Understanding the experiences of long-term unemployed young adults (aged 18 – 24) in the South West of England
Hogden, Rachel Lesley
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis is concerned with the experiences of an under-researched group of long-term unemployed young adults aged 18 – 24 years old. The research was undertaken in the South West of England between July 2010 and January 2013; a period of economic uncertainty and social instability in the UK. The initial sample comprised nineteen young adults, chosen to represent the diversity of those who were unemployed at that time. The longitudinal approach allowed for an exploration of their changing attitudes and self-understandings over a two year period. Whilst the interviewees shared much in common with their younger counterparts whose experiences have been the focus of previous research, there were also some significant differences. Not only did their priorities differ as they approached their mid-twenties, but they also held the capacity to project themselves further into the future; contemplating what life might be like in five years’ time. The findings revealed a tension between culturally embedded ideas that continue to support the primacy of paid work, and the ways in which some of the young adults were able to (re)define their lives. The importance of experiences outside of paid employment emerged as significant, suggesting the need for a broader understanding of what constitutes ‘work’. Whilst some of the young adults seemed to have adopted late-modern perspectives, engaged in a form of reflexive life management, others appeared to be struggling to reconcile the opportunities available with their expectations. In part, some of the differences between the participants were linked to gendered subjectivities; with the young men finding it more challenging to make sense of their lives beyond the world of paid work. However, the young adults’ experiences could not be divided by gender alone, nor could gender be disembedded from the broader context of their lives: their family backgrounds; their historical contexts; their educations; the discourses that influence their lives; their location. These structural factors were continuously at play in the lives of the participants, but did not preclude the possibility of them exercising their agentic abilities. When considering the findings as a whole it was the young adults’ ability to experience a sense of agency, combined with a feeling of belonging, which emerged as significant.
PhD in Education