Some researchers argue that the transitional process has changed so dramatically that we are witnessing a disruption to the traditional pathways into the labour market (Maguire, 1991 and Willis, 1986). There is a lengthy debate about this, in which the critics point out that there has never been a smooth and sequential transition to work, and that disorder in the timing of life course transitions is largely due to demographic factors. The patterning of early adulthood is always conditioned by the historical context, which means that the life course, as it is actually lived, from time to time deviates from the idealised ‘normal’ pattern (Rindfuss et al., 1987). The current situation may be seen in contrast to the 1950s and 1960s, when the transition to adulthood became more streamlined and uniform than ever. The developments of the past two decades have increasingly rearranged school, work, and other events into a variety of sequences.
The changes that have taken place in the labour market are common to all industrial countries, but their effects on the transition to work might differ because policies and institutional structures vary between countries. Extended education is one way out of unemployment, and government sponsored training and job creation programs are another. Those researchers who argue that the transitional mechanisms have broken down, are mainly addressing the British situation, where a majority of youth leaves school at 16 and seeks a job (Maguire, 1991:57). Norwegian youth faces a quite different situation, and their transition into the labour market has perhaps not changed that dramatically. A minority leaves school at the age of 16, and a considerable proportion of young people in their early twenties stays on in education. Rising educational expectations may express more than an increasing desire for further education; perhaps schools also are used as ‘waiting rooms’ until students think their chances to get a job are fairly good.
However, the decrease in full-time work among young people up to the age of 30, however, may indicate that more profound changes are taking place. If education no longer guarantees full-time work, the future may look bleak. Of course, it is possible to argue that the problems are temporary. If the current labour market problems are mainly linked to demographic factors, the situation may change in some years. However, the members of the ‘baby boom’ in the late 1960s who are now seeking jobs in a tight labour market will be too old to benefit from a shrinking labour force some years beyond 2000. It is difficult to predict future occupational careers, but it is very likely that entry into adulthood during a recession creates inequalities that will be prolonged into adult life (Elder, 1974).