Young people's expectations for the future: Gender divisions, identity and social change
Sociology and Social Policy University of Leeds Leeds, UK
One of the most profound social transformations of recent decades has been the shift in women´s relations to employment, repositioning them in the labour market relative to men and manifesting changes in the kinds of occupations to which many women aspire. Young boys and girls expectations for the future have long been the subject of research interest in the UK, and recent decades have revealed an opening up of gendered expectations about work, career and family commitments. In particular there has been a shift in girls´ educational ambitions and a loosening of the grip of anticipated family and childcare commitments on young women´s employment expectations. This raises interesting questions about the link between wider societal changes and young people´s identities, values and expectations.
The paper draws on data collected for the Young Lives and Times study (YLT), a project run as part of the UK´s ESRC Timescapes project. YLT is a qualitatively led longitudinal study, which has also entailed a questionnaire survey of 13 and 14 year olds (N=489). The Young Lives Survey data reveals important gendered differences in expectations about the future but also points to gender de-differentiation in occupational expectations when compared with comparable survey data from the past. In respect of youngsters´ anticipated roles in family, work and childcare the data reveals much more liberal gender role attitudes than one might expect on the basis of current divisions of labour amongst parents of young children. This is complemented by the YLT qualitative research data. It is well known that gender liberal attitudes relate to generalised expectations and desires, and there is no guarantee that such attitudes will translate into new patterns of behaviour. However, there are important questions to address regarding how these historically "opened up" expectations relate to young people´s current gender identities and educational ambitions, which themselves have profound consequences for gendered divisions of labour in future. The paper analyses a range of evidence on identities, values and expectations in analysing the reproduction, and reshaping, of gender at a point when young people are about to start making important decisions about their future lives.