Young parenthood: postponed, anticipated or redefined?

The core question of the thematic group is, how young people experience and manage young parenthood. This article presents findings and emerging issues from the first phase of the working group.

Four major systemic obstacles in tandem with cultural and learning obstacles which impede on young couples plans and their realization of parenthood could be found:

A first cluster is closely related to economic (in)dependence: due to the fact that young adults depend much longer on their parents and find it harder to get a job. They postpone family building or become parents under detrimental conditions.

A second cluster concerns the (un)availability of affordable child care facilities. In most countries the 1 1⁄2 model with the mother working part-time and the father full-time is still the solution to combine work and family and hence frustrating gender equality.

Thirdly, research shows that the resources of the parent generation, material as well as emotional, are of great importance in the course of family founding; intergenerational relationships seem to become rather stronger than looser in post-industrial societies.

Finally it seems that there is not much – or in any case not enough – informed learning between the social actors and shareholders: young parents with their teachers in formal and non-formal education, municipal officials and employers; policy makers with parents and social partners, etc. Therefore the concept of participation cannot unfold its whole potential to solve the problems young adults are faced with on their way to parenthood.

We concluded that an integrated policy approach to young parenthood must not only include family policy but include all areas of life of young people, from education to labour market and especially the housing market. Also family policy must not be restricted to financial transfer but develop a broader life-course approach whereby learning, work and family trajectories are interlocked. 

Placing young people as actors in the center of research points to a neglect in existing studies of the specific problems of parenthood of young people in transition when they are faced, not only with their (future) roles and new obligations of parenthood but with many other problems and tasks as well which belong to modern trajectories. In other words, it is the simultaneity of different transitions and trajectories which have to be studied simultaneously and in comparative perspective; not an easy task even for interdisciplinary research.

Finally with regard to the role of young people as actors of their life before and after (or not) becoming parents, we conclude from our study up to now that contemporary young Europeans are realists about their dependency on systemic constrains, labor market conditions in the first place. They are also sober about the benefits of state family measures. In no country they feel that they are sufficiently supported by the state and the public at large. It is mainly in the field of childcare facilities where they miss support, not only in lacking facilities but just as painfully in the disharmony between working hours and crèche hours. Also housing is a big problem for young families and for starters who might put off parenthood for that reason. It would be worthwhile giving more research and political attention to this aspect in relation to the life plans of young peoples and couples. The actual action space of young people/young parents is certainly not in harmony with the ideological discourse on participation.

Last Updated ( Friday, 07 September 2007 )