The transition from adolescence to adulthood, from school to work, and from dependence to independence is taking place over a longer period of time than in previous generations and is becoming increasingly complex.
Blogs and twitter feeds are busy today following the announcement of possible changes to the housing benefit for under 25s. Parents and carers are increasingly expected to assume responsibility for their children well until their mid-twenties, with most social security policies measuring independence from 18 years. Yet this assumption contradicts legislation which can put young people at risk. For example, 16 - 18 year olds are not entitled to social security benefits such as Jobseeker's Allowance in Scotland, but young people over the age of 16 have no legal right to live in their parents' home (Jones and Bell, 2000). Emerging adults themselves define adulthood in terms of personal development, life experiences and challenges, rather than age (Arnett, 2004; Devadason, 2007).
Review of evidence by the About Families project highlights a number of key pressures facing emerging adults today:
· Labour markets: An increasingly fragmented labour market has led to a decreased demand for low-qualified, minimum-aged school leavers, leaving young people feeling they do have the competencies and skills required (Kahn et al., 2011).
· Independence: Low wages, unemployment and tighter housing markets can delay leaving the parental home and forming relationships (Ermisch, 1999).
· Unemployment: Youth unemployment is more sensitive to economic developments than adult unemployment: it falls more quickly in times of expansion and rises more sharply in times of recession (cited in Furlong and Cartmel 2007).
· Education: A lack of available jobs makes educational options more attractive (Furlong and Cartmel, 2007).
· Experience of poverty: Young people who have experienced poverty are less likely to ever leave their parental homes and more likely to repeatedly return to and leave the family home (De Marco and Cosner Berzin, 2008; Wister et al., 1997).
· Socio-economic: Young people from middle-class backgrounds, who are more likely to benefit from higher education, tend to take longer to transition into adulthood. However, the high levels of practical and financial support they receive means they are able to move into independent living arrangements sooner (including student accommodation). On the other hand, young people from working-class backgrounds are more likely to move into a couple-household or have children earlier. They are less likely to go to university, and if they do so they are more likely to live with their parents (Heath, 2008).
· Rurality: Young people in rural areas are likely to leave their parental home earlier than their peers in cities by moving into urban areas, but they remain financially dependent on their parents for longer (Heath, 2008).
· Equality issues: Moving to independent housing is especially difficult for young people with disabilities, young people who are leaving care and gay and lesbian young people (Heath, 2008):
o Disabled young people are more likely to live with their parents and to rely on parental support for longer.
o Young people leaving care tend to move to independent households sooner, but face particular difficulties due to a lack of social support.
o Gay and lesbian young people often leave their parental homes earlier due to disputes about their sexuality. Homelessness is common, and housing services would benefit from considering the needs of non-heterosexual groups
Many emerging adults express feelings of being ‘in-between’ adolescence and adulthood. They define adulthood in terms of development and life experiences – eg financial autonomy, responsibilities for self and others, rather than defining their adult status by age.
This review was carried out under our Evidence Request Bank. A full response, with references, will be published on this site shortly: http://aboutfamilies.org.uk/evidencebank/. Please email Kirsten.firstname.lastname@example.org for references in the meantime.
The evidence bank is open to all partners and organisations we work with. For more information on how to get involved please contact Karen Mountney, email@example.com.