Traditionally, studies of the transition from adolescence to adulthood have concentrated on young people’s ability to achieve independence by "getting a job." But the nature of employment and the values attached to paid and unpaid work have changed dramatically in today’s world. Increasingly, we are recognizing that a successful transition to adulthood involves more than supporting one’s self.

Young people who make a successful transition to adulthood actually make four transitions:

  • from school to work
  • from their family home to creating their own family
  • from the care of others to managing their own health and well-being
  • from being responsible members of a nuclear family to being responsible, contributing members of the community.

This section concentrates on the factors and contributors that most influence these transitions in the years leading up to adulthood (between 15 and 19) and the young adulthood years (between 20 and 24).

All of the transitions that young people undergo are linked. For example, a successful move from the family home to creating one’s own family is highly dependent on making a successful transition from school to work. Each transition requires young people to take on new roles. These roles involve both independence and interdependence — the ability to give and take in relationships with mutual respect and understanding.

Young people embarking on the transition to adulthood take many different paths. Consider, for example, the different experiences encountered by an unemployed young person from a low-income family compared with a young person who gains acceptance to a prestigious university backed by the financial and emotional support of a family with a high income.

Gender, race, disability and culture can have a significant impact on the transition to adulthood. Although there are more women than men in postsecondary institutions, women still encounter obstacles to equal employment opportunities. Aboriginal youth face a wide range of barriers related to education, opportunities in the labour market and support for traditional family customs. Members of some visible minorities, for example, Black and Latin American youth, and disabled youth are also relatively disadvantaged in education and employment opportunities.

The influence of socioeconomic status on education and the transition to work has been well documented over several decades. Young people from less-advantaged backgrounds are more likely to drop out of school, and therefore, to have limited career opportunities. The advantages of a higher socioeconomic background are passed from parents to children both directly (for example, financial support for post-secondary education) and indirectly (for example, well-educated role models and more parental involvement in children’s education). Today, this trend is exaggerated by rising tuition fees and reduced family incomes.

In the ‘90s, economic restructuring, downsizing and the increase in nonstandard employment (work other than continuous, full-time employment such as part-time jobs or combining a number of contract jobs), have made the school to work transition more complex and difficult for all youth. Children of the baby boom generation are faced with high expectations and fewer opportunities for employment. These changes in school to work transitions are influencing how young people take on other adult roles. Young Canadians are staying at home longer, marrying or cohabiting later and postponing parenthood.

Positive outcomes for this transition

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