ERG SES H 12, Sociologies of Education
Social exclusion and poverty among young people has increased in Europe as a result of the latest economic crisis, and young people in vulnerable positions, in particular those not in employment, education or training (NEETs) or those in situations of near social exclusion, have become increasingly the topic of public and policy discourses throughout Europe with Finland being no exception (e.g. Aaltonen, Berg, & Ikäheimo, 2015). In Finland, as in many other European countries, the employment situation of young people has become more difficult, and youth unemployment has increased since the financial crisis. Uncertain employment prospects have had discouraging effects on many young people’s educational motivation, and the amount of young NEETs has increased. The effects of socioeconomic and cultural background on learning outcomes have gotten stronger, and the proportion of pupils with a low level of skills has grown significantly. The difficulties young people in vulnerable life situations face in building decent lives for themselves have been argued to be a product of the neoliberal education policy that admires top-performers and fosters competition. With regard to the risk of poverty and social exclusion, the gap between different parts of the country has been widening during the past decade; the risk has grown especially in the northern and eastern regions of Finland. (See Silvennoinen et al., 2017.)
Generally speaking, young people are expected to individualise their lives by constructing trajectories based on their personal preferences and choices (Coté, 2002), but are increasingly left on their own resources to do so, as the decline of community-oriented policies leads to more tenuous institutional support for the life course transitions as well as to more destabilised and less predictable life course trajectories (Furlong & Cartmel, 2007). Despite the changing economic structures implying de-standardisation of life courses, the societal expectations related to standardised ‘normal’ life course are strongly present in Finland (Rinne et al., 2016).
Against this backdrop this paper sets out to answer the following questions: 1) what kind of conditions and biographical events do Finnish young adults in vulnerable positions themselves find significant to the formation of their life courses, 2) what kind of life course patterns, if any, can be distinguished from their life stories, and 3) how are their socio-structural surroundings reflected on their future life projects? The principles of life course proposed in the life course paradigm of Glen Elder; historical time and space of life course, timing of life course, linked lives, life course cumulation, and individual agency (Elder, 1998; Elder et al., 2003), especially the latter two, provide the theoretical framework for the paper. Advantages and disadvantages do not occur randomly during a lifetime, but according to a logic of path dependence that often starts with early advantages or disadvantages, brought about by people’s social origins. Accumulation concerns also more psychological resources like cognitive complexity and flexibility and the resulting self-directedness or beliefs of personal control or self-efficacy. (Levy & Bühlmann, 2016.) Certain life course outcomes are shaped not only by situational, personal, or contextual conditions but also by experiences and resources acquired at earlier stages of biography (Mayer, 2004). Also, people are not passively acted upon by social influence and structural constraints. Instead they make choices and compromises based on the alternatives that they perceive before them. The planning and choice-making of individuals, within the particular limitations of their world, can have important consequences for future trajectories, but planfulness and its behavioural expression depend on context and its constraints (Elder, 2003), such as the different forms of resources an individual has at their disposal.
The data were collected in spring 2017 within a European Horizon2020-funded research project “Policies Supporting Young People in their Life Course. A Comparative Perspective of Lifelong Learning and Inclusion in Education and Work in Europe” (Young_Adulllt). The dataset utilised for this paper includes narrative biographical interviews of 17 young adults in vulnerable situations from two contrasting Finnish regions, which represent two different realities and future prospects for young people (more wealthy region in southern Finland and a more disadvantaged and peripheral region in north-eastern Finland). All the interviewed young adults were participants of different lifelong learning (LLL) policy measures, such as on-the-job learning workshops and rehabilitation services, and they were contacted via these policy measures, which belonged to the fields of educational, labour market as well as youth and social policies. The analysis method applied in this study relates to what Hsieh and Shannon (2005) call conventional content analysis. The analysis of the interviews started with reading the interview transcripts several times and writing analytic interview summaries of them. The second step of the analysis process included several rounds of re-reading and coding of the interview transcriptions. During this process, the initial codes derived in the first rounds were complemented with new ones, some codes were divided to sub-codes, the internal consistency of the coding was evaluated, and the relationships of codes were examined. In this paper, the focus is on the themes of the young adults’ life stories as well as on the different life course patterns (past and future) that emerged in the analysis process.
The most dominant themes that emerged from the young adults’ interviews were the challenges and ruptures included in the life stories, such as learning and neuropsychological disorders, mental and physical illnesses, circadian rhythm problems, major problems in family, and having been bullied at school, as well as the (lack of) support from family, friends, and school. Two thirds of the interviewed young adults had been or still were suffering from some form of mental illness, and nearly half of the interviewed young adults had been bullied at school, and many of them found that it had had severe effects on their life courses and self-perceptions. For the majority the consequences were drastic, such as onset of a mental illness, dropping out of education, or loss of self-confidence and feelings of hopelessness. Three general life course patterns were identified from the life stories of the young adults showing that they come from very different backgrounds and have many different types of challenges, which implies that they all do not necessarily benefit from same types of support measures. Despite their already fragmented life courses, the majority of young adults interviewed in this study were planning their future based on the culturally constructed model of ‘the normal life course’. They had rather normative and conventional understanding of adulthood despite the accumulating challenges and the vulnerable situations they were living in. The regional opportunity structures were not really reflected on the young adults’ perceived and planned life projects, even though the polarisation of regional opportunity structures has been very much highlighted by policy experts and scholars in Finland. Generally speaking, despite the different living conditions, young adults in both functional regions had a rather positive and confident outlook on life.
Aaltonen, S., Berg, P., & Ikäheimo, S. (2015). Johdanto [Introduction]. In S. Aaltonen, P. Berg, & S. Ikäheimo (Eds.) Nuoret luukulla. Kolme näkökulmaa syrjäytymiseen ja nuorten asemaan palvelujärjestelmässä [Three perspectives on social exclusion and the position of young people in the service system] (pp. 9–11). Nuorisotutkimusverkosto/Nuorisotutkimusseura julkaisuja 160. Helsinki: Finnish Youth Research Society. Coté, J. E. (2002). The role of identity capital in the transition to adulthood: the individualization thesis examined. Journal of Youth Studies, 5, 117–134. Elder, G. H. (1998). Life Course as a Developmental Theory. Child Development, 69(1), 1–12. Elder, G. H. (2003). The emergence and development of life course theory. In E. Mortimer & M. Shanahan (Eds.) Handbook of the Life Course. Kluwer Academic/Plenum, New York, 3–19. Furlong, A., & Cartmel, F. (2007). Young people and social change: New perspectives (2nd Ed.). Buckingham: Open University Press. Hsieh, H-F. & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288. Levy, R. & Bühlmann, F. (2016). Towards a socio-structural framework for life course analysis. Advances in Life Course Research, 30, 30–42. Mayer, K. U. (2004). Whose lives? How history, societies and institutions define and shape life courses. Research in Human Development, 1(3), 161–187. Rinne, R. et al. (2016). Policy Mapping, Review and Analysis. National Report: Finland. In H-G. Kotthoff et al. (Eds.) International Report: LLL Policies and Inclusion in Education and Work. YOUNG_ADULLLT Working Paper. Freiburg: University of Education Freiburg. http://www.young-adulllt.eu/publications/working-paper/index.php Silvennoinen et al. (2017). Quantitative Analysis: Young Adults’ Data: Finland – National Briefing Paper with National and Regional Data Sets. In R. Scandurra, R. Cefalo, K. Hermannson, & Y. Kazepov (Eds.) Quantitative Analysis Young Adults’ Data. International Report. YOUNG_ADULLLT Working Paper. Granada: University of Granada. http://www.young-adulllt.eu/publications/working-paper/index.php
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