Young people’s transitions to economic independence and the role of government assistance: evidence from the US and the UK
Weakley, Sarah Eileen
For young people who are poor, navigating a path from adolescence to adulthood is a risky, isolating, and challenging process. Successful navigation of multiple and concurrent transitions in the education, employment and family formation domains is dependent upon both the structural inequalities that shape a young person’s opportunities and the ability of a young person to manage these transitions on their own. One of the largest structural factors organising a youth transition is the welfare state. While there are many investigations of state interventions that focus on the education and training sectors, low income young people in liberal welfare states also access the means-tested benefit system: however, considerably less is known about how this type of support impacts young people’s transition outcomes. This research aims to quantify the impact of government transfers on the achievement of economic independence for cohorts of young people in the United States and the United Kingdom. To achieve this aim, this thesis will use four waves of the 1970 British Cohort Study and sixteen waves of the United States National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 covering the youth period to mid-life. This research employs longitudinal models for three measures that comprise economic independence—individual wages, work intensity and household economic status – to produce case-specific results. These case results will then be discussed comparatively using the welfare mix framework, which illuminates the extent to which young people rely on the labour market, family, and the state to achieve economic independence. Both cases found that the benefit system is a notable and mediating factor in the transition experiences of young people who are structurally disadvantaged. The positive results for young parents and very poor sample members in particular showed that intervention through means-tested benefits is associated with some characteristics of a successful safety net, which may be able to contribute to positive labour market outcomes for these target groups. These initial results call for more research to understand how these groups can use government assistance to improve their economic and labour market outcomes. For policymakers, these results suggest that there is scope for liberal welfare states to positively influence a wider group of ‘deserving’ young people with challenging youth transitions. The family welfare source also emerged from this work as a key avenue whereby inequality is manifested in youth transitions in the two countries, and should be a prominent consideration in future research; particularly for work that bridges the fields of welfare state and youth transitions as was done in this investigation.