Slow road to independence is a problem for the young and parents alike

08/13/04

The trend for young people to continue in education and postpone independence is creating problems for them and parents, according to new research sponsored by the ESRC.

A study led by Professor Gill Jones, at Keele University, found that with the age of independence now effectively 24, there are difficulties both for parents with limited financial resources and other responsibilities, and for young adults who want to be able to make and act on their own decisions. By offering or withholding support, parents can affect young people's choices.

While for most young people the road to adulthood is getting longer, those from middle class families are still far more likely to go on to higher education and defer their independence. In contrast, many from a working class background still expect jobs and independence earlier.

Professor Jones said: "We found that parents were unclear about their responsibilities, as indeed is family law. Most thought their legal obligation to provide food, clothing and shelter ended at 16 rather than 18.

"Many knew of no legal obligation to support children who are students or low-paid workers, although government policies affecting young people tend to assume that basic maintenance will be subsidised by parents into the mid-twenties - the middle class pattern."

Interviews were carried out with young people aged between 16 and 25 - including full-time workers, students, unemployed and full-time mothers - and their parents. Whilst parents said their own move to independence had been more abrupt, usually linked to marriage, 90 per cent thought it harder for young people to stand on their own feet now because of financial constraints.

Most young people turn to parents for financial help, with grandparents, partners and in-laws coming into play only where there is no support from home. Though 61 per cent of the young people thought their families had helped a lot, 16 per cent said they received little or no assistance. Only 39 per cent thought their parents could have afforded to help more.

For young people, parental support comes in three categories: basic maintenance, ending when they start full-time work, usually at 18 to 21; one-off, large scale support for specific needs, such as a flat, car or baby equipment; and safety-net help for emergencies, expected to last over a longer period.

Most higher education students, but not all, had allowances or occasional help from parents, who took on extra work or cashed savings. Many university students took on jobs, but this affected their studies and could be counter-productive. Some cut costs by attending local universities and living board-free with their parents.

Living at home was essential but not free for further education students and trainees. Further education students who could not live at home and had no family support dropped out of courses.

Whilst some students dropped out explicitly for financial reasons, others said they could not justify the expense. Fear of debt put many off higher education altogether.

Professor Jones added: "Parents and students have to be able to identify returns on their investment, so there is pressure on young people to succeed both academically and in future careers. Two unemployed graduates thought work experience might have been more useful, as did some parents."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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