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Disadvantaged Reach ‘Adulthood’ Earlier - Report

9 October 2012 at 9:35 am
Staff Reporter
Adulthood starts earlier for disadvantaged young people in Australia and the road is rockier, according to new Not for Profit research.

Staff Reporter | 9 October 2012 at 9:35 am


Disadvantaged Reach ‘Adulthood’ Earlier - Report
9 October 2012 at 9:35 am

Adulthood starts earlier for disadvantaged young people in Australia and the road is rockier, according to new Not for Profit research.

The pathway to a career for young Australians is now more like a maze, especially for those from families with less money and fewer social connections according to the landmark Life Chances study run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

The study has followed a group of young people from different social backgrounds since their birth in Melbourne in 1990.

At the same time the young people in the study from disadvantaged backgrounds felt they reached adulthood earlier as they took on more adult responsibilities. The study says they were almost twice as likely to consider themselves adults as their counterparts from high-income families.

“The findings of our study confirmed the new reality that the clear path from school straight into work, or an apprenticeship, TAFE or university then work, is long gone,” the Brotherhood Executive Director, Tony Nicholson said.

“Young people often combine training with work in precarious jobs for years as they progress towards their career and life aspirations,” he said.

“It is important that institutions and agencies in the wider society such as universities, TAFES and Centrelink enable young people to negotiate the pathways to employment in this more uncertain world, particularly where parents are not able to provide that backup.”

The latest Life Chances report, which surveyed the young people at 21 in 2011, found 38% had begun at least two courses since leaving school and 22% had spent at least three months unemployed. Some 80% were earning wages, often from part-time employment as they juggled work and study.

The report finds that support from parents along the way can be critical for the transition to work.

Those from higher income families, supported by parental finances, knowledge and networks, enjoy relative autonomy and flexibility in their pathways to adulthood. This extended “young adulthood” was described by one respondent from a high-income family as “the golden years”.

The study says such a luxury was beyond the reach of young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, with more limited personal and family resources and increased responsibilities.

It says these young people often had no choice but to undertake adult responsibilities such as supporting their family financially and emotionally, including some who talked about their role supporting sole parents.

Some 52% of those from low-income families felt that they have reached adulthood compared with 36% of the medium-income respondents and 27% of the high-income ones. They were far less likely to receive financial help from parents – only 19% of low-income respondents compared with 61% for their middle income counterparts and 80% for those from high income families.

Among those living at home (72% of the total) the young people from low-income families were also much more likely to pay board – 52% compared with 32% of medium-income respondents and 10% of those from high-income families.

Among the other findings were:

  • The 21-year-olds from low-income families were half as likely to be at university as their high-income counterparts – 32% compared to 69%, and to 40% of those from middle-income families. The majority of TAFE students were from low-income families, with only one from a high-income family. Many of the students from low-income families were the first in their families to undertake higher education.
  • Food and travel costs were a main issue for all the university students, but the ones from low-income families talked about extra barriers such as long distances and costs of travel to university, either by car or public transport, difficulties of studying at home and the demands of necessary part-time work, which affected class attendance and study time. The cost of fees and study materials were factors limiting their course choices.
  • TAFE students in the study were the least likely to receive any parental financial support. The TAFE students from low-income families were also negatively affected by the costs for subject fees, textbooks and equipment, as well as by long commutes to and from campus.
  • Regarding general expenses young people on low incomes needed to focus on the essentials. The most common large expenses for them were rent, food, transport and study, compared with entertainment, food, transport and holidays for their high-income counterparts.
  • Overall in 2011 half those surveyed were studying at university and another 10% at TAFE while 27% were working full time. The other 13% included jobseekers, people working part-time and those not in the workforce due to raising children or illness.

Among its policy recommendations the report urges more assistance for both university and TAFE students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The study says it’s findings confirms that TAFE institutions are a vital means for young people, particularly from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to attain skills, experience and qualifications necessary for obtaining work or entering university. The report says continued funding of high-quality public TAFEs should be a high priority for Victorian and Commonwealth governments.

When TAFE campuses are consolidated, longer travel times and associated costs are likely to affect student attendance.

It also says fees and other costs should be reduced for students from low-income backgrounds. The requirement that TAFE fees will be subsidised by the government for only one qualification at any level should be removed, as it prevents young people following potentially useful training pathways by doing courses of equivalent levels in another field.

The Life Chances study began with 167 children born into families diverse in income, education and ethnic backgrounds in two inner-Melbourne municipalities in 1990. This time data was received from 123 people – 87% of those to whom the researchers sent surveys and 74% of the original group.

The report, Turning 21: Life chances and uncertain transitions, by Janet Taylor, Joseph Borlagdan and Malita Allan, is on the Brotherhood of St Laurence website.

The four-page summary can be found here

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