Life opportunities between structure and youth agency

In contemporary societies, young people face daunting uncertainties during the various transitions in their life courses. Generally, the life course consists of a sequence of age graded transitions through institutions and structures. It is embedded in complex relationships as well as in social and economic structures that constrain and support individual behaviour. Thus life course transitions can be viewed as crystallising points for social reproduction as social, cultural and economic structures, practices and norms coalesce to shape and determine the life opportunities of young people. They also offer a window into individual agency and coping strategies in dealing with these issues.

Youth and young adults, conceived of as experiencing a transitory stage between childhood and adulthood, are faced with important challenges and uncertainties during their transitions from youth to adulthood, from school to work, or more generally, from one state or position to another along and within the many institutions that frame their life courses.

Significantly, young people have to deal with a complex and multiple mix of existing and potential vulnerabilities. As a result, their life courses are often characterized by uncertain access to material resources, housing spaces, (higher) education, labour markets and by the fragility of family, peer and social networks. Current research converges in observing changing conditions for life course development and a multiplication and diversification of transitions across the globe, largely agreeing upon a diagnosis of continuing de-standardization, individualization and fragmentation of life courses.

The social integration of young people is crucially impacted by their access to and opportunities within education and the labour market. Indeed, school-to-school and school-to-work transitions are critical turning points in the life courses of young adults. The outcomes of transitional processes unfold amidst manifold interactions between structure and agency. In other words, on the one hand they depend upon structural determinants such as socio-economic background, living conditions, health, education, and labour market infrastructures, and on the other, remain shaped by forms of individual agency such as personal choice, lifestyles, collective politico-cultural orientations and individual dispositions and coping strategies. It is important to note that structure and agency are interrelated in complex and varied ways and deterministic assumptions fail to recognize the interactional and relational character of life course transitions.

A deeper and more nuanced understanding of these processes and associated issues will be needed in order to tackle persistent inequalities and support young people in transition, acknowledging the various interconnected and interrelated factors that shape young people’s life courses, transitions and opportunity structures in local and regional settings.

Against a background of persistent social inequalities, the RYOT Network seeks to explore issues related to life course transitions and opportunity structures available to young people. RYOT brings together researchers interested in gaining analytical and empirical insights into youth opportunities and transitions. We strongly believe that youth opportunities and transitions have to be understood and treated as social justice issues and that meaningful and long-lasting change can only be achieved by gaining a proper understanding of the micro-processes at work. As such, the ultimate goal of the RYOT Network is to better understand how structural improvements to young adults’ life courses could be fostered and maintained.

The Network’s ambition is to understand the transitions of young adults in their respective social, structural, and functional conditions. In our activities, we focus on European regions and localities, which are characterised by a variety of factors which differently shape young adults’ life course transitions. Our members represent diverse European countries (including Austria, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the UK) as well as different localities within each country. Methodologically we apply a multi-level, mixed-method approach and use Functional Regions as our main research unit. By combining and comparing separate studies from different European countries, we aim to develop a more comprehensive perspective on transition in Europe.

The RYOT Network stems from the participation of early-career researchers in the YOUNG ADULLLT Project and aims to deepen the synergy of their collaborative and individual research. The Network was founded by early career researchers who are themselves affected by the uncertainties typical of this age group and/or transition phase. Thus, the network also aims at making visible the fragility of researchers’ own life courses as they transition through the various stages of their research careers. The Network also includes researchers from different disciplines – social sciences, education, political science and economics, among others – which ensures a variety of perspectives on young adults’ integration and full participation in society.

The RYOT Network’s main goal is to foster collaboration and mutual support among early career researchers. Given the heterogeneity of professional trajectories in academia across different European countries, our understanding of ‘early career researcher’ does not relate to dimensions such as age or seniority, instead focusing on academic position, giving priority to researchers who have not acquired a permanent role. However, the RYOT Network also welcomes senior scholars as well as non-academic researchers who wish to participate in the Network’s research, initiatives and projects. The RYOT Network is an open platform for all those interested in enhancing young adults’ life perspectives. We kindly invite you to join and contribute to the Network. If you are interested in our work, feel free to get in touch: