amount of higher education students are from backgrounds that cannot themselves afford it. The relevance of this is that it gives the impression that the influence of social class on transition from education to work is minimal, as many working-class children are also pursuing higher education in recent times.
It is also crucial to consider domestic youth transitions. The first is the change a young person experiences from living in their parents’ houses to living independently. Living independently means that the adolescent is living in accommodation financed by his or herself. This links together with the education-employment transition as university students, although most of them are living away from home, are not living fully independently because it is most likely their parents who are responsible for their child’s education and university accommodation fees. It was claimed earlier in this essay that middle-class adolescents are expected to go to university more than those from a poorer background. From this it could be said that the ‘moving from home’ transition may occur earlier for those from the working-class as they will go into employment sooner than those from wealthier backgrounds.
The relationship between social class and standard of living may be important. Using economic intuition, it can be said that higher income and wealth leads to a higher standard of living as more luxury goods and services become affordable. Therefore young people from middle-class backgrounds would enjoy a higher standard of living than youths from working-class backgrounds. This is surely influential over the time and ease of the transition of leaving home. This is because high living standards may reduce the incentive for young people from middle-class backgrounds as they are enjoying a higher quality of life while living with their parents. It is probable that moving away from home and earning their own living would reduce their quality of life as they will not be able to afford it in the short-term. Those from working-class background, however, do not have this quality of life and therefore have more reason and enticement to move out of home and aim to make a better living from his or her self.
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Another domestic transition is a youth going from their family of origin to starting a new family. This could mean having children. Before this, it is important to consider why a young woman would have a ‘planned’ pregnancy. According to Carter and Coleman (2006), an unsettled childhood can be a key factor in this ‘fast-track transition.’ Separation of parents and domestic violence are usually more associated with people of working-class background than any other. It can be claimed that teenagers that have separated parents and difficult family relationships desire a baby to achieve more stability in their lives – something which they believe being a parent may bring. An unsettled background could also result in the youth abandoning home. This suggests that teenagers from less-wealthy backgrounds may make the family transition or the leaving-home transition earlier than those from richer families. Another theory is that poor educational achievement and bullying may prompt young women to change to a different life course such as parenthood (Carter and Coleman, 2006), but it is difficult to link this to social class. In fact, the issues of separated parents and domestic violence affect middle-class families too, undermining the strength and validity of the previous point.
From the analysis above, it can be said that social class seems to have some influence over the timing and ease of youth transitions. It appears that all the mentioned transitions – employment, moving out of parental home and parenthood – seem to happen earlier and with more ease for children of working-class background. However, it is difficult to conclude the extent to which social class affects youth transitions. There are also other factors that need to be looked at such as the individual characteristics of a young person or the role of ethnicity in youth transitions (Cassidy. et al, 2006). Overall, social class might has some influence over the timing and ease of youth transitions through the family situations, academic expectations and living standards typically associated with that particular social background.
- Jones, G. (2002). The youth divide: diverging paths to adulthood. Joseph Rowntree Foundation
- Carter, S. and Coleman, L. (2006) ‘Planned’ teenage pregnancy: Views and experiences of young people from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation
- Cassidy, C. et al (2006). Young people’s experiences of transition to adulthood: a study of minority ethnic and white young people. Joseph Rowntree Foundation
- HM Treasury Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007) Aiming high for young people: a ten year strategy for positive activities [Online], Available: http://publications.dcsf.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/PU214.pdf [July 2007]
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