European Youth Studies


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This is the space to write the wiki article for the team of 5 working on Biggart & Kovacheva (2006) on a key concept stemming from the Biggart & Kovacheva text.

Transition to Adulthood

The pedagogical and psychological concept of "transition" describes the fact of passing through sets of identity stages (i.e. from childhood to youth, from youth to adulthood and/or parenthood). "Transition" might be defined as a developmental task and is connected to complex decision-making and planning. Young people in their transition to adulthood have to simultaneously pass through a complex set of identity stages, including continuing with education and building up a professional career, finding an adequate gender role, leaving the parent's home, finding a love partner and deciding to have children or not to have children etc (Simultaneity of transitions). These multiple tasks require complex decision-making and planning. During the transition process, young people influence the society and the surrounding environment with their actions and decisions, and are also subjected to social traditions, behavioral norms and cultural values.[1] This process is called ‘Structured invidualization’. The Transition to Adulthood is therefore a complex concept which depends on the grade of autonomy and dependence of young people, and on cultural factors. This article provides a definition of this concept and then investigates the three main factors that determine it.

  1. Adulthood: a complex concept
  2. Autonomy
  3. Dependence/Independence
  4. Cultural factors

1. Adulthood: a complex concept

The transition to adulthood seems to be a complex concept. According to Holsdwarth & Morgan (2005) there is no universal agreement as to what constitutes adulthood and it seems to incorporate a number of different dimensions. Some of the indicators include economic stability, emotional and psychological maturity, a separate identity, home leaving, etc (Biggart & Kovancheva, 2006). Two concepts are closely linked with the transition to adulthood: independence and autonomy. However neither of them has a straightforward definition. The ‘emerging adulthood’ as a stage when the individual negotiates his/her new identity and independence has been proposed as an intermittent stage between adolescence and adulthood (Arnett, 2000). It is quite common for young people to explore a number of different possibilities and enjoy varying degrees of independence and autonomy for a number of years before they become totally self-reliant. A criticism of the above-mentioned concepts is that being self-sufficient as a desired goal in adult life clearly stems from a Western tradition and is not necessarily shared by a number of other cultures (Laungani, 2000). In other words certain cultures emphasise the involvement of the family in someone’s desires, choices and sense of self. The role of the family has been extensively discussed as an important factor in the transition to adulthood.

2. Autonomy

Youth autonomy is one of the two key concepts linked to adulthood and it touches upon policies such as education, family, employment,entrepreneurship, social protection, health, housing, transport and mobility,justice and home affairs, discrimination and social integration (Europeam Youth Forum, Policy Paper on Youth Autonomy, adopted by the Council of Members,23-24 April 2004). Autonomy should not be seen as an antonym of dependence or a synonym of independence which are a socioeconomic concepts. Autonomy is influenced by dependence/indepencence as the agency of young people is influenced by the structure (material, social and cultural). Autonomy relates to identity processes and agency (van de Velde, 2001; Biggart & Walther, 2005) and signifies that young people have the necessary support, resources and opportunities to choose to live independently; to enjoy the possibility of full social and political participation in all sectors of everyday life; and to be able to take independent decisions (European Youth Forum, Policy Paper on Youth & the European Social Model, adopted by the Council of Members/ Extraordinary General Assembly, 2-3 May 2008). Young people understand youth autonomy as being primarily related to financial independence as well as the right to make choices of their own. The Commission in the follow-up to the White Paper has come up with a definition based on ‘a reasonable life without excessive dependency’ and in the seminar organised by the Commission there was an agreement that autonomy consists of economic, social and democratic aspects and that the participation of young people in society is important for autonomy, as it allows young people to express themselves and to take their responsibility as citizens. The working group on autonomy at the Murcia Youth Gathering developed one of the most comprehensive working definitions: 'Autonomy is the situation where young people have the necessary support, resources and opportunities to chose to live independently, to run their own lives and to have full social and political participation in all sectors of everyday life, and be able to take independent decisions.' However, as young people are not a cohesive group and all live different realities and have different needs it is difficult to develop a concise and all encompassing definition of what autonomy is for young people. For example, the situation of young women with regard to autonomy can be strongly affected by their cultural reality and young people with fewer opportunities can face specific challenges that must be taken into consideration. The most used indicator to measure youth autonomy, also used by the European Commission, White Paper A New Impetus for European Youth, (p.28) is the age at which young people leave home.

3. Independence/ dependence

When one tries to speak about independence or dependence of the young people in relation to their parents or family structures, there are some factors that must be emphasized, including the indicators that enhance independence or potentiates dependence. The truth is that, as Kovacheva&Biggart [1] tells us, these reasons and indicators vary according to family patterns or models that to some extent generates different expectations within it. At the same time, this key concept of independence, a concept directly linked to another transversal concept as it is emancipation, largely depends on several other factors. Such as: 1. On the one hand by the relationships that youth establish with the state and what kind of support they get on issues related to employment, housing and / or other predominant areas; 2. On the other hand by geographical location and the influence of welfare policies on supporting youth. The authors [2] denotes that the Nordic countries and Central Europe, the state has a role greater emphasis on supporting the empowerment of young people. The same is not true even in countries of southern Europe, where the family remains a major mean of support to young people, nor in the countries of post-socialist Europe, where the interactions between State-families-young people are very explicit; 3. It also depends, as Biggart & Kovacheva pointed out [3] on a couple of indicators such as the level of education and job stability of young people, etc. The economic situation of young people is really vital on this. If the economic situation is favorable, then there is a greater propensity for emancipation. On the other hand, if such situation is not playing in favor of young people, so they will tend to remain in the previous condition. 4. Cultural and context factors are also important in the analysis of emancipation and gaining independence, specially between different welfare regimes.

4. Cultural factors

Culture is a strong influencing factor of independence/dependence since it influences the support structures (family models, welfare state). However culture also influences autonomy and agency of young people since each young person can understand the 'right to take decisions on his own' or 'participation in society' with the eyes of their own culture. Family models and the expectations of family members vary significantly in Europe. The differences are founded on variegated social and cultural realities, as well as different policy traditions (Galland, 1993; Biggart & Walther, 2006; van de Velde, 2009). A recent study (Van de Velde) constructs 3 models of becoming adult in Europe relating to four different countries (France, Spain, Denmark, Great Britain). In France the logic of social integration in determinant, in Spain that of 'family membership'. in Denmark that of 'personal development and in Great Britain that of individual emancipation'. These logics reflect the expectations from family and society towards young people in their transition to adulthood. In the post socialist countries there are different logics behind the family expectations. In Bulgaria (Biggart & Kovacheva) there are three models of behaviour on the part of families: 'the transition as family project', 'the total control on young people's transition', 'non interference' caused by the feeling of being unuseful as parents since the social system suddenly changed. Welfare states do not only reflect structural characteristics of the country (eg economic factors) but also the culture of its people. In Denmark the welfare state is universalistic, therefore young people leave early the parental home thanks to subventions from the State and live a transition which is one of self actualisation and reflection while the family fosters their independence. In Italy, where the welfare state is sub-protective, the family provides support to the children, is ready to make sacrifices to promote their education and a transition to full independence only when they have a stable job position. In these systems, children have a great amount of autonomy inside the parental home. In Great Britain, the State provides loans to young people, the family supports the children only under certain conditions and are ready to withdraw economic support to foster independence. Young people are also ready to downgrade their professional expectations in order to find a job as soon as possible. In Bulgaria, a post-socialist country, the family provides the exptensive support that was once provided by the State both in term of economical and social capital since connections are still considered determinant in order to find a good position.


Arnett, J., J. (2000). Emerging adulthood. A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55 (5), 469-480.

Biggart, A. and Kovacheva, S. (2006), ‘Social Change, Family Support, and Young Adults in Europe’, in M. du Bois-Reymond and L. Chisholm (eds), The Modernisation of Youth Transitions in Europe, Wiley Periodicals, no. 113, p.52

European Youth Forum, Policy Paper on Youth Autonomy, adopted by the Council of Members,23-24 April 2004

European Youth Forum, Policy Paper on Youth & the European Social Model, adopted by the Council of Members/ Extraordinary General Assembly, 2-3 May 2008

Holsdwarth, C., & Morgan, D. (2005). Transitions in context. Leaving home, independence and adulthood. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Laungani P. (2000). Culture and identity: implications for counselling. In S. Palmer & P. Laungani (Eds.) Counselling in a multicultural society. London: Sage

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