life patterns

The Life Patterns research program is designed to follow patterns in young people’s lives over time to gain a longitudinal and holistic understanding of the ways in which two generations of young Australians are responding to our rapidly changing world. Life Patterns is conducted by a team at the Youth Research Centre, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, including SOCEY community member Hernán Cuervo. The generosity and ongoing support of the Life Patterns participants has meant that this study has built up a unique picture of the reality of the lives of two generations. Over the past three decades, changes such as the need for more education, greater insecurity and precariousness in employment, and the decreasing relevance of traditional patterns of living have created conditions in which young people think of their lives as a personal project. The program: 

  • Follows two generations of Australians – Cohort 1, who left secondary school in 1991 (corresponding to the popular notion of ‘Generation X’) and Cohort 2, which left secondary school in 2006 (corresponding to the popular notion of ‘Generation Y’). Multiple comparisons can be made between the two cohorts across different points in their lives
  • Explores the pathways through different areas of life taken by Australian young people including their experiences in education, the labour market, their family and personal relationships, attitudes to life, concerns, and health and wellbeing
  • Provides a unique picture of transitions, different from the stereotypes of smooth transitions from education to work, or of the narcissistic or complacent generation often described in the media or by politicians. The Life Patterns research program highlights the importance of paying attention to the diversity of experiences that characterise young people’s lives
  • Generates insights that feed into policy advice and public debate and our work is often used by the media to dispute simplistic claims about young people
  • Is designed to follow patterns in young people’s lives over time in order to gain more than a static glimpse. We are interested in developing a more dynamic picture of young people’s lives rather than a single snapshot in time
  • Surveys Cohort 1 every two years (since the year 2000) and interviews a subset of 20–40 participants every third year, and surveys Cohort 2 yearly and interviews a subset of 30–50 participants every second year
  • Is an ongoing project supported by the University of Melbourne, the ARC and the research participants

In 2015 a five-year grant from the ARC was awarded to continue the program from 2016–2020. During this time the project will focus primarily (but not exclusively) on work, education and wellbeing. The project will generate new knowledge about the ways in which young adults manage new labour market realities, comparing two generations to explore the opportunities and risks associated with different levels and types of education, occupation, gender, socio-economic status and region and how this is changing over time.