This report highlights some of the long-term changes in the experiences of young adults and the way in which these are interacting with the recent effects of the economic downturn in the specific local context of Scotland. We argue that, like most advanced industrial economies, Scotland has seen a gradual transformation of the transition from youth to adulthood – one characterised by more extended and diverse pathways into work, independent living and family formation. Although all of these changes are inter-related, one of the most important has been the enormous expansion in participation in higher education, which has affected young women in particular. For most young people – and against the backdrop of economic growth and rising societal affluence – these long-term developments have been broadly positive. Graduate level education has generally been rewarded with graduate level employment, and a wider group of young people has been able to enjoy a gradual start to their adult lives – a time often associated with a sense of exploration, possibility and self-determination. There are some signs, however, that increasing numbers of young adults are finding their progress stalled and are unable to move beyond this stage into fully-fledged adult life.
There is a growing number for whom the transition into adulthood is increasingly characterised more by constraint than choice. As always, those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, with poorer educational qualifications and fewer socio-economic and familial resources are the most vulnerable here. But the data presented in this report suggest that there may be wider and more diverse vulnerabilities emerging, too, among older groups of young people and even those with significant levels of educational attainment.