Chapter 8: Changes in the conceptualisation of the life course
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The life course is broadly viewed as the institutional context to individual biographies. It describes those changing structures of opportunity, cultural trends and values that orient individual journeys ‘from cradle to grave’. Owing to the exceptional historical circumstances of the immediate post-Second World War decades, the (western) standard model of the life course, with its division into the stages childhood, adulthood and old age and normative transitions between them, congealed as the dominant image of life’s unfolding. That image has retained normative force at the same time as social transformations that gathered momentum from the late 20th century undermined its empirical validity. In the now destandardized life course the centre- adulthood- no longer holds. Research that seeks to chart transitions to adulthood therefore inevitably faces the question of its meaning for those who are supposed to reach and embody adulthood in uncertain times.

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