What does it take to become an adult in Europe: crossnational analysis of norms and attitudes using the European Social Survey
Lapa da Silva, Tiago
Sociology CIES/ISCTE Lisboa, Portugal
Factors that characterize the "Second Demographic Transition" (SDT) of Western societies (Lesthaeghe and van de Kaa, 1986; van de Kaa, 1987) such as the dissociation between procreation and sexuality, the downfall of fertility rates and the postponement of marriage might be changing the timing and sequencing of the transition to adulthood. Furthermore, in the context of "late" modernity, the process of individualization might be altering the social representations of what characterizes the adult person. This paper examines social norms regarding the timing and sequencing of the transition to adulthood and attitudes towards the events that are regarded as important in the definition of the adult. Secondary, cross-sectional data from the third round of the European Social Survey was used in order to compare the attitudes and norms regarding adult life between seven European countries. It is shown that Europeans share common expectations regarding the sequencing of life course. However, the normative timetables associated with the transition to adulthood vary across countries, reflecting different demographic patterns within Europe. It is also demonstrated that there are gendered double standards in social norms and attitudes: women are expected to enter adulthood earlier than men; and Europeans consider that being autonomous from others is more important for male adult life than for female adulthood. Concerning generational differences, the age norms of younger generations reflect the demographic trend to postpone marriage and parenthood. Younger individuals tend to give less importance to family formation as a marker of adulthood than the oldest ones. The findings suggest that new social representations of the "adult" might be emerging. The adult person might be increasingly defined by his or her autonomy from others and not by his or her commitment to the familial institution. Nevertheless, there are persistent differences between european countries regarding the importance attibutted to certain life course markers of transition to adulthood.