Young people feel `trapped in limbo'

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The Independent Online
YOUNG PEOPLE in Britain and the rest of Europe feel trapped in a "protracted limbo" between childhood and adulthood, unable to take on responsibilities. Job insecurity and longer periods of education and training mean they find it hard to envisage a settled family life, according to a study of 18 to 30-year-olds.

The study, from the Work-Life Research Centre, says young people are aware a "job for life" is now an impossible dream, although they expect a reasonable amount of security and opportunities to develop their skills and employability.

An emerging "psychological contract" between the young and employers also involves an expectation on the part of workers that there will be flexible working hours to leave time for interests and obligations outside work.

Respondents in Britain, the Republic of Ireland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden disliked the "long hours culture". That was particularly evident in the UK and Portugal.

Women's and men's expectations seem to be converging. Women in all groups expected employment to be part of their current and future lives and men said they hoped to share family responsibilities.

Many women, however, said men's aspirations might not match their practical contribution to domestic life. The more educated men were more likely to say they wanted to participate fully in childcare, while young men in blue-collar jobs in all countries except Sweden tended to be less committed.

Attitudes to work-family arrangements were influenced both by family background and national policies. "Countries which provide childcare and parental leave are also those where young people have the most supportive views of working mothers and institutional childcare."

In all countries young women had high employment aspirations but, in countries with little childcare support, they were sceptical about the feasibility of combining motherhood and employment.

Job insecurity emerged as a main area of concern in all five countries. "The changing labour market and in particular the increase in insecure work, whether perceived or actual, creates tensions."

Expectations of support from the state or employers to combine work and family life varied throughout the five countries. Respondents in Britain held out little hope of much backing. The authors argued that the growth in temporary contracts could undermine policies aimed at supporting parents who want to combine work with a family.

The researchers, from Manchester Metropolitan University and the Institute of Education, London, challenged employers and policy-makers to consider the implications of their findings. Uncertainties in young people's lives meant it might be difficult to find a committed and effective workforce.

Most young people could not imagine a role for trade unions in reconciling jobs and domestic responsibilities. The report, however, said there was an opportunity for unions to involve and support more young people by taking on board their family-work concerns.