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  • The Making of a Generation: The Children of the 1970s in Adulthood by Lesley Andres, Johanna Wyn
  • Barbara A. Mitchell
The Making of a Generation: The Children of the 1970s in Adulthood by Lesley Andres and Johanna Wyn. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. 271 pp. Paper $29.95.

In an effort to provide answers to the overarching question “of how a generation is made,” Andres and Wyn offer readers theoretical, conceptual, and policy insights based on the aspirations and trajectories of Canadian and Australian children born in the 1970s. The main premise of the book is that secondary-school graduates of the late 1980s and 1990s found themselves confronting significant economic uncertainty, workplace restructuring, and social change. Despite being more educated than their predecessors, these young adults entered new labour markets that were deregulated and precarious. As such, the authors convincingly argue that children of the 1970s “bore the brunt” of neoliberal educational and labour policies as they negotiated the significant social and economic transformations of the 1990s.

A particular strength of the research presented in the book is that it juxtaposes two regions with relatively similar political, social, economic, and geographical features: British Columbia, Canada, and Victoria, Australia. For example, the authors note that both places are “settler dominions” that have similar educational and political systems. Both are multi-ethnic societies, and both have undergone similar economic changes as they shifted from primary (and manufacturing) industries to post-industrial, service economies. This comparative analysis facilitates an exploratory understanding of how complementary and competing macrosocial structures and cultural forces influenced these two cohorts as they navigated significant life-course transitions.

Data are drawn from two longitudinal studies (the Paths on Life’s Way project in Canada, and the Life Patterns project in Australia) of young people conducted over a 15-year period. These data sets are unique in that they provide both survey and interview data on the lives of representative samples of young people from the first years after leaving secondary school through to their early 30s. Thus, readers are presented with a wealth of information that not only identifies key trends but also gives this generation “voice” through the presentation of verbatim data. The mixed methodology also links micro to macro levels of analysis. Although these data are presented in primarily descriptive form (rather than through advanced statistical techniques), readers are afforded the opportunity to appreciate the dialectical and dynamic interplay between individual agency (i.e., choice) and the constraints of institutional and structural practices (i.e., opportunities).

Of particular relevance to those interested in social change and policy issues are the researchers’ rich theoretical and empirical reflections on how government policies have shaped this generation. Notably, a central challenge for this generation has been to manage “an increasing and competing range of life options” (p. 187). With particular emphasis on the intended and unintended consequences of policies and on the interrelationships of local conditions on global processes, five central themes emerge: (a) reluctant change makers (i.e., this generation did not set out to “make history”); (b) the education generation (i.e., the belief that education was a critical investment for later success); (c) new patterns of family life (i.e., prolonged dependence on parents, delayed family formation and parenthood); (d) the search for life-work balance (i.e., ongoing struggles to achieve good health and well-being); and (e) diversity (i.e., how gender and social class affect outcomes).

The authors connect these five themes to specific policy domains and conclude that although previous policies have had an unequivocal impact on people’s lives, their effects have not all been positive. Notably, policies designed to ensure global competitiveness and national prosperity have produced unintended consequences. While women [End Page 352] generally benefited from the widening access to education and employment and became “generation makers,” some groups of men were less able to reinvent themselves (especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds who did not attend post-secondary school). The authors also identify a number of significant differences between the two countries. For instance, many young adults reported poor physical and mental health in their struggles to achieve balance in life, a finding that was...


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pp. 352-354
Launched on MUSE
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