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Changing youth: transition to adulthood in Norway

Halvor Fauske

This article analyses how young people in Norway made their entry into adulthood in the 1980s. Taking the transitions to adulthood as the central focus, I will argue that unemployment and increase in post-compulsory education have altered the meaning of youth as a period of transition. Although the Norwegian economy has fared better than many others, the rate of unemployment rose considerably in the 1980s especially among young people. At the same time education has become increasingly more important as a pathway, both to the labour market and more generally to adulthood. I will examine the changes that have taken place, and discuss their possible consequences. The analyses are based on two sources of data: surveys of the standard of living for 1980, 1983, 1987 and 1990, and the Norwegian youth surveys of 1975, 1980, 1985 and 1990. The latter will mainly be used as a supplement.

Changing transitions to adulthood

Since the late nineteenth century youth has been associated with the concept of ‘adolescence’ that refers to a preparatory and transitional period of life leading into adulthood. The ideal of adulthood centred about individual independence, autonomy and self-determination, and the evolving processes of industrialisation, democratisation and urbanisation provided increased opportunities to choose one’s life course and lifestyle. In these circumstances youth became a space for testing and discovery. Although the mood of modernity was dominated by the discourse of liberation, young people were not left alone in their allegedly difficult and insecure transition to adult status. Modern society, as Zygmunt Bauman (1992) argues, emerged out of the awareness of the world’s contingency, with the idea of order as a goal and the practice of ordering as a way to fulfil the objective. By the turn of the 19th century, passages into the adult world became regulated by universal schooling and new forms of age-grading. The timing of life course transitons therefore became gradually more uniform and articulated to formal age norms.

Nowadays there seems to be a widespread belief that young people’s transitions to adulthood deviate more than ever from the ‘normal’ pattern . Trends towards flexibility, destandardisation and diversification of the life course will affect the ways in which people organise their lives (Buchmann, 1989). Some even argue that the transition to adulthood tends to develop into a set of unconnected, partial transitions, and that youth becomes

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