Transitions and Mobilities: Girls growing up in Britain 1954-76 and the implications for later-life experience and identity.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences


This study addresses women born 1939-52 who became young adults in Britain 1954-76. The youth of this generation of women has immense historical and current significance but there has been no detailed study of it and its implications. Recent studies suggest young women were in the vanguard of postwar social change. They are now part of the largest group of over 60s in British history with unprecedented influence and are widely seen to be ageing differently from their predecessors partly due to their youth experiences.
This study investigates the key youth events and transitions to adulthood 1954-76 of girls born 1939-52, and the implications for their later-life experience and identity. It will provide the first sustained analysis of the diversity of young women's lives in postwar Britain. It will look initially at the period 1954-76 when these girls were 15-24 years and include working- and middle-class girls from rural and urban areas. Comparing 2 cohorts who reached maturity 1954-76 (war babies born 1939-45, baby boomers born 1946-52) it will explore the relationship between personal life and social change informing debate about the role of baby boomers as agents of change. Spatial mobility is a neglected aspect of youth experience and social diversity 1954-76 that has long-term import. It includes: travel for work, study and leisure; leaving home; residential mobility; independent travel. This study will be the first to trace and theorize its resonance across the lifecourse. This is part of our broader aim of exploring the relationship between youth and later-life.
The research employs 4 quantitative and qualitative methods. 1) Documentary research (eg youth organisation archives, newspapers, film) to provide contemporary evidence of youth and to contextualise and inform methods 2 and 4. 2) Secondary analysis of longitudinal surveys to: identify the occurrence and timing of youth events, transitions and related mobilities 1954-76 for war babies and baby boomers; explore relationships between youth and later-life experiences for both cohorts. The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) is the backbone of this part. It was launched in 2002 to generate data about the lifecourses and ageing of people born pre-1954 in England; it includes retrospectively-collected data about youth 1954-76 and prospectively-collected data on later life. We will also use the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) which has followed through to the present a sample of children born in Britain in 1946; this includes girls from Wales, Scotland and England and enables comparisons between prospectively and retrospectively collected data on youth transitions and mobility histories. 3) Qualitative study of the records of a sample of 80 ELSA and 30 NSHD participants to holistically assess youth experiences and lifecourse trajectories. 4) Two interviews using new elicitation methods with each of the 80 ELSA participants to probe: relationships in the survey data; the personal meaning and import of youth events, transitions and related mobilities; links between youth experiences and later-life experience and identity.
The research is timely. This generation of women are redefining ageing; our research will help policymakers and providers understand and respond to these women's needs and motivations in later life and how they are shaped by their youth. It will inform assessments of changes currently affecting youth that have been erroneously built on assumptions about postwar youth transitions. The research is pressing because there is a rapidly contracting window within which to do interviews with women born 1939-52. ELSA and NSHD provide an unrivalled opportunity to study postwar youth experience and explore its relationship to ageing, but qualitative interviews are needed to interpret these data. The researchers have expertise in quantitative lifecourse research using ELSA and NSHD and in qualitative and historical research.

Planned Impact

There are 2 main groups of non-academic beneficiaries; both have been consulted about the research design. First, organisations and individuals interested in postwar British history - public history providers, educators and their students, the media, amateur historians and the interested general public. Second, those who work with, or for, women in their 60s and 70s - policy makers, service providers, analysts and older people. We will maximise impact potential by: engaging in knowledge transfer with stakeholders throughout the research via the Project Consultancy Group; creating a permanent project website; utilising the expertise and extensive networks of the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing (MICRA); producing 3 resources - a Multi-Media History Resource, a Longitudinal Survey Training Resource and a Reminiscence Resource. Additionally, by training 3 researchers in specialist research and knowledge exchange skills, the project includes capacity building that will benefit a range of potential future users.

A key outcome of this research will be the first detailed history of a pivotal generation of young women in late modern Britain, one that illuminates how they transitioned and literally moved from childhood to adulthood and how they contributed to societal change in this period. A multi-purpose Multi-Media History Resource will be a primary means of achieving impact. Beneficiaries consulted about its design include the Geffrye Museum of the Home, Women's Library at the LSE, Glasgow Women's Library and Digital Women's Archive North (DWAN); DWAN will work with us to develop the resource. Museums, libraries and archives will be able to use the resource in exhibitions and outreach work, informing and framing their own materials. The Multi-Media Resource is designed to address a gap in the National Curriculum (objective KS3) and will meet the needs of school teachers and their pupils. Youth workers will gain a tool for promoting intergenerational dialogue; DWAN will develop and subsequently use the resource in project work with girls. Lecturers and students will benefit from the new knowledge we generate as it engages with undergraduate history and sociology syllabi. The research will also benefit producers of specialist media for older people (eg Age-Net) and of radio and TV programmes (eg Woman's Hour) that cover historical topics. The project impact extends to amateur historians and historical researchers working outside HE.

Another key outcome relates to the needs of older women in contemporary Britain. The project will provide an evidence base about how women's experiences and identities in later life have been influenced by growing up 1954-76. This new knowledge will enable policy makers at national and local levels, also 3rd sector providers, to better understand and respond to older women's needs and motivations thereby fostering healthy ageing. The Longitudinal Survey Training Resource will enhance the research practice of analysts of 2 important national data sets that are used to inform policy recommendations about ageing - the National Survey of Health and Development and the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing. Survey users include the Department of Health, Age UK and the Centre for Policy and Ageing. The project's Reminiscence Resource will open up new possibilities for memory work and the promotion of wellbeing. This resource, co-developed with Age UK North West and Manchester City Council's Age-friendly Manchester programme, can be used by older members of the general public and by 3rd sector organisations and local authorities that work with them. The resource also delivers cultural benefits to these and other users, eg University of the Third Age, by facilitating the personal development of older people and community initiatives to raise their profile and status. Our research will inform public debate about the impact of baby boomers on society and the lives of young people.


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Description Findings based on first stage of the research (quantitative analysis), relating to our exploration of the relationship between girlhood and later life.
Transitions to adulthood are thought to represent a sensitive period for setting young people into particular life course trajectories. However, there is little quantitative evidence on how girls' varied exits from full-time education influence their later life socioeconomic attainment. Our study uses sequence analysis to characterise adolescent transitions out of full-time education and their association with socioeconomic attainment in later life in a national sample of English women drawn from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
Findings - Our study found three key links between adolescent transitions and later socioeconomic attainment. First, later transitions into employment were associated with a higher likelihood of higher socioeconomic attainment after age 50 compared with women who made early transitions from full-time education to full-time employment. For individual measures of attainment (individual income and occupational class), this advantage was largely due to higher educational attainment. Household measures of attainment (household income and wealth) were only partly explained by education. Second, with the exception of occupational class, an early transition to full-time domestic work set young women onto trajectories of lower likelihood of financial attainment than those who made early transitions to paid work. Household financial disadvantage amongst women in this group was explained by parity and homophily in partner's attainment, while disadvantage in individual income was mainly explained by fewer subsequent years in employment. Third, those with transitions characterised by higher levels of part-time employment were less likely to reach higher levels of household financial attainment, and again, this disadvantage was explained by parity and partner's attainment.
In conclusion, we demonstrate that inequality in transitions out of full-time education cast a long shadow for the generation of women who are currently reaching later life. The timing of exits is key, particularly in relation to the qualifications attained, but the nature of transitions in relation to a constellation of employment and family factors at this time of life also set women onto trajectories of later financial advantage or disadvantage.
Exploitation Route Too early to say. Our ongoing research will complement these findings.
Sectors Other

Description Project Consultancy Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Project Consultancy Group (PCG) steers the 'Transitions' research project and includes representatives from stakeholder groups: public history service providers - Glasgow Women's Library, Digital Women's Archive North, Geffrye Museum; policy-making bodies (Manchester City Council's Age friendly Manchester programme); analysts - NSHD, ELSA; older people locally and nationally, including a representative of University of the Third Age; a representative from the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing (MICRA). We have had two PCG meetings; the third and final one is scheduled for the end of the project. At meeting 1 we explored ideas for how to progress the research and build productive links between PCG members. The 2nd meeting in March 2019 involved working with stake holders in the first stage of developing a Reminiscence Resource for public use, particularly by/with older people. At this meeting we planned further initiatives to refine and pilot the resource.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019