Youth Research Centre

Life Patterns

About the program

The Life Patterns research program is designed to follow patterns in young people’s lives over time to gain a longitudinal and holistic understanding of the ways in which two generations of young Australians are responding to our rapidly changing world.

The generosity and ongoing support of the Life Patterns participants has meant that this study has built up a unique picture of the reality of the lives of two generations. Over the past three decades, changes such as the need for more education, greater insecurity and precariousness in employment, and the decreasing relevance of traditional patterns of living have created conditions in which young people think of their lives as a personal project.

The Life Patterns research program:

  • follows two generations of Australians – Cohort 1, who left secondary school in 1991 (corresponding to the popular notion of ‘Generation X’) and Cohort 2, that left secondary school in 2006 (corresponding to the popular notion of ‘Generation Y’). Multiple comparisons can be made between the two cohorts across different points in their lives.
  • explores the pathways through different areas of life taken by Australian young people including their experiences in education, the labour market, their family and personal relationships, attitudes to life, concerns, and health and wellbeing.
  • provides a unique picture of transitions, different from the stereotypes of smooth transitions from education to work, or of the narcissistic or complacent generation often described in the media or by politicians. The Life Patterns research program highlights the importance of paying attention to the diversity of experiences that characterise young people’s lives.
  • generates insights that feed into policy advice and public debate and our work is often used by the media to dispute simplistic claims about young people.
  • is designed to follow patterns in young people’s lives over time in order to gain more than a static glimpse. We are interested in developing a more dynamic picture of young people’s lives rather than a single snapshot in time.
  • surveys Cohort 1 every two years (since the year 2000) and interviews a subset of 20-40 participants every third year, and surveys Cohort 2 yearly and interviews a subset of 30-50 participants every second year.
  • is an ongoing project supported by the University of Melbourne, the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the research participants.

In 2015 a five year grant from the ARC was awarded to continue the program from 2016-2020. During this time the project will focus primarily (but not exclusively) on work, education and wellbeing. The project will generate new knowledge about the ways in which young adults manage new labour market realities, comparing two generations to explore the opportunities and risks associated with different levels and types of education, occupation, gender, socio-economic status and region and how this is changing over time.

The Life Patterns research program has been supported by the following grants from the Australian Research Council:

DP160101611. 2016 – 2020. Learning to make it work: work and wellbeing in young adulthood. Johanna Wyn, Dan Woodman, Helen Cahill and Andy Furlong (University of Glasgow).

DP1094132. 2010 – 2015. Young People Negotiating Risk and Opportunity: A reassessment of transition pathways, Johanna Wyn and Lesley Andres (University of British Columbia)

DP0557902. 2005 – 2009. Pathways Then and Now: new student transitions to adulthood in a comparative context, Johanna Wyn and Lesley Andres (University of British Columbia)

DP0209462. 2002 – 2004. Flexible career patterns: graduate redefinitions of outcomes in the new labour market, Johanna Wyn, Peter Dwyer and Lesley Andres (University of British Columbia).

A79803304.1998 - 2000. Typologies of youth pathways and the vocational integration of 1991-96 post-compulsory education participants in a comparative international context, Johanna Wyn and Peter Dwyer.

In the media

Quotes and expert comments

14 Dec 2015 "Why Gen Y are not all about themselves” Women’s Agenda, Catriona May

December 3, 2015 "Generation Y struggling for job security” Jane Gardner

December 3, 2015 "Why Gen Y are not all about themselves” Catriona May

November 8, 2015 "Gen Y: Australia's most educated generation faces worst job prospects in decades” The Sydney Morning Herald, Inga Ting

September 02, 2015 "21st century skills: How to future proof your, Charis Chang

15 March 2014 ”Decoding millennial mystery” The Sydney Morning Herald, John Elder Dan Woodman quoted on Generation Y and the labour market.

31 July 2012 ”Narcissists Anonymous or the 'iGeneration” The Sydney Morning Herald, Sandy Smith
Johanna Wyn discusses and rejects the narcissistic label given to young people in Australia today.

29 May 2012 ”Celebrity is a growth industry” The Age, Tim Elliot
Johanna Wyn quoted on patterns of disadvantage and celebrity culture

5 Jun 2010 ”Working women X-rated” Herald Sun,
This article on the problems of young working women quotes Life Patterns findings

13 October 2006 ”Generation Cliché” Australian Financial Review, Kate Crawford (article limited access)

7 October 2006 "Hard Hearts, Tender years" The Age, Bridget Delaney
Johanna Wyn quoted on changing patterns of emotional life and partnering in the Life Patterns generations

21 January 2005 "The Turbulent Twenties" The Age, Richard Kerbau
This article on the instability of life and employment in young adults quotes Johanna Wyn and the Life Patterns project extensively

2 June 2004 "Dating games without frontiers" Sydney Morning Herald, Bridget Delaney
Johanna Wyn and the Life Patterns project quoted on dating, partnering and emotional life of young adults

18 June 2003 "The class of "91 grows up on its own terms" Sydney Morning Herald, Adele Horin and Alexa Moses.
Report on the latest findings of the Life Patterns Project, particularly on "the new adulthood" in the "almost-30s generation"

26 June 2003 "Y Generation Adrift" Herald Sun, Paula Beauchamp

14 October 2002 "Money- when X marks the spot" The Age, Dorothy Cook
Life Patterns researchers Johanna Wyn and Debra Tyler quoted on new financial situation of the generation of twenty year olds.

6 August 2000 "Freedom of Choice" Sunday Age, Liz Porter
Johanna Wyn explains the differences between today's twenty-something generation and their baby boomer generation counterparts of 30 years ago

10 October 1996 "Adrenalin Junkies who walk the line" The Age, Libby Lester
Johanna Wyn quoted on young males and risk taking

Opinion Pieces

3 December 2015, "Opinion: Gen Y’s long road to security” Johanna Wyn, Hernan Cuervo, Dan Woodman and Jessica Crofts

27 March 2015 "Rising jobless rate means young workers lose in penalty rates deal" Dan Woodman, The Conversation

18 June 2014 "Pain now, rewards later? Young lives cannot be relived" Johanna Wyn and Hernan Cuervo, The Conversation

16 Jan 2012 "Biting the hand that feeds you" Dan Woodman, Sydney Morning Herald,
Dan Woodman writes about unstable and precarious employment amongst Generation Y

10 March 2011 "We love labels, but should know the limits before libelling Gen Y" Dan Woodman and Johanna Wyn, The Age,
Two Life Patterns researchers criticise the simplistic clichés of generation labels


Generations - a week of special Conversation Hours and talkback on 774 Melbourne ABC radio.
Johanna Wyn and Dan Woodman discuss Generation X and Generation Y with Prue Bentley and John Faine.
The podcasts can be found here:


The Life Patterns project produces regular updates in the form of Youth Research Centre research reports and participant reports. These are available online and are also sold through the Youth Research Centre. Findings from the project have also contributed to books, book chapters and journal articles.


Youth and Generation: Rethinking change and inequality in the lives of young people

The promise if youth studies is not simply in showing that class, gender and race continue to influence life chances, but to show how they shape young lives today. Engaging with the central debates in contemporary youth studies, Dan Woodman and Johanna Wyn argue that understanding new forms of inequality in a context of social change is a central challenge for youth researchers. Youth and Generation sets an agenda for youth studies building on the concepts of 'social generation' and 'individualisation' that have been central to the analysis of the Life Patterns longitudinal study, to suggest a framework for thinking about change and inequality in young lives in the new century.

Young People Making it Work: Continuity and change in rural places

Life Patterns researchers Hernán Cuervo and Johanna Wyn are pleased to announce the publication of their new book, Young People Making it Work: Continuity and change in rural places. Published by Melbourne University Press, the bookexamines a generation's lives in rural Australia over the last two decades. Against a backdrop of dramatic social, economic and environmental change, it tells the story of how a generation of young people have strived to remain connected to the people and places that matter to them. It transcends the assumption that rural places are one of deficit and disadvantage to focus on the ways in which powerful narratives of belonging are conceptualised. Cuervo and Wyn provide new insights about youth transitions and young adulthood that are relevant not only to the rural context but to all young people.

Purchase this book as a print-on-demand paperback or as an e-book.

The Making of a Generation: Children of the 1970s in Adulthood

Life Patterns Chief Investigators Lesley Andres and Johanna Wyn, in their book The Making of a Generation: Children of the 1970s in Adulthood, draw on fifteen years of research with the first cohort of the Life Patterns study alongside research from a similar cohort of young people in Canada. This book is published by Toronto University Press

Read a short summary of the book

Purchase your copy of the book

Research Reports

Gen Y on Gen Y (PDF, 419 KB) (September 2017, ISBN: 978 0 7340 5386 2)

Life Patterns: Comparing the Generations (PDF, 603 KB) (November 2016, ISBN: 978 0 7340 5320 6)

Generational insights into new labour market landscapes for youth (Research Report 42, December 2013, ISBN 978-0-9873440-9-0)

Gen X Women and the Gender Revolution: Pioneers or Traditionalists? (Research Report 36, November 2012 ISBN 978 0 7340 4810 3)

Rethinking youth transitions in Australia: A historical and multidimensional approach (Research Report 33, March 2011, ISBN 978 0 7340 4412 9)

Young people negotiating risk and opportunity: post-school transitions 2005-2009 (Research Report 32, Sep 2010, ISBN 978 0 7340 4187 6)

Generations and Social Change: Negotiating Adulthood in the 21st Century. Report on the Life-Patterns Research Program: 2005-2007 (Research Report 29, Jan 2008, ISBN 9780 7340 3905 7)

Immigrants in Time: Life-Patterns 2004 (Research Report 27, May 2005, ISBN 0 7340 3033 9)

Life-Patterns, Career Outcomes and Adult Choices: The Life-Patterns Study (Research Report 23, June 2003, ISBN 0 7340 2943 8)

Journeying Through the Nineties: The Life Patterns Project 1991-2000 (Research Report 19, May 2001, ISBN 0 7340 2117 8)

Successful Longer-term Career Outcomes for VET Participants: 1992-2000 (2001)
Copies of this report may be available from the YRC

Seeking the Balance: Risk, Choices and Life Priorities in the Life-Patterns Project 1998-1999 (2000)
Copies of this report may be available from the YRC

Life Patterns, Choices, Careers: 1991-1998 (Research Report 17, June 1998, ISBN 0 7340 1392 2)
Copies of this report may be available from the YRC

Participant Pathways and Outcomes in Vocational Education and Training 1992-1995 (Research Report 14, March 1997, ISBN 0 7325 1532)
Copies of this report may be available from the YRC

Other Publications

The findings of the Life-Patterns study contribute to other publications including books, book chapters and journal articles which are listed in the staff profiles. Below are some selected publications:

In 2016 two new partners joined the project – Associate Professor Helen Cahill and Professor Andy Furlong (International Partner at the University of Glasgow).

Helen Cahill has an extensive background in researching youth, health and wellbeing, and brings a wealth of knowledge in these areas. Some of her recent publications include:

  • Cahill, H. 2015. Approaches to understanding youth wellbeing. In J. Wyn & H. Cahill (Eds.), Handbook of Children and Youth Studies (pp. 95-113). Singapore: Springer.
  • Cahill, H. 2015. Rethinking role-play for health and wellbeing: creating a pedagogy of possibility. In K. Wright & J. McLeod (Eds.), Rethinking Youth Wellbeing: Critical Perspectives (pp. 127-142). Singapore: Springer.
  • Cahill, H. 2016. Playing the inside out: using drama as an embodied medium through which to work on changing gender norms. In J. Coffey, S. Budgeon, & H. Cahill (Eds.), Learning Bodies: the body in youth and childhood studies (pp. 223-240). Singapore: Springer.

Andy Furlong is a world leading expert on young people’s experience in education and their transitions from education to employment. His research has focused on patterns of educational participation and forms of engagement, educational and occupational aspirations, higher education, informal education and training. Some of his most recent publications include:

  • Furlong, A. 2012. Youth Studies: an Introduction. Routledge: London, UK.
  • Furlong, A. (Ed.) 2009. Handbook of Youth and Young Adulthood. London: Routledge.
  • Furlong, A. & Cartmel, F. 2007. Young People and Social Change: New Perspectives. Series: Sociology and social change. McGraw-Hill/Open University Press: Maidenhead, UK.

Participant Reports