A 15-Year Portrait of the Class of 1988

UBC Education Prof. Lesley Andres - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Education Prof. Lesley Andres – photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 11 | Nov. 3, 2005

By Lorraine Chan

Today’s young women rank among the most educated in Canadian history, yet many grapple with frustrations never imagined by their mothers and grandmothers.

“Women are juggling careers and family,” says Lesley Andres, a UBC education professor who has gathered 15 years of data on youth’s transition to adulthood in her research project Paths on Life’s Way. “Men experience these roles in very different ways.”

Paths on Life’s Way is the only project of its kind in B.C. and one of a handful in Canada. Between 1988 and 2003, Andres conducted surveys and interviews at five-year intervals to trace the major rites of passage for more than 730 individuals.
The study yields a rich and complex portrait of the high school graduating class of 1988, from post-secondary education through to work, marriage, friendships and children.

A picture emerges of a generation that enjoys more educational choices than ever in B.C.’s history, yet these young people tend to repeat the class and social patterns and gender roles seen within their families, schools and communities.

Andres found that between 1998 and 2003, 95 per cent of the women in her study were engaged in paid work. Yet prevailing social institutions don’t support this reality, says Andres.

“We’re trying to cram female life trajectories into models based on male trajectories; these models do not fit the lives that women lead.”

Andres says despite having earned comparable post-secondary credentials, women are twice as likely than men to be employed part-time, pooling in the clerical, sales, and services sector and in semi-professional occupations. In contrast, men work primarily in middle management, and as semi-professionals and professionals.

“It’s not surprising that for the most part, women are less happy than men.”

Andres points out that it has taken women 15 years to catch up to men in the area of employer-paid benefits such as health care. She adds that women are also less likely to participate in work-place training required by their employers and receive fewer hours of training.

“One finding that really surprised me is the relationship between delayed parenthood and social class,” says Andres.
For example, she says, within five years of leaving high school, 27 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men with no post-secondary education had children.

“In contrast, for that same period, only .09 per cent of women who had earned university degrees had children. For the men, it was .05 per cent.”

The study reveals how blithely and even blindly young people make choices that will mark their lives forever.

“What really struck me right from the beginning,” says Andres, “was how little they knew or had thought about their post-secondary educational choices or careers. You see this naiveté of youth, how unproblematic they think their lives will be.”

Teenage girls had little or no notion of the competing pressures ahead of them, she says. “The girls said they would complete their post-secondary studies, embark on a career, get married, have children, and then at their leisure step back into the work force.”

“They had no idea that they would have to juggle a career and family.”

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Andres’ analysis of Paths on Life’s Way data will give parents, youth, policy makers and educators insights into issues that include:

  • Despite gains in the number of girls who excel in sciences, women are chronically under represented in mathematics, engineering and sciences.
  • Myth of Canada’s brain drain — only three per cent of B.C. university graduates emigrated to the U.S. Most of the movement is within B.C. or to other provinces.
  • Boys with physical science backgrounds in high school have the most career options. Boys without backgrounds in mathematics or sciences have the least options.
  • Girls who take physics in high school have a wide range of post-secondary offerings open to them.

For more information on Paths on Life’s Way, visit http://www.edst.educ.ubc.ca/paths.