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Two extremities of the life course–entry into adult life, exit from working life and the beginning of old age– are probably the stages that have undergone the greatest changes in recent years in terms of how they actually function and where their thresholds fall, and thus perhaps in their very definition. For “youth”, these changes have fueled much sociological thought in the last 60 years. It is interesting in this connection to recall one of Talcott Parsons’ first articles on the subject, published in a 1942 issue of the American Sociological Review, one that included a number of other investigations into the question and inaugurated the tradition of research into age and life cycle. [1][1] One of the other contributions was a suggestive article...


For several reasons, French sociologists took up the question of life phases only much later. [2][2] See Galland (2001, ch. 2). The “life cycle” perspective took shape and substance in France in the mid-1980s, after Edgar Morin’s pioneering studies on youth and Bourdieu’s methodological warnings (1980) [3][3] For Bourdieu, the idea of youth was based on naturalist... (Béjin, 1983; Galland, 1984).


I shall review these developments here, relating actual changes in life styles in France and Europe to the intellectual understanding of them reflected in sociological categories. I shall not be presenting any regular, controlled advance in knowledge, but rather the hesitations and impasses that have characterized this area of sociological study–alongside possible progress.


To begin the exercise, then, I shall consider Parsons’ article, which is at once a distant reference–distant in time, space, and cultural references [4][4] Cultural distance here refers not so much to sociological... – and a useful one in that it sets forth an interpretive model, probably the first model of an emerging age group : youth. I shall then return to the interpretation of the French situation I proposed in the pages of this review approximately 10 years ago (Galland, 1990), thereby providing a means for critical comparison : how does my approach in the 1990 article differ from Parsons’ initial interpretation, and how has the interpretation I developed been validated or challenged by numerous studies published since then ?

Adolescence as a culture of irresponsibility


Situated at the border between childhood and adolescence, “youth culture” was defined by Parsons in terms of two complementary traits : sharp though ambiguous opposition to adult culture, and a profound separation of male and female roles. “Youth culture”, which is in fact adolescent culture, is defined as one of irresponsibility. The dominant trait, according to Parsons, consists in “having a good time”, in contrast to the imperative of responsibility characteristic of adult male roles. [5][5] See also Coleman (1962) and Keniston (1960). However–and here the gender-related features of youth combine with age characteristics– the ways of experiencing and enacting this culture are very different for boys and girls. Boys value athletic qualities and feats, whereas the prestige scale for girls is determined by the “glamor girl” stereotype. These different qualities, both of which manifest the carefree attitude characteristic of adolescence, are in fact profoundly complementary in that they constitute sexual attractiveness, which is what fuels and orients all behavior in this life period. The developmental pattern in sexual mores that Parsons observed in American young people was confirmed by certain quantitative studies, namely the famous Kinsey study. And Lagrange (1998) points out that it was among university-educated young Americans born between 1910 and 1930 that it became highly popular to kiss on the mouth before having sexual intercourse, reserved for after marriage. A boy was expected to kiss the girls he went out with, not to have sexual intercourse with them.


This behavior corresponded to the highly codified sexual practice that organized contacts between girls and boys in high school : dating. In vogue from the late 1940s among students in their last years of secondary school, dating was a system in which young people met and went out together, comparable to certain courting rituals in old rural France. Strictly monitored by the young people themselves and perfectly consistent with American social values, it enabled young people of the opposite sex to see each other regularly and flirt. These self-monitored encounters provided matter for collective productions such as high school newspaper columns and worked to maintain gender stereo types (Modell, 1989). In the United States, then, adolescence was constructed more quickly than elsewhere due to the fact that education was prolonged earlier within a schooling context that tended to create norms and institutions particular to young people. [6][6] Modell remarks that the production of adolescent norms...


American adolescence as described by Parsons was both different from childhood, in that adolescents resisted parental pressures and developed a culture “on the borderline of parental approval […] in such matters as sexual behavior, drinking, and various forms of frivolous and irresponsible behavior” unacceptable to them, and totally distinct from adult culture in that the symbols of prestige among successful adults were very different from those valued in the youth culture : “From being the athletic hero or a lion of college dances, the young man becomes a prosaic businessman or lawyer.”


Another defining characteristic of American adolescent culture was the profound separation between male and female roles. American girls were destined at the time to become wives and mothers; few were planning to work. From this perspective, the dichotomy and complementarity of adolescent gender roles were functionally adapted to the positions that young adults of the two sexes would we called upon to occupy in American society. For Parsons, “youth culture” as a whole was a functional process facilitating the transition from the security of childhood within the family of origin to full adult status in marriage and working life. It was precisely because this transition period was characterized by tension that it carried elements of “unrealistic romanticism”.


Adolescence defined as an intermediate moment clearly distinguished by cultural features from both childhood and adulthood did not appear until later in France. High school [lycée] enrolment did not begin to increase dramatically until the end of the 1950s : the proportion of students in the equivalent of ninth to twelfth grades out of total population of 15- to 17-year-olds went from 43% for school year 1958-59 to 61% for 1970-71. The practice of flirting, one of the clearest manifestations of the new adolescent age in that it dissociates contact with the opposite sex from matrimonial perspectives, only developed in France over the 1960s, exploding in the 1970s (Lagrange, 1998). [7][7] Adolescence was also characterized in France by idol...


Moreover, adolescence as constituted by prolonged education and accompanying cultural behaviors amounted then to no more than a brief period ending fairly quickly in marriage and the start of working life. Half of French women born in 1931 were already married by the age of 22. [8][8] Nizard and Pressat (1965, p. 1126). In the early sixties, half of boys aged 16 were already working. [9][9] Estimation based on 1962 census data; see Febvay,...


Parsons’ counterpart in France was Edgar Morin, who, 27 years after “Age and Sex in the Social Structure of the United States”, proposed a distinct sociological analysis of French adolescent culture (Morin, 1969). He showed how an entirely new type of age-group solidarity was being created; how, in rural areas, for example, a different tie was supplanting that which had existed between young people of a given village. The earlier tie had mainly worked by establishing an opposition between the young people of neighboring villages while integrating each group into the local adult social system. Now a new overarching solidarity among young people was taking the place of intra-village solidarity and closing young people off from the adult world.


Adolescence advened later in France than in the United States and probably had slightly different features. In France, for example, hypertrophied stereotypical gender models had less sway. French adolescence did exhibit one of Parsons’ fundamental characteristics, however : separation from the two ages it came between, childhood before, adulthood after. This feature made it radically new.

Post-adolescence, a form of prolonged adolescence


In a compelling article written in 2000, Hugh Cunningham identifies four phases in relations between young Britons and their parents over the last 250 years and analyzes corresponding trends in home-leaving age.


In the first phase, stretching from the eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, young people left parents’ home very early–the normal age was 14– to take up service in another family. Girls become servants and boys farm hands. They did this simply because there was no work for people who stayed with their parents.


The second phase, which began with industrialization, was characterized by much longer cohabitation; children were major contributors to the family economy. What is striking in accounts cited by historians to describe intergenerational relations at this time is that children’s world was fully continuous with adults’. Children “felt proud to be able to contribute in such a way to the family well-being. […] It seems not unreasonable to conclude that the level of sexual activity among young people was exceptionally low, and the sense of obligation to their parents exceptionally high”. This phase reached its apogee in the early twentieth century.


The third phase began around the time of the Second World War and ended in the mid-sixties. This transition period was compressed due to two developments : prolonged schooling and lower marrying age. Most important, the balance of intergenerational relations within the family began to be reversed. The feeling that children had a duty to their parents weakened as family discipline loosened and children’s and adolescents’ wishes were increasingly taken into account.


The last phase began in the early eighties. In this period the trend of a compressed transition to adulthood and a quick move from one phase to the next has in turn been reversed. Cunningham maintains that this is due to young people prolonging their education in response to less promising employment prospects. This does not prevent them from leaving home, but their departure takes on a completely different meaning from what it had in the early twentieth century : leaving the parental home no longer generally means that young persons are settling into adult roles. We must therefore distinguish between living away from home and leaving home proper–a crucial difference to be elucidated further on. In this interpretation of transitions to adulthood over the recent centuries, the fundamental factor is change in power relations within the family.


Cunningham’s analysis of developments in intergenerational relations sheds new light on the question of adolescence. The emergence of this life period also corresponded to a reversal in feelings of obligation within families. The sense of carefree irresponsibility described by Parsons stands in contrast to the feelings of filial duty which, according to Cunningham, accounted for the behavior of British children and adolescents in the first half of the twentieth century.


“Post-adolescence” can be conceived as an exacerbated reversal in the respective value of each generation and the sense of obligation between them. “The idea spread that adolescence was not necessarily a brief and painful transition period between two other relatively long periods. New terms were forged to designate this attitude and this new life period : prolonged adolescence, post-adolescence.” (Béjin, 1983).


The idea also quickly spread that despite the types of assistance children received from their parents–increasingly diverse and ever-more generous– all young people’s situations were not really comparable or equal. The increasing difficulty of acceding to employment starting in the late 1960s gave credence to the idea that “supernumerary young people were being cast aside” (Le Bras, 1983). By “compensating young people” for such disadvantages while “refusing them any power”, the older generation maintained the younger in a state of prolonged dependence that served their own adult interests.


In “post-adolescence” the features of adolescence were exacerbated; the period of irresponsibility was pushed beyond the limit of physiological adolescence. [10][10] Physiological adolescence, as indicated by age of... Depending on the researcher, the causes of this development were to be sought either in young people themselves or the behavior of the generation preceding them.

Is youth radically different from adolescence ?


In an article published in this review (Galland, 1990), I took issue with the preceding thesis on post-adolescence. The idea underlying my argument was that youth was radically different from adolescence, [11][11] “We a re witnessing not only a displacement of thresholds... and the argument was based on a study of the frequency of “intermediate stages of life” as a function of social origin, education, and employment situation. [12][12] I defined living alone, in a small group (outside... I found that such stages were being practiced in all social classes and more frequently by occupied persons than students; they were not associated with unstable employment or unemployment. This confirmed the idea that they had been deliberately chosen, a choice that consisted in “taking advantage of being young and having a variety of experiences”.


The sociological hypothesis I advanced to interpret these results was based on reference group theory : aspirations to upward social mobility increased the distance between membership group and reference group, particularly among young people of modest or middle-class background who were prolonging their education. Youth was thus the moment of defining or redefining social aspirations, aspirations that were no longer entirely determined by social background and intergenerational transmission.


This thesis worked to establish a radical difference between youth and adolescence, or post-adolescence, though this was not clearly formulated in the article itself. The idea was that though adolescents were culturally distinct, they remained dependent on–and protected by– parents and/or teachers and mentors of various kinds. In this sense, adolescence was closer to childhood than adulthood. Young people, on the other hand, often acquired a kind of independence from the older generation, even if only partial–by living separately from parents, for example, even if parents continued to pay for their lodging. However, young people had not yet attained fully adult roles, either because their work situation was unstable or because they had deferred taking on own-family roles.


According to this hypothesis, youth was not prolonged adolescence and was not necessarily regressive. It had become a normal, functional phase that prepared people to take on adult roles, with the understanding that they could only do so gradually. Compared to Parsons’ thesis on adolescence, this definition put less emphasis on cultural differentiation between youth and adulthood and more on the sociological specificity of the youth phase in terms of how it organizes the life cycle. In this hypothesis, youth appears as a new phase of the cycle, with its own functional properties.


Do empirical studies done over the last ten years validate this thesis, at least partially ?

FIGURE I.  - Desynchronization of work- and family-starting thresholds Generations born in 1963-66 FIGURE I.
Complementary youth survey for INSEE’s 1992 “Emploi” survey.

It should be mentioned first of all that in the matter of time-tables for entering adult life, an INSEE survey conducted in 1992 confirmed both that each new generation was starting the main stages at a later age and that work- and family-starting thresholds had become desynchronized (Galland, 1995a). [13][13] This survey, designed jointly by INSEE statisticians... This was an important result as it showed that Cunningham’s third phase, beginning during the Second World War and characterized by relative simultaneity in crossing the two thresholds, was not relevant for the 1980s in France. Early and late threshold crossing was fairly consistent for both events (as shown by the first factor of the principal component analysis, Figure I). But consistency was greater between school-leaving and work-starting thresholds on the one hand, family-starting thresholds on the other, than between these two sets of thresholds (as shown by the second factor in Figure I).


Starting to work and starting a family as ways of entering adulthood were both occurring later, but they also seemed partly disconnected. Merely prolonging adolescence would have meant postponing crossing the different thresholds in a way that did not weaken the connection between the two. Figure I, on the other hand, presents an entirely new configuration. Disconnection between these sets of events seemed to suggest that an intermediate phase was developing between childhood and maturity, one made up of various combinations of statuses, each pertaining to either adolescent or adult roles. On the basis of the 1992 study I was able to calculate the median length of time between first threshold crossed–leaving school– and what could be considered the last–parenthood– as slightly more than 8 years for boys, 6 for girls. This was a completely new result, different from both the adolescence and prolonged adolescence models. The defining characteristic of the new life phase was postponement of family-starting stages (leaving parental home, living in a couple, getting married, becoming a parent), and this seemed at least in part independent of prolonged education.


My results also called into question Parson’s divergent adolescent gender roles. The 1992 survey data show extraordinarily similar paths of entry into adulthood for girls and boys with higher education. Figure I shows that divergence in gender models is more accentuated when education level is low. At lowest educational degree, own family was started particularly late. At these levels, the unfavorable job market probably aggravated gender contrast : girls without degrees more readily abandoned any plan of finding a job and quickly started family life, whereas their male counterparts had no choice but to wait until stable employment made it possible for them to live on their own. Boys’ cohabitation with parents was thus prolonged longer than girls’.


These contrasts between the sexes seem first and foremost remnants of the declining traditional model, reactivated by the difficulties encountered by young people trying to start working life with no educational degree. At the top of the education ladder, convergence of gender models was high : girls and boys with higher education had very similar patterns of postponing entry into adult life.


In a similar study conducted five years later, the same variables, applied to more recent generations, produced a fairly similar array of work- and familystarting thresholds. Postponement among young educated women was greater, however, giving them a higher average “lateness” score than young men. Moreover, the threshold for leaving the parental home seems to have become gradually disconnected from the other thresholds. I shall return to this important point later.


One question, however, was not resolved (or indeed raised) in the study of 1992 INSEE data (Galland, 1995a). The disconnection between work- and family-starting thresholds is clear, but should this have been taken to mean that the gap from one generation to the next was gradually growing, or merely that it was being maintained despite more and more children attaining higher education levels ? Given the earlier model, based not on statistics but historical studies and monographs (Cunningham, 2000; Prost, 1987), partial disconnection between work- and family-starting thresholds would seem to stand as evidence of the latter phenomenon. It was not possible to check this hypothesis with 1992 data because that sample consisted exclusively of young people. The 1997 study, which used a similar mode of questioning, comprised a greater number of generations (persons born 1952-78) and therefore enabled me to assess developments in patterns of entry into adult life from the early 1970s through the 1990s (Galland, 2000a).


With respect to Cunningham’s four historical patterns, the new data did not really permit me to show how the 1970s model–which I shall call the “simultaneity model” to signify that its primary characteristic is compression of the main stages of entry into adult life– evolved into the succeeding one, which seems on the contrary characterized by disconnection between these thresholds. But I could investigate whether degree of disconnection increased or not during the 1980s-90s.


I used a model for failure time data to examine how length of time between events in young persons’ educational and working lives (leaving school, first job) as well as family-related events (first independent lodging, living in a couple, parenthood) have evolved from generation to generation, taking into account socio-demographic changes that might help explain these intervals (model presented in Appendix). Results for all generations studied are presented in Table I. [14][14] To keep Table I readily decipherable, r esults f or...


Oldest to youngest generation trend results, “other things being equal”, and intervals between education-employment events on the one hand, first independent lodging and living in a couple on the other, do not confirm the expected increasing disconnection between these stages. On the contrary, what we observe for a given socio-economic situation is that the gap has narrowed significantly in the most recent generations compared to the experience of generations born 1952-53. This decrease was especially marked among young non-bac-holders for interval differences from reference generation between first job and own-family events. Other things being equal, young people with this level of education born 1972-73, for example, moved into first independent lodging 3 to 4 years sooner after getting their first job than young people born 1952-53, and started living in a couple 4 to 5 years sooner after first job. While the results are not as clear or significant for young bac-holders, they also indicate a decrease (though not for the most recent generations).


For young people without the bac, then, delay in completing education and acceding to first job in each new generation has not been entirely transferred to age of moving into first independent lodging and settling in a couple. In fact, delay in starting work has increased more sharply than delay in starting a family, which explains the narrower gap between these two stages.


These results clearly go against the widely accepted notion that delay in reaching autonomy is due to a kind of complacency in young people that leads them to deliberately prolong dependence on parents. Controlling for all thresholds and characteristics of young people and their families over the generations shows that delay in attaining independence does not exceed delay induced by prolonging studies and starting working life later.


The diagnosis is completely different, however, for trends in length of time between education-employment stages and parenthood (last part of Table I). Here the contrast between young people is stronger by educational level. Non-bac-holders born in the late 1960s and early 1970s became parents sooner after getting first job, and sooner still after getting first stable job, than their counterparts born in the early 1950s. Conversely, for bac-holders of the same generations, the intervals between these events increased : parenthood was postponed beyond delay induced by prolonging studies and starting working life later.


What can we conclude, at least tentatively, from these data ? Do they invalidate the argument that an intermediate space has opened up between family of origin and starting own family ? My answer would be no, though they do lead us to nuance and revise that argument by taking into account the fact that length of this stage, and changes in it from one generation to the next, vary greatly by beginning and end points selected for observation and by educational level.


Interval between first over-six-month job and moving into first independent lodging, for example, was fairly short for all generations considered here, and has decreased since early 1950s generations (see Figure II). Young people with little education led the trend of moving into independent lodging faster after obtaining stable employment : half of boys without the bac born in the early 1950s did not move into independent lodging until at least four years after getting a stable job, whereas their counterparts born in the early 1970s were living on their own in less than two years. Living in a couple comes slightly later, but there also, especially among young people without the bac, the length of time between starting working life and living with someone has been decreasing.


Young people without the bac born in the late 1960s started working early (median age slightly over 17). In fact, the moment at which young people feel the need to leave their parents and live in a couple of their own depends in part on psychological factors that do not become manifest before a certain age. This explains why, for young people born in the early 1950s who left school relatively early, there was an interval of several years between starting working life and acquiring personal independence, and why the first of these ages could increase significantly (age of first job among non-bac-holders born in the mid-1970s is over 21) without this affecting the second, thus narrowing the gap between the two. Ages for economic and residential independence came closer together, particularly among women of this educational level.


Paradoxically, then, the increased employment difficulties experienced by young people with relatively short educations born in the early 1960s have helped reactivate the model of moving simultaneously into the two stages of adult life among young people at this educational level. Forced to remain longer in the parental home, beyond delay induced by prolonged studies, these young people are now leaving home as soon as they have the economic means to do so. But as we shall see, the ways they leave home have changed.


Once again, the diagnosis is completely different if we look at the last stage of acceding to adult status, the one that definitively distances an individual from youth : taking on parental responsibilities. Other things being equal, the length of time between this stage and the preceding educationaloccupational ones remains long for non-bac men and has increased for bac-holders of both sexes, decreasing only for non-bac women (Figure II).


This seems to me decisive evidence for the claim that an intermediate life-cycle space between adolescence and adulthood has developed and grown. Despite the fact that school-leaving age is going up and work situation is stabilizing increasingly later in life, young degree-holders, whatever their origin or family characteristics, are increasingly postponing the moment of starting a family. And this intermediate life space is increasing, at least among young people pursuing higher education. [15][15] A long-term trend in non-family lifestyles has also...


It is important, however, to take into account two new research results. First, the starting point of this intermediate stage, the boundary symbolized by leaving the parental home, is much more ambiguous than I thought it was ten years ago. This very ambiguity is a defining characteristic of the end point. In this sense, though youth is not simply prolonged adolescence, it nonetheless shares more traits with post-adolescence than supposed. Second, the model of youth I proposed in the early 1990s on the basis of the French situation is in no way generally applicable, even if we limit the area studied to developed countries. The many international comparative studies conducted in the last ten years show that each country has its own specific ways of organizing the passage from adolescence to adulthood, in accordance with its cultural traditions and institutional arrangements. Let us see if, despite this, some common lessons may be drawn from the French case.

FIGURE II.  - Other-things-being-equal time intervals between education-employment stages and own-family stages by generation FIGURE II.
INSEE’s 1997 “Jeunes et carrières” survey [Young people and careers].

Gradual detachment from family-of-origin world


My 1992 study of French students (Galland,1995b) showed that the majority of them remained residentially dependent on their families, but that this could take two very different forms : either students resided in parents’ home during the week, or they lived in separate lodging nonetheless paid for or provided by parents. Of a representative sample of students enrolled in second year of undergraduate studies and second year of graduate studies at the universities of Besançon, Rennes and Nanterre, [16][16] These levels of study correspond approximately to ages... 28% of all students lived in lodging paid for by parents. This corresponded to 31% of Besançon students and 38% of Rennes students, but only 13% of students living in Nanterre [large university just outside Paris]. This fairly popular living arrangement, which may be defined as living away from family while remaining economically and subjectively dependent on them, was especially characteristic of students from places other than France’s major cities and towns, who generally must go elsewhere to continue their studies.


Such students often had a kind of “double life”. During the week they led their “young person’s life”, seeing friends, going out, consuming the cultural offerings of the university town. They then returned to the family home for the weekend–with their dirty laundry. And while at first this seemed a lifestyle specific to students from outside major cities, later research studies show that it had developed and spread among other categories of young people.


Nearly one young person in three born 1968-71 lived away from home for the first time in housing paid for by parents or made available by family; in generations born five years earlier this was true of only one in five (Table II). Above all, this way of leaving family of origin spread rapidly among young people not pursuing higher education. For generations surveyed in 1992, for example, one young man without a degree in ten had proceeded this way, whereas five years later it was one in four. Moreover, as Catherine Villeneuve-Gokalp has shown (2000), more and more young people are benefiting from this kind of assisted departure : in 1997 three times as many men under 24 were living away than in 1992, two and a half times as many women –a major, rapid change in young people’s access to autonomy. Other characteristics of their living arrangements show similarly slower detachment from family of origin. For example, more and more young people have access to two residences–they live with their parents but not permanently– and a relatively high proportion of young people who have moved out of parents’ home come back to live with them not long thereafter (an estimated one in five departures are not definitive; Villeneuve-Gokalp, ibid.).


We should therefore follow Buck and Scott (1993) in differentiating between two stages in leaving the parental home : living away, ie, living outside family-of-origin household while maintaining ties with it, and leaving home proper, ie, moving into independent, self-paid lodging.

TABLE II.  - Young people leaving parental home by moving into parent-subsidized lodging by generation, sex, and educational level (%) TABLE II.
INSEE’s 1992 “Jeunes” and 1997 “Jeunes et carrières” surveys.

These two moments are becoming more and more distinct. Young people move into independent lodging at increasingly later ages, whereas age for first living away from home has remained stable since the early 1990s (Table III; Villeneuve-Gokalp, ibid.).

TABLE III.  - Median ages for living away and leaving home for two age groups TABLE III.
INSEE’s 1992 “Jeunes” and 1997 “Jeunes et carrières” survey.

In other words the parental or family assistance that has been observed in many studies (Attias-Donfut, 1995; Paugam and Zoyem, 1997; Crenner, 1999) seems to enable young French people to circumvent the difficulties of starting working life, difficulties that have been more pronounced in France than other European countries, and to experience a kind of partial independence in spite of them. It is tempting to see this pattern of reaching autonomy as a kind of implicit intergenerational compromise specific to France. Insiders, members of intermediate age strata, have been more protected in France than elsewhere; their occupational and career mobility is low, as is the risk that they will suffer unemployment; this situation means that the burden of being “flexible”, ie, accepting less than stable jobs, falls on outsiders, those just entering the labor market. [17][17] In 1982, young people were twice as likely as adults... But younger generations’ relative disadvantage is partially compensated for by a kind of informal redistribution within families that enables young people to enjoy some degree of emancipation, even if this is conditioned for a time by parental assistance.

European models of becoming adult


The second important shift from the 1992 study is that even though there has been a trend of prolonging youth in most European countries, cultural and institutional models of becoming adult remain extraordinarily diverse, as is readily seen from the range of ages for leaving the family home (Table IV).

TABLE IV.  - Proportion of young people in Europe living with their parents TABLE IV.
Eurostat, European Community Households Panel, 3rd wave (1996).

There is a clear contrast between southern and northern European countries. Young Mediterraneans start living away extremely late, whereas young Nordics do so very early. Between the ages of 22 and 25, for example, only 15% of Danes are still living in parents’ home, compared to 88% of Italians and 89% of Spaniards. As Alessandro Cavalli has noted (1993,2000), the pattern for Mediterraneans does not mean they are subject to the unwritten rules of an archaic family model. In reality, though they continue living with their parents, these young adults have great freedom to lead their private lives. It is rather that southern cultural traditions make living entirely outside a family structure unlikely, and perhaps most important, the economic conditions that would allow early access to autonomy don’t exist in these countries, characterized by high unemployment and little in the way of welfare assistance for young people.


Broadly speaking, we can say that becoming adult is the equivalent of acquiring a number of “attributes”, including holding a stable job and being financially autonomous, meaning one can survive on one’s own resources; having independent living arrangements, a sign of autonomy from parents; and lastly, settling into a couple, meaning one has acquired a certain emotional stability. I could have chosen other criteria, of course, but regularly published opinion surveys show that young people envision their personal futures by means of relatively classic representations of work and family that are themselves consistent with the above attributes. We can then compare speeds at which young Europeans of different countries acquire all or some of these attributes.


To represent independence attributes, I derived four variables from EU panel data : living or not living with an older-generation family member, living or not living in a couple, disposing or not of income that comes mainly from work, and holding a permanent or over-one-year temporary job. The survey is both longitudinal, covering three successive waves (1994,1995,1996) and extensive, covering several European countries. [18][18] The 1994 wave included respondents from 12 countries :... I was thus able to measure speeds at which young people of different countries reach one, several, or all adult attributes. In Figure III countries are ranked by “degree of independence” scores.

FIGURE III.  - European countries ranked by young people’s degree of independence, 1996 FIGURE III.
European Households Panel. Statistical analysis by Cécile Van de Velde (2000) for the Observatoire National de la Pauvreté et de l’Exclusion; see also Galland (2000b).

The French situation seems to fall between the Mediterranean countries (Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy), where young people accede very slowly to independence (60% of young Italians had not acquired a single independence attribute in 1996), and the Anglo-Saxon and northern European countries (Denmark, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany), where they accede much faster. The contrasts between the two ends of the scale are striking : 40% of young Danes had reached nearly complete independence in 1996 (and more than 25% of young French people), as opposed to 5% of young Italians.


Could the different speeds at which young Europeans attain independence be explained by a structural factor : length of initial education ? Here situations are very different. The same data informs us that in 1997 more than 80% of young Britons had finished initial studies as opposed to 35% of young Belgians and a little over 40% of young French people.


The answer is clearly no, however : length of initial education is not a decisive factor in explaining speed of attaining independence. We see that certain countries where rate for prolonging studies is high (Denmark) are in fact among those where young people attain near-complete independence the quickest, whereas in others, where initial education is relatively short (Greece, Portugal), young people wait a long time before becoming independent. This impression is confirmed if we compare independence scores among young people who have completed their studies (Galland, 2000b). The results do not fundamentally disturb the ranking in Figure 3 for students and non-students combined.


How is it, then, that for most countries length of initial education does not suffice to explain differences in speed of acquiring adult attributes ? First, in many European countries the boundary marking end of initial education does not play the important symbolic role it does for the French. Education and employment are sharply distinguished in France as two necessarily consecutive parts of life, whereas in the Anglo-Saxon and northern European countries, the two often overlap.


Moreover, if we rank countries by percentage of young people still in school who have acquired at least one independence attribute, we get results very similar to those for young people who have completed initial education. In fact, social, institutional and cultural models affect the speed of acquiring adult attributes, regardless of whether young people have completed their studies. Denmark offers a striking example of the influence of such factors. What it means to attain adult status in Denmark is very different from in France. Every individual age 18 or over is considered an adult in Denmark, and this status involves not only political rights and penal responsibility but also social rights : Danish society is unofficially held responsible for facilitating young people’s access to autonomy. In practical terms this means extremely generous welfare aid in the form of state grants for s tudents not determined on the basis of parents’ income (since young people themselves are considered adults), unemployment assistance, as well as aid to young persons without resources (Mahé, 2001).


Table V shows that while Danes leave the parental home and start living in a couple at a very young age, this is not because they have a stable job–on that score they are quite average– but rather because they have rapid access to sufficient financial resources. Six out of ten young Danes receive welfare of some sort, amounting to a total well above the European Union average. Social welfare benefits represent more than half of young beneficiaries’ resources (Chambaz, 2000).

TABLE V.  - Countries ranked by respective independence attainment scores (1994-96) TABLE V.

Young French people are in a very different situation from their Danish counterparts. They too live away and start living in a couple at a relatively young age, but only obtain stable employment and autonomous income when they are much older. Young French people thus find means to experience a form of independence early, regardless of their relatively late economic independence and a welfare benefits level way below the EU average. Parental aid, sometimes supplemented by welfare assistance (for access to public housing, for instance), enables them to be partially independent before becoming masters of their resources.


The French model of reaching autonomy thus seems to fall between the family-centered Mediterranean one and the welfare-state Nordic one. Like the first, the family plays an essential role with regard to young adults, but it intervenes in a different way. In the French model, family intervention involves helping from a distance; this m akes it possible for m any French young persons to experience an initial version of autonom y without com pletely breaking their child-like ties to the family. In terms of public assistance, the French model is closer to northern European arrangements (though aid is less generous) than to those in the southern countries, where the proportion of 18-29-year-old welfare recipients is very low (5 to 10%, as opposed to 50% in France).


But while young French people who have completed their studies do not attain independence much later than the young Europeans who attain it earliest, the situation is not the same for young French people who leave school after high school or earlier. One young French person in four who left school at these levels had not acquired a single independence attribute in 1996, and this figure is closer to that for Mediterranean than Anglo-Saxon or Nordic countries. Young French people with low educational degrees thus seem to suffer a specific handicap in attaining independence, and this distinguishes them more sharply than in other countries from the average situation of young French people.


Parsons proposed a reading of American adolescence in the early 1940s in primarily cultural terms : the spread and prolonging of studies beyond high school went hand in hand with the appearance of behavior that facilitated and systematized a kind of frivolity specific to the archetype of the student. That model does not suffice as a sociological interpretation of the life phase called youth, which today is being prolonged beyond physiological adolescence.


Indeed, what we are seeing today is very different. In a way, “youth” has lost the main characteristics that, according to Parsons, defined adolescence : the sharp opposition between it and adulthood, and contrasted, stereotypical gender roles. Today’s young people are not frivolous, carefree, or eager to push the constraints of adulthood ever further into the future–though this description could apply to “post-adolescence”. They are instead learning to be autonomous, but the process is slow, complex, sometimes chaotic, and above all the pace can vary greatly by the various areas or life events that taken together define adult status. This last characteristic radically distinguishes this model of youth from the preceding one. Furthermore, young people are likely to play on the new range of possibilities, “accelerating” acquisition of one adult attribute while slowing down acquisition of another, each according to his or her personal resources and the assistance available to her or him. It is striking how, over the generations, young people have not sought to prolong cohabitation with parents beyond what is implied by pursuing a longer education. On the contrary, they seem more eager and impatient for initial experience of autonomy. But such autonomy is often ambiguous : partial and reversible. The family remains present and accompanies young people until independence is fully attained.


Youth is therefore no longer defined these days by “irresponsibility”. It is rather the gradual learning of responsibilities, under more or less close protection from family or the state, depending on country. In southern European countries, family provides the main support during the process, whereas in northern Europe, cultural models as well as institutional arrangements give the state a decisive role in helping young people attain autonomy.


Gradualness, namely when it comes to detachment from family of origin, is the main characteristic of today’s French model of transition from one life phase to another. In this respect, my 1990 interpretation needs to be revised. When I presented youth as a kind of “parentheses” in the “normal” organization of the life course, I had probably overestimated its singularity as a phase clearly distinct from childhood and adulthood. In this sense, the thesis I defended then more closely followed Parsons’ model. In fact, youth is not a parentheses, but establishes continuity between two other life phases – adolescence and adulthood– that in earlier times clearly stood opposed : continuity in that the different attributes of adult life are acquired through stages over several years, and continuity in that each stage is broken down into several situations that together represent a gradual transition from entrance to exit points.


Nor can youth be defined in opposition to adult “culture”, as Parsons affirmed. Adolescence, when Parsons was writing, was clearly distinct from adulthood and could be readily experienced as a kind of counter-culture, a separate continent from the rest of society; its cultural traits gave young people a strong collective identity founded on opposition to the older generation. But this identity is all the more marked for being temporary, and except in the case of a few “lost soldiers”, it irreversibly comes to an end when one reaches adulthood.


Youth today cannot easily be lived as a cultural model characterized by a sharp break with the older generation and the rest of society. The continuum that it creates between adolescence and adulthood effaces both morphological and cultural contrasts. Furthermore, young people today are the children of generations who ushered in the 1960s revolution in mores and lifestyles. Recent studies (Galland, 2000c) show great consistency among value systems of French persons aged 18 to 50, even 60. Young people who, like their parents, have liberal attitudes when it comes to private life expect their parents to help them progress through the stages that will lead them to independence, and their parents readily meet this expectation. Individually, then, young French people have little reason to oppose their parents’ generation. Though collectively, generational inequalities have increased (Chauvel, 1998), the strength of family ties seems to have partially compensated for such objective effects while effacing subjective ones. However, this model of a negotiated transition toward adulthood is not valid for all young people. Some, primarily those without educational degrees, are excluded for the long term from reaching adult status, and since they often come from poor families, their parents often cannot offer them much more than a place to live–with them. Among these young people, well-known signs of revolt are manifest, signs that have little in common with the romantic idealism of the 1960s.


Translation : Amy Jacobs

Previously published : RFS, 2001,42,4



Testing a parametric regression model for failure time data


It is interesting to see how lengths of time between two events in a young person’s working or own-family life have evolved over the generations. To analyze these trends, we need to take into account socio-demographic changes that might explain them. This is where the parametric time-dependent regression model comes in. If Dt* stands for time-interval studied, the equation is as follows:


where Xi stands for socio-demographic characteristic and Ij for generation (j is birth year). µj stands for the gap (number of years) between generation j’s interval and that of the reference generation, 1952-53, other things being equal; that is, with regression equation covariates controlled for.


Certain observations are censored as events that have not yet occurred. If an event has not yet fully occurred, we can only know the starting or end point of interval Dt*. The estimate takes account of these censored observations through the maximum likelihood method.


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One of the other contributions was a suggestive article by Ralph Linton in which what turned out to be the fundame ntal sociology of the life course themes are already present. This tradition of research culminated in the collective work edited by Mathilda White Riley et al. (1972).


See Galland (2001, ch. 2).


For Bourdieu, the idea of youth was based on naturalist criteria and therefore constituted an artificial social group devoid of socio-logical substance : “Youth is nothing but a word”.


Cultural distance here refers not so much to sociological approaches as social phenomena. Those described by Parsons have little to do with the French situation; see for example the practice of “dating”, discussed further on.


See also Coleman (1962) and Keniston (1960).


Modell remarks that the production of adolescent norms was also facilitated by the fact that after World War II adolescents were schooled separately from pre-adolescents, who attended “junior high school”.


Adolescence was also characterized in France by idol worship. In 1964, the teenage magazine Salut les Copains [Hi, pals] sold 934,000 copies; for all teenage fan magazines taken together the figure was 1,500,000.


Nizard and Pressat (1965, p. 1126).


Estimation based on 1962 census data; see Febvay, Croze, Grais, and Calot (1964, pp. 155-221).


Physiological adolescence, as indicated by age of first menstrual period, is occurring at an increasingly young age. Today it is around 12 to 13, whereas in the mid-nineteenth century it was around 16 and a half to 17 (Alvin, 1993).


“We a re witnessing not only a displacement of thresholds between life phases, but the appearance of an intermediate age between the two well-defined life phases of adolescence and adulthood.” (Galland, 1990, p. 540).


I defined living alone, in a small group (outside the f amily of origin), or in an unmarried couple as intermediate lifestyles, all of which were situated “between the two stable states of the two constituted family units [ie, the family one is born into and the family one helps start]”.


This survey, designed jointly by INSEE statisticians and CNRS sociologists studying the question of “entry into adult life”, was based on retrospective time-tables retracing personal itineraries from age 16 drawn up by respondents for the years 1979 through 1992. For each year, respondent indicated his or her age and situation in each of following areas : emp loymen t, living situation (living with par ents, in lodging paid for by par ents, self-paid lodging), whether living in a couple or not, marital status, whether or not one was parent.


To keep Table I readily decipherable, r esults f or covariates are not given. The following covariates were taken into account : father’s education level, mother’s education level, father’s occupational situation, mother’s occupational situation, population of residence locale, father’s nationality, number of siblings. Young person’s own education level was not introduced into the model as this variable cannot be considered entirely exogenous; ie, determined externally to phenomena studied. Acceding to employment and moving into first independent lodging, for example, are events that may be said to be decided simultaneously. For each time interval analyzed, four models were fitted : bac-holders and non-bac-holders of each sex.


A long-term trend in non-family lifestyles has also been observed in the United States. Goldscheider (1997) published the following data from the US census :


These levels of study correspond approximately to ages 20 and 22 in France.


In 1982, young people were twice as likely as adults to experience unemployment or unstable employment; by 2000 the ratio had in creas ed to 3 to 1 (data from INSEE’s “Emploi” surveys).


The 1994 wave included respondents from 12 countries : Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. Austria was added in 1995 and Finland in 1996. Sweden was not included.



The terms adolescence, post-adolescence, and youth are often employed as nearsynonyms to designate the life period between childhood and adulthood. In fact, the terms are linked to distinct sociological interpretations, though these may be only implicit. This article aims to clarify those interpretations, first on the basis of an article by Parsons, who, in 1942 proposed one of the first sociological analyses of “youth culture”, defining adolescence as a culture of irresponsibility. The theme of “post-adolescence” developed later out of this idea. Other studies, on the contrary, sought to establish a radical distinction between adolescence and youth, the latter defined as “a new life period”. Critical review of this thesis leads to revising it on two important points. First, though “youth” is distinct from adolescence as defined by Parsons, it does not constitute, or not as fully as had been believed, a clearly separate life phase relative to those preceding and following it; indeed, the primary characteristic of adolescence is that it establishes continuity between those phases. Second, international comparative studies conducted in the last few years show extraordinary countrytocountry variation in the cultural dispositions and institutional arrangements that organize this life phase.

Plan de l'article

  1. Adolescence as a culture of irresponsibility
  2. Post-adolescence, a form of prolonged adolescence
  3. Is youth radically different from adolescence ?
  4. Gradual detachment from family-of-origin world
  5. European models of becoming adult

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