English title: Conjugality and Transition to Adulthood

Author(s): Magda Nico -

Language: English

Type: Conference paper/poster

Year: 2008

Abstract

Transitions to adulthood have become more reversible, de-standardized, individualized and fragmented. An excellent example of that is the fact that what was once a relatively single event - leaving the parental home, conjugal cohabitation and marriage - has been divided not only into three different or sequential destinations, but also into different courses of life. In fact, as we can see in the presented data, elderly generations tend to jointly evaluate the importance of conjugal cohabitationand residential autonomy, as these were one single event, while more recent generations tend to not only evaluate the importance of these three transitional events separately, but also to undervalue parenthood and especially conjugality as important events in the construction of an adult status. Having a full time job is, in all the generations considered, the most important event in that construction, but residential autonomy has gained importance throughout generations, as a new symbol of taking responsibilities for one self and of an adult status. That mentioned division made the evaluation of conjugality as an important marker of adulthood,per se, possible. Although conjugality and parenthood are considered the least important transitional events as indicators of an adult status, the difference of attributed importance to these two events are the ones that differentiate the countries the most. Being so, the countries that tend to value the transitional events as best indicators of the adult status, are precisely the ones that value conjugality and parenthood the most and residential autonomy the least. On the other hand, the only countries that tend to argue that residential autonomy is important or very important to obtain the adult status are Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. In a gender perspective, we can see that women’s maturity is more taken for granted, as transitional events seam to be less important for the recognition of a female adult status than of a males’ one. This tendency is more present in more individualistic transitional events, such as having a full time job and residential autonomy, than in the familial ones (conjugality and parenthood). Thus, concerning the importance of transitional events to the recognition of an adult status, there are more gender differences within working young adults and within residentially autonomous young adults, than within young adults as members of a couple or as parents. Although there is a “‘yo-yo-ization’ of transitions between youth and adulthood” (Walther,2006:125), it is still possible to identify a sequence in the average ages at which transitional events such as first job, first residential autonomy, first conjugal cohabitation and first marriage. More important than the average age, at which these transitional events take place, and the temporal order established by them, is the fact that not all of these transitions are experienced in the life course, some of them are omitted. The most important omissions are non-conjugal residential autonomy (more prolonged in Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and also Finland, Sweden UK and Estonia); and nonmarital conjugal cohabitation, more frequent in the Scandinavian countries (especially Sweden) than in Southern and Eastern European countries. The distinction between conceptions of adulthood and transitions to adulthood is only analytical. Furthermore, between these two “levels of transition” (Westerberg, 2004: 37) there isn’t a linear relation. Nonetheless, when combining these two levels of transition, we can conclude that conjugality can be experienced as a process, as an event or as a transition. As a process, conjugality is experienced and relatively soon and without marriage, and only after a few years (sometimes only after or due to the birth of the first child) does marriage take place. As an event, conjugality is experienced through the overlap of conjugal cohabitation with marriage (being a delayed or anticipated event). Finally, as a transition (where is included the majority of the countries), conjugality is considered a relatively good indicator of the transition to adulthood, and is concentrated in one single event that represents the most immediate recognition of adult status.

Conference name: ISA Research Committee on Family Research, RC06, “Family Diversity and Gender”, ISCSP.

Location: Lisbon

Start date: Sep 9, 2008

Type: Paper