Within society there is a range of expectations associated with different ages.
Norms and roles set for different ages are rewarded differently as there is are age stratification. Therefore, in the age stratification system, different age groups or strata receive different rewards.
This essay is a study of inequality of the various life stages of adulthood. For the individual and society, it is important to study inequality and adulthood, since at this stage of life there is the highest concentration of significant events that change the social status of the individual and the structure of his life (Billari, Liefbroer, 2007; Ronald R. Rindfuss, 1991).
In this essay, we will discuss what age stratification, transition to adulthood, and inequality are. We will discuss the ageism aspect of inequality and compare it with state restrict rules of civil actions. There will be examples of formal and informal limits, used by states for youth and adulthood: voting age, wage rates, benefit programmes and others. We will describe the current key transition points of adulthood and how the government defines youth and adulthood. One purpose of this paper is to describe adulthood transition through stratification structure with inequalities, discriminations and formal and informal norms and represent social policy changes to reduce the shadow of inequality.
The problematic nature of this study relates to inequalities experienced during early adulthood, middle and old age. Discrimination, as a social problem, is actual nowadays and it is one important component of social stratification. Thus, people suffer discrimination throughout their whole life and have financial limitations because of social inequality. Governments supply social policy in an attempt to help people transition to a new age without additional barriers of inequality. As a result of this mini-study, we will describe the social policy of the UK with the example of Universal credit, as well as discuss possible changes to reduce inequality in the system of age stratification.
Definitions of Сoncepts and Сonceptual Approaches
In sociology, first there is an interest in youth as a social group, and only after that in adulthood. K.Marx is the first to see the potential in youth as a conductor of social change (“history is a change of generations”) (Marx, Engels, Lenin, 1972). Within the framework of class theory, a sociology of youth is created, working teenagers and young workers are studied (Lukov, 2012, p. 202). Studies of youth movements are developed. Outside the framework of class theory, youth is studied by E. Durkheim, T. Parsons, R. Merton, N. Smelzer et al. After the mass student unrest and social tensions in developed countries in the 1960s, youth studies are becoming particularly relevant. In the 1970s, sociology began to develop as a separate field (Riley M., Sorokin P., Parsons T., Neugarten B.) including the demographic theory of generations (Mannheim K., Strauss, W., Howe N.). At the same time, the term “sociology of adolescence” has recently appeared in Western literature, but it is rather understood as the study of youth than the study of a specific stage of human life. In this regard, we will abandon the use of this term and research only youth, as we are more interested in transition to adulthood from a sociological standpoint.
Today, most representatives of different scientific schools and disciplines agree that transition is a multidimensional process that needs to be studied in an interdisciplinary field. A successful example of an interdisciplinary approach that combines theoretical and methodological developments of different sciences is the life course perspective (the life course theory). The life course theory is one of the most famous and influential paradigms in modern social Sciences (Alwin, 2012; Levy, Deschamps et al., 2005; Levy et al., 2005). It has been proposed and developed by psychologists (Buhler C., Frank S., Lemm K., Nuttin J., Kächele H., Thomä H., Rubinstein S. et al.) and methodologically filled with the works of sociologists, demographers and statisticians (HuItch, Plemons, 1979; Blossfeld, 1986; Blossfeld, Mayer, K.U., 1988; Yamaguchi,1991; Blossfeld, Huinink, 1991; Shavit, Muller, 1998; Heinz, Marshall, 2003; Anikin, 2013). A life course is defined as “a sequence of socially defined events and roles that the individual enacts over time” (Giele and Elder, 1998).
In the works focused on the life course perspective, the study of growing up is important. For the purpose of quantitative study of the patterns of transition to adulthood, sociologists and demographers operationalize adulthood through the achievement of the starting events of the life path. The following events are usually distinguished: secondary school completion, graduation, first employment, leaving the parental home for the first time, first partnership, first marriage, birth of the first child (Billari et al., 2005; Billari, Liefbroer, 2010; Buchmann, 1989; Liefbroer, 1999). By means of statistical and mathematical methods the following components of occurrence of events are studied: structure, number, time, intensity and sequence of occurrence of events. Over the past three decades, this instrumental approach to the study of adulthood is gaining popularity and is used by leading demographers and sociologists, such as: Mayer C., Billari F., Liefbroer A., Mills C., Buchmann M., Sobotka T., Blum L. et al.
We need to note that transition to adulthood is a social mechanism of growing up that functions due to age stratification. Age stratification is a system in which different age groups in society are not equally rewarded. It does not follow that all statuses that have arisen as a product of social differentiation are arranged in a hierarchical order; some of them, such as age, do not always contain grounds for social inequality. Thus, the status of a young child and the status of an infant are not unequal, they are different.
The transition to adulthood is a complex process of becoming an individual adult as an independent person; it is a socially constructed system of norms that determines the behaviour of people and imposed on the historical situation. The transition to adulthood includes chronological, biological, legal, psycho-emotional, social and demographic components. At the individual level, it is the process by which an individual is integrated into an existing social structure; at the level of society, the transition to adulthood is a process of generations change, the renewal of social practices and normative behaviours. Thus, individuals adapt to the new conditions of life, having various sequence of transition points in different age. After a while society begins to broadcast the updated models of transition as normative.
The described adaptability to society allows the state to change the normative model of key transitional points. At the same time, the new generation transforms the old patterns of behaviour in accordance with their current goals and priorities.
Modern and Historic Transition
The historical and institutional context that accompanies the maturation of individuals sets the boundaries and guidelines for possible models of maturation (Berger, Luckmann, 1991; Kiernan, 2002; Sobotka, Toulemon, 2008). The greater the support of the state, the earlier and more intense the maturation, which is consistent with previous studies (L’allongement de la jeunesse, 1993; Vogel, 2002; Esping-Andersen, 2007; Boje and Ejrnœs, 2011). The narrower the corridors formed by legislative and social norms, the less differences in the structure, timing, intensity and sequence of the onset of starting events. For example, in previous centuries and even in the post-war period, “the past of parents became the future of children” (Mead, 1988), which made it possible to have a stable and typical model of transition. However, as soon as there is freedom of choice in the organization of life, individuals begin to show variability in behaviour. In the modern world, each new generation has a transition to adulthood in qualitatively new conditions: “you were never young in the world where I was young” (Mead, 1970).
The process of transition plays the same social role as before, helping the younger generation to integrate into the social system and take their place in the social hierarchy. But the inner fullness of this process and its external manifestations undergo serious changes. For example, in traditional society, it was necessary to first acquire the social status of an adult by passing the rite of initiation (i.e., transition was an event like the first independent hunting), and already having this status, to integrate into the social hierarchy and develop adult competencies. Today, to acquire the status of an adult, you need to acquire several events in different spheres of life (transition becomes a process).
In modern society the social system is divided into many autonomous spheres, where an individual needs to pass a kind of initiation: mature biologically (menstruation in girls and ejaculation in young men), to gain civil rights (getting a passport, a driving license), to finish high school and/or school the next stage (the rite – a “prom”), an employment (the rite – a “corporate party”), to be separated from parents (the rite – a “housewarming”), a marriage (“the wedding” ceremony), have a baby (the rite – a “baby shower” and an extract from maternity hospital), and for men to – serve in the army (the rite of passage – a “soldier”). The presence of such a large number of spheres of life makes the transition to adulthood more variable. Social control over the onset of starting events has decreased, which allows each new generation to rethink and reinvent for themselves the meaning and essence of the transition to adulthood.
Without any doubt, in relation with transition to adulthood we should introduce main concepts of social inequality studies for understanding the long shadow of inequality from childhood to adulthood. Social inequality, while inevitable and necessary, manifests itself in all societies at all stages of historical development; historically, only the forms and extent of social inequality change. Otherwise, individuals would lose the incentive to engage in complex and time-consuming, dangerous or uninteresting activities, to improve their skills. With the help of inequality in income and prestige, society encourages individuals to engage in necessary, but difficult and unpleasant professions while encouraging the more educated and talented. However, age inequalities are more often a loss than a gain. On the one hand, it is good that the state restricts the exploitation of child labour and restricts children to working up to 20 hours a week from the age of 13, 16, depending on the nature of the work and the state. On the other hand, working in childhood can be an opportunity to earn a decent education. The problem of quality and affordable education is acute, as not all families can afford their children to study at University. Because of the high price of University education, children have to become adults earlier, taking jobs after school. However, even after graduating from the University at an older age, 22-25 year old students find it hard to get a job, as the employer is interested in work experience. A student with modern knowledge and no work experience can perform better than an experienced specialist, but the employer discriminates against the young worker. This also leads to late independence of the student, as a lot of time is spent on finding a decent job. Usually, a young specialist in their first job will receive a lesser salary compared to a specialist who has 1 year or more experience.
Moreover, in adulthood, a person also faces inequality due to the great competition and unequal distribution of wealth in society. In adulthood, inequality is more acute, for example, a single woman with children will find it harder to get a job and find a new husband. The older people get, the more they succumb to social pressure from young people or a younger generation.
In reality, inequality is not limited to age. German economist Karl Marx linked social inequality with the emergence of private property and the struggle of interests of different classes and social groups. The fact is that this struggle is endless and each person lives their life selling their labour in the market of unequal paid labour. German sociologist P. Darendorff also believed that the economic and status inequality underlying the ongoing conflict of groups and classes and the struggle for the redistribution of power and status, is formed as a result of the market mechanism of supply and demand regulation (look at picture 1 as an example). But we don’t focus on it.
At the same time, the American sociologist P. Sorokin explained the inevitability of social inequality by the following factors: internal biopsychic differences of people; the environment (natural and social), objectively putting individuals in an unequal position; the joint collective life of individuals, which requires the organization of relations and behavior, which leads to the stratification of society into manageable and managers. T. Pearson explained the existence of social inequality in every society by the presence of a hierarchical system of values. For example, in American society, the main social value is considered to be success in business and career, so scientists of technological specialties, plant Directors, etc. have higher status and income whereas in Europe the dominant value is the “preservation of cultural patterns”, in connection with which society confers special prestige to intellectuals-humanitarians, priests, University professors. But we still have a huge difference of wages in comparison with Western and Eastern European countries (OECD, 2018).