Austerity, familialism, and conceptualisations as to the age at which adulthood is reached

Ann M. Berrington, University of Southampton
Paul Wakeling, University of York
Adriana Duta, University of Edinburgh

This paper explores the meaning of “adulthood”, and conceptualisations of adulthood have altered for example as a consequence of austerity, cuts to welfare benefits, and increasing reliance upon parental support for young adults in the UK. It also suggests that these changes are associated with increased social inequalities in the ability of young adults to make key transitions. The paper begins by reviewing changes over the past decade in the way that “becoming an adult” is identified and conceptualised in education, social and housing policies. It becomes clear that there is considerable inconsistency across policy domains in the extent to which parents are presumed to be responsible for their adult children’s life chances. For example, in terms of supporting young adults through post-compulsory education, parental support is presumed, whereas in terms of out of work benefits, no reference is made to parental income or support is made in judgements of need. In terms of housing support, those who are and are not co-resident with their parents have always been treated differently, and recently, the age at which young adults are deemed as ready to leave the parental home has been increased. Using empirical evidence from the large nationally representative data sources such as the Labour Force Survey which includes information on parental socio-economic background, the paper looks at the widening gap in the timing of leaving full time education, gaining full time employment, moving out of the parental home, and home ownership according to parental socio-economic status. The paper concludes that the recent shift to familialism in the context of insecure labour markets and unaffordable housing has increased intra-generational inequalities for young adults.

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Presented in Session 25: Transition to adulthood