267.1 Young people's assessments of factors for doing well in life: A comparative examination of Norwegian and British youth survey data

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 10:45 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Jens Lunnan HJORT , Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
This paper examines data from two British and two Norwegian youth surveys, where respondents have been asked to evaluate the significance of various factors for doing well in life. Investigating how young people evaluate assets and obstacles connected to family background in contrast to how they assess factors more within the control of the individual, the paper aims to critically engage with propositions which have been recurrent both within theories of individualization and the sociology of youth. Unveiling empirical variations in young people’s assessments across national contexts and to a lesser degree, class backgrounds, the paper argues that there is a need to rethink such propositions.

In Beck’s theory of individualization, individuals are increasingly forced to take responsibility for the consequences of their life choices, even as institutions at the level of society gain increased power over individual life situations, “contrary to the image of control which establishes itself in consciousness” (1992:131). Similarly, Furlong and Cartmel’s influential thesis of an ‘epistemological fallacy of late modernity’ suggests that the individualization process in effect erodes young people’s perception of structurally rooted inequality, which instead gets interpreted as being based on individual merits or shortcomings (2007:144).

Part of the analysis lends credence to the propositions, as class background has a much clearer impact at the level of educational attainment and choice than at the level of perception. Furthermore, findings indicate a near consensus emerging around the centrality of education and individual effort. Questions about the significance of coming from a poor or wealthy family, however, divide both populations. While class background is found to have a modest impact on such assessments, the more striking finding is that Norwegian youth are substantially more ready to acknowledge the importance of family affluence than their UK peers.