Executive Summary

Within the scope of the interdepartmental project "Investing in Youth: Evidence from Policy, Practice and Research", the Policy Research Initiative (PRI) is proposing an analytical framework to help understand the realities, issues and challenges facing Canadian youth in various spheres of life and at different stages of the passage to adulthood. This exercise is part of a wider reflection on the well-being and full integration of youth in Canadian society, set against the changing conditions shaping how youth enter adulthood and the resulting development of new forms of risk. This last aspect also makes it one of the first research papers inspired by the new PRI project on "Social Management of Risk". The paper has two parts:

Part 1: Youth in Canada Today

The first part of the paper takes stock of what it means to be a Canadian youth today. In a knowledge economy, Canadian youth are called upon to extend their period of education, which delays their settling into stable employment and puts off departure from their parental home. In addition, the passage to adulthood is no longer linear, as it was for previous generations. Today, youth come and go between the status of dependence and independence, combine several activities and statuses, and allow themselves to change direction en route to explore different avenues. The fragmented nature of these transitions reflects the diversity of opportunities available to youth today but it also introduces new risks, particularly for youth who cannot rely on family or community support when they encounter set-backs or face major challenges. Without appropriate support, many Canadian youth are likely to encounter major difficulties with workplace integration and to face the prospect of low incomes throughout their lives.

Recognizing the challenges and opportunities represented by the extended duration of youth in Canada and the diverse futures of some youth subgroups, this paper considers these realities from the perspective of major youth policy objectives in Canada. This portrait of the situation is intended as a backdrop to the development of an analytical framework offering a new perspective on the major trends affecting Canadian youth.

Part 2: A Framework for Youth-Related Policy Development and Research in Canada

The second part of this paper presents the main elements of the analytical framework. It opens with a brief overview of the major trends in youth policy and research internationally. Two directions are evident from recent developments and guide development of the framework: 1) the importance of decompartmentalizing how researchers and policy-makers think about youth, by favouring a holistic approach that factors in all aspects of young people's lives: personal, psychological, educational, family, social, community, etc; and 2) the importance of adopting a positive view of youth, by building on their strengths and their contribution to society's well-being.

The proposed framework is based on a life-course approach. It illustrates the relationship between: 1) the trajectories taken by youth in different spheres of life; 2) the changes (or transitions) that mark their life courses; and 3) the larger social structures in which these dynamics operate. Four major types of trajectory are distinguished: a) trajectories leading to autonomy in relation to one's family of origin and creation of a new generation of families; b) learning trajectories and the development of a rapport to the world of work; c) trajectories to financial responsibility; and d) trajectories in the development of citizenship roles and identities. These four types of trajectories reflect gradual processes of acquiring responsibilities with respect to certain social roles in different spheres of life, processes that are particularly significant for youth.

The framework also draws attention to the various sources of risk and opportunities that influence the outcomes of these trajectories. In each region of Canada, there is a particular configuration of roles, responsibilities and governance arrangements linking family, community, market and government institutions. Depending on their particular social architecture, different mechanisms and instruments are used to promote access to certain resources that enable youth to successfuly make significant transitions or face certain risks. The framework can also guide analysis of the impacts of different institutional arrangements on the opportunities and challenges facing different youth subgroups in varying circumstances and contexts.