Discussion Paper no. 07-05


Building on a Government of Canada sponsored seminar on Canadian and international perspectives on youth policy and research, the Policy Research Initiative (2006) has highlighted a resurgence of interest among researchers on the risks, opportunities and challenges that many young people face across industrialized countries. Various social, demographic and economic changes have altered the life experience of the young, which has modified the opportunities and risks encountered in navigating into adult roles.

The objective of this study is to largely describe some of the most salient of these changes, with a careful review of existing Canadian literature and published empirical research. Of particular interest are important changes in the life course patterns of the young, in terms of later home leaving, later completion of education, delayed full time entrance into the labour force, later union formation, and later childbearing. We also review available data sources highlighting changes on the basis of existing survey and census data, while carefully considering evidence as to whether we have encountered climbing social inequalities among Canadian youth.

While these delayed life cycle transitions are becoming increasingly recognized among researchers and the general public, there is only a limited amount of research in Canada that explicitly considers some of the more important consequences of these changes. For this reason, the study also reviews the limited empirical research that has focused on some of these implications. While the transitions work properly for most youth, we address a fundamental research issue raised by the PRI (2006): what are some of the drivers and impacts on vulnerable youth populations? We place these vulnerabilities into the broader context of population groups that are more vulnerable: female lone parents, unattached adults aged 55-64, recent immigrants and Aboriginal populations. The difficult living circumstances of these groups can be linked either directly or indirectly to family and life cycle questions.

Transitions between youth and adulthood are structured by a complex system of socioeconomic structures, institutional arrangements and cultural patterns that can vary in an important manner across nation states. This broader context is examined can potentially provide some insight as to why transitions tend to be more prolonged in certain settings while being relatively short in others. The study includes some international comparisons of different “transition regimes” and discusses related policy implications.