affects those from the lower classes. Not only gender, but also social classes still crucially determine the destines of young people (Jones and Wallace, 1990). The transition to adulthood seems to have changed in a way that gives some of them new opportunities, while others have lost earlier options. The demand for unqualified school-leavers is reduced to such an extent that the possibility of getting an ordinary job after finishing compulsory school is nearly absent.
Young people are living in a condition marked by independence and dependence, and by choice and constraint. It seems as if this situation extends throughout their twenties. The sequencing of status passages has changed, and may be felt by young people – and perceived by others – as a choice biography (du Bois-Reymond et al., 1994). Increasing flexibility in family relations, the diversification of partnerships, flexibility in the labour market, and expanded opportunities for education and training give the impression of a society where individual choice is prevalent. A closer inspection shows that choice is stratified in every sphere of young people’s lives (Jones and Wallace, 1992:154). The decrease in full-time work among young people makes them dependent on other sources of income, and limits their opportunities where they otherwise would have a wider range of choice than earlier.
Changing society – changing youth?
One may ask if the observed changes in young people’s transitions to adulthood are just minor deviations from a ‘normal pattern’ or the beginning of more fundamental changes concerning youth, adulthood, and the relations between generations. To answer such a question, it is useful to consider youth as constituted by three interrelated aspects:
– young people as social actors,
– institutional structuring of young people’s lives in society, and
– the discourse of youth.
Implicit in the notion of social actor is that young people’s interaction with their peers, family-members, and other people contribute to the shaping of social institutions and the discourse of youth. On the other hand, human action is regulated and controlled by institutions. Institutions are social arrangements that allocate people to social positions, where certain routes of action are prescribed. A discourse here refers to all that can be thought, said or written about youth, and such a discourse will in important ways contribute to the institutionalisation of youth and to young people’s self-understanding. The important point is that such an analytical differentiation helps to discuss in what way ‘youth’ is affected by the changes discussed in this article.