Youth Research Centre

Making of a generation

In the last few decades there have been significant changes in the kinds of lives that young people are building. The labour market has become more insecure, and patterns of education and family formation have changed dramatically. National policies have also changed in an attempt to deal with this social and economic change. In "The Making of a Generation: Young Adults in Canada and Australia," Lesley Andres and Johanna Wyn compare two data sets gathered over the last fifteen years to describe the influence that these changes and policies have on the lives of contemporary youth. By tracing similarities and differences in the experiences of Canadian and Australian young people in the way they engage with work, education, and family formation, the authors show that while those born after 1970 are part of a distinctive social generation, national government policies have real and often unexpected impacts on all aspects of young people's lives.

Both Canada and Australia have experienced similar changes in the labour market, meaning that the employment situation of many young Canadians and Australians is more insecure than that faced by past generations. In order to deal with this, the governments of both countries instituted policies designed to encourage young people to stay in school for longer and enter into higher education, as well as changing the way that employment was regulated. The labour market became more insecure for both Canadians and Australians, but Australian young people found themselves in a more difficult situation than their Canadian counterparts due to Australian government policies focused on flexibility for employers at the expense of stability for young workers.

Young people in both countries completed further education at high levels. In Australia in particular, this was a large generational change. Despite this trend, in both countries those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds were most able to take advantage of higher education. The labour market was difficult for young people from both countries, and they have responded by constantly reinventing themselves in order to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. This attitude, and the changing labour market, explains the high levels of job mobility. The influence of government policy is most clear when it comes to patterns of family formation. Differences between Australian and Canadian labour market policy meant that Australians found it much more difficult to establish secure jobs and households. As Australians were struggling for security, Canadians were having families of their own. Families arealso important sources of support for both Australians and Canadians, and young people able to draw on family support are more able to deal with insecurity and change. These changes have secondary effects in other areas of young people's lives, particularly in health and wellbeing where patterns of inequality are reflected in levels of mental and physical problems.

When the researchers first asked Canadian and Australian young people about their goals for the future, the ambitions that they described were quite modest and traditional. For this reason, Andres and Wyn argue that this is a generation of reluctant change makers who created new ways of living as a response to economic changes and government policies. The post 1970 generation is therefore distinctive in their attitudes as well as the circumstances with which they are dealing. Intergenerational differences are therefore influenced by particular national contexts, as well as patterns of inequality within generations of young people.