Young Adults And The City Sociology Essay
During the last three decades, Western and Anglo-Saxon countries have been confronted with a broad set of socio-demographic, economic and cultural changes which have complicated the transition phase of youngsters to adulthood. Due to these changes, the transition process to financial, familial and residential autonomy has become more diverse and more complex for young adults. Events, such as leaving the parental home, graduating, entering the labour market, marriage, home-ownership etc. take place in a less linear and less predictable way for cohorts born after the mid-1960s (Gauthier M., 1997; Corijn M. & Klijzing E., 2001; Settersten R. et al., 2005; Bidart C., 2006). Notwithstanding a generally higher education level compared to their parents, young adults of the middle classes experience more problems in reaching this autonomy than the former generations (Galland, 2004; Chauvel, 2006). And for young adults from the lower social classes, gaining socio-economic and residential independency has become even more difficult if not impossible (Santeli, 2004; MacDonald et al., 2005).
The project starts from the hypothesis that these processes entail important restructuring of urban residential geographies, both in central neighbourhoods and suburban areas. On the one hand, the new conditions interfering with the transition to adulthood seem to bring about a reappraisal of the advantages of an inner city residence for young adults, hence fuelling gentrification proccesses in inner-city neighbourhoods. For a short- or long-term period, advantages such as suitable dwelling types and arrangements, flexible use of services and consumption infrastructure or proximity to job opportunities define a preference for inner city residential locations.
On the other hand, the movement of households out of central cities towards the suburbs in the ‘90s and ‘00s entail new patterns of suburbanisation (e.g. move towards more distant suburbs, rurbanisation, decline of ‘old suburbs’ facing both investment by new suburbanites and out-migration of its ageing population).
This set of processes affecting both central neighbourhoods and suburban areas is of particular importance as far as policies of urban regeneration and control of urban sprawl are concerned.
While transformations in youngsters' transitions to adulthood have been carefully looked at by sociologists and demographers, their spatial dimension has been much less analysed. As a result, spatial imprints of contemporary changes in the transition to adulthood have been left relatively unexplored. Our work aims at building a geography of the residential trajectories of young adults in order to unravel some of the processes through which changes in young adult transitions have an impact on urban territories, both in central urban neighbourhoods and in suburban areas.
The research can be considered innovative as it aims at bringing together elements and approaches that are usually kept separated in literature. In particular, the study aims at analysing dynamics of central neighbourhoods and suburban areas in an integrated way, emphasizing the links between both spaces (Grafmeyer & Dansereau, 1998). Such an approach may shed light on the balance made by young adults between options of inner-city or suburban residence under changing conditions of transition to adulthood. Moreover, this research aims at linking contemporary socio-demographic trends and transformation of urban and suburban spaces. For instance, much work remains to be done to investigate the possible links between processes of gentrification in inner cities and trends of reshaping life courses, positions on the labour market and family arrangements of young adults at different levels of the social spectrum (Buzar et al., 2005; Lees et al., 2007).
The research is set up as follows: starting from a theoretical framework, the structural transformations that took place in the residential trajectories of young adults are analysed in general. Quantitative methods are used, based on migration and census data (the 2001 socio-economic enquiry). Secondly, the research focuses on the identification of new living preferences but also on the constraints that young adults are confronted with. This part is based on qualitative data resulting from street enquiries and semi-structured interviews and concerns the Brussels metropolitan area.
Theoretical background: recent social changes in Western and Anglo-Saxon countries
In the 20th century, urbanisation has mostly developed through spatial de-concentration of people and activities, fuelling growth in suburban areas. This process of suburbanisation has been particularly outspoken in Belgium in comparison to other West-European countries (Kesteloot, 2003). Although it seems to loose impetus since the 1990s, one cannot speak of a "back-to-the-city movement". Similar trends have been noticed in other European countries, also with significant differences between cities within the same national context, for instance in France (Bessy-Pietri, 2000).
In parallel, different studies have brought to the fore processes of rejuvenation in central urban neighbourhoods, often going hand in hand with dynamics of gentrification (Ogden and Hall, 2004). In this respect, an analysis of the 2001 census data on Belgian cities has brought out a particular cluster of inner city neighbourhoods strongly associated with residence of highly educated young adults living alone. Since this cluster was not relevant in 1991, this finding strongly suggests that the attractiveness of inner urban areas as a place to live for young adults has significantly increased during the 1990s. This change is expected to affect the suburbs as well, since in previous decades, the residential trajectories of these persons would have led them to the suburbs. Both inner city and suburban changes appear strongly linked in reshaping the residential paths of young adults.
These changes are the result of both socio-demographic, economic as cultural changes that took place during the last decades.
Socio-demographic changes are commonly framed in the "second demographic transition" paradigm (Lestaeghe & van de Kaa, 1986). The well-known first transition is characterised by a decrease in mortality rates followed by a decrease of fertility rates and - significantly in comparison with the second transition -, a decrease in the number of unmarried persons. The second transition is marked by a general weakening of the family institution (Lesthaeghe & van de Kaa, 1986). The process has led to a sharp rise in divorce and a further decline in fertility. Moreover, the second transition involves a shift in the age of leaving the parental home and new attitudes towards birth control, abortion and sexual behaviour. These changes lead to a large increase in the share of small-sized, non-family households and a concomitant decreasing importance of the type of family household that was the main vehicle of suburbanisation during post-war decades (Noin & Woods, 1993).
Parallel to these socio-demographic changes, fundamental economic and cultural restructurings took place. The ideological ascendency of neoliberalism, coupled with innovations in information, communication and transportation technologies, led a general liberalisation of the labour market, a sharp rise of the service sector and privatisation of formerly state-controlled activities. Especially urban regions benefit from those changes, due to a dense network of specialised services, a good accessibility and flexible labour markets.
Nevertheless, the increased flexibility, the weakness of social institutions and the crisis of the welfare state resulted in a growth of the number of precarious employment contracts and vulnerable positions on the labour market. This deepened the already existing social polarisation.
Another consequence, if not essential ingredient of these economic shifts is geographical competition. Cities and regions are more and more forced to create an attractive political, social and fiscal framework by offering competing spaces, a good infrastructure and a high qualitative housing stock for possible investors and their workers. They have to compete with other regions and cities to attract and maintain employment or employment-inducing investments and events or activities on their territory. One of the spatial effects of this trend is land values increase and a resulting rise of housing prices which often generates social exclusion and displacement of the original and generally poor inner city inhabitants. Those population groups are forced to look for alternative housing. Van Criekingen (2008) emphasizes three different strategies as far as vulnerable urban dwellers are concerned in the Brussels case: (1) moving over short distance, towards other impoverished working-class neighbourhoods within the city ; (2) moving to the suburbs to escape rising rents and housing prices in the city centre. Nevertheless, due to the rise of the housing prices in the suburbs, those vulnerable people often end up in obsolete housing related to small industrial pockets swallowed up by the suburban expansion; (3) leaving the urban area and moving to generally depressed regions severely hit by deindustrialisation where a large supply of old workmen's houses accounts for much lower housing price levels than in Brussels.
Cultural changes result amongst others from the increased education level of young adults. Culturally, it led towards the construction of a new experimental identification model in which youngsters have to create their own personality. Lifestyles have been reshaped by rising individualism (Champion, 2001). Not the household, but the individual is considered as the unit of production and consumption (Lesthaeghe & van de Kaa, 1986). A shift took place towards a greater preoccupation with the welfare or self-fulfilment of individuals. As Ogden & Hall (2004) continue, ‘such a generational shift ties well with the broader ideas developed by, for example, Inglehart (1997) who argues for “a gradual shift from materialist (emphasizing economic and physical security above all) to postmaterialist values”, emphasizing self-expression and the quality of life’.
These recent social changes not only affect social differentiation, but also spatial inequalities. This socio-spatial interaction is the subject of next section.
Structural changes in the urban space and in residential behaviour of young adults: an analysis of migration dynamics and household characteristics
The systematic analysis of migration movements between inner cities and suburbs as well as external migration for the largest three largest metropolitan regions in Belgium shows that the traditional migration pattern still dominates as far as young adults are concerned. Around the age of 18  , youngsters move into town to study or to enter the labour market. Ten years later, around the age of 30, most of them leave town to settle down in the suburbs.
Nevertheless, due to the social changes mentioned above, urban regions display some new spatial imprints and this both in urban and in suburban areas.
Besides economic advantages, urban areas offer some interesting opportunities in terms of dwelling stock, education, culture, employment and services. These benefits attract new socio-demographic groups to the city centre, which results in less negative migration balances for Belgian core cities. Especially young, flexible households (e.g singles living alone, childless couples) are attracted by the urban residential environment, be it for a short or a long term stay.
The arrival of these new groups initiates new spatial dynamics. On of these can be described as ‘rental gentrification’ in the Belgian context (Van Criekingen, 2008). Young, highly educated persons, with a large cultural capital but (still) limited or unstable financial means, establish in deprived neighbourhoods and bring about residential renovation. As mentioned before, this renovation process of central urban neighbourhoods goes hand in hand with social exclusion of the original vulnerable population groups of these areas.
Even if we notice a decrease in the number of 25 to 34 years old who leave the inner city, combined with an increase in the age at which they leave, urban living is for most young adults a transitory step in their housing career, and migration of young households to the suburbs remains a continuous process. This maintains the suburbanisation process, be it in a smaller magnitude. Possibly, the process does not only respond to the housing and life-style expectations of “fordist” households, but could also result from the impossibility to fulfil the expectations to living in the inner city for urban-minded households, as a result of increased housing prices.
Modifications in the suburbanisation process are noticed when concentrating on the regions of arrival. The suburbs are still very attractive for young households, but both rising prices and the inherited size of the dwellings (the suburbs contain a large stock of large houses with surrounding garden), have tempered this attractiveness. As a result, many of these households settle further in the urban fringe and particularly the commuter catchment zone. Especially young households (18 to 24 years old) who opt for a suburban place of residence end (inevitably) up in the latter zone. As those people often just entered the labour market, housing prices in the nearby suburbs are too high to buy a house. Living in the urban periphery implies for them to settle down in more remote suburban municipalities where housing or land prices are more affordable.
Yet, the findings above are only applicable to the Belgian population. An analysis of the external migration balance in the inner city is positive for both young adults and the older age categories. Beside a possible preference for living nearby family who settled down in the inner city earlier, this phenomenon is probably linked to the fact that this population group lacks financial means to suburbanise. Therefore, they are left behind and trapped in the lowest qualitative urban neighbourhoods. However, in most cities, and especially Brussels, the external migration does not only involve poor migrants, but also more or less wealthy people, mostly from neighbouring countries. Their choice for a more urban than suburban settlement may reflect varying attitude towards cities in their countries of origin.
The spatial imprints of the housing behaviour of young adults are well summarized on map 1 to 3. These maps result from a typology of the five large Belgian urban areas, based on household data from the socio-economic enquiry of 2001. Nine different household types in which the young adults live were considered (see table 1, which also displays the changes between 1991 and 2001) and they were further split into three age groups (18 to 24, 25 to 29 and 30 to 34 years old). With these 27 variables, eight different neighbourhood types were identified, which all have typical spatial, demographic as socio-economic characteristics. Notwithstanding the fact that every city has its own history, the analysis shows some surprising similarities between the five urban areas. The resulting spatial patterns reveal clear socio-economic divisions in the city and this comes as a very significant result in the research, because – excepting the work situation of the youngsters living with their parents, all the variable involved are purely demographic and do not refer directly to socio-economic differences.
The resulting maps show a clear contrast between the centre and periphery. The inner city counts a large number of couples without children, singles and one parent families, as well as migrant families (based on a set of control variables that helped to interpret each type see table 2). The periphery on the contrary is characterized by a preponderance of married couples with children as well as young adults living with their parents. With the exception of villages and former small concentrations of working class housing close to 19th century scattered factories or disappeared branch lines stops, the suburbs correspond to a residential area with a large amount of single-family dwellings, surrounded by gardens and occupied by middle and higher social classes. It is considered by most households of all classes as the ideal living place.
Table 1: Household types in which young adults live, 1991-2001
Living with parents
Couple without children
Unmarried couple, without children
Married couple, without children
Couples with children
Unmarried couple, with children
Married couple, with children
Parent of a single-parent family
Table 2: Neighbourhood typology on the basis of young adults household types and control variables, 2001
Young urban singles (10,0%)
Urban mixed (9,0%)
Young urban wealthy couples (10,1%)
Poor urban youngsters (18,0%)
Suburban, intermediate (15,7%)
The first belt around the city is typified by the presence of ‘older’ families with children. Besides, in the most residential suburban areas, we also find a concentration of young adults still living with their parents. The latter group contains youngsters who avoid the financial and practical burdens which go together with independent living. They rather prefer the cosy dwelling and the service provided by their parents.
The location of ‘young suburban families’ in the outer belts of the urban area confirms the earlier finding that younger households who prefer a suburban living environment, often end up at a higher distance from the city to escape the extremely high housing prices in the first belts.
In contrast to the peripheral concentration of young adults, living with their parents, some inner city neighbourhoods display a high share of ‘young urban singles’. This concentration indicates that autonomously living young adults (often singles and couples without children) have a strong preference for a central residential environment. This because of the presence of education facilities through which these youngsters got to learn the city, a higher supply on the labour market, abundant services and amenities and a changing attitude towards the family (Grimmeau et al., 1998). These neighbourhoods are labelled as ‘gentrification areas’.
Squeezed between the gentrification areas and the suburbs, a next neighbourhood type is concentrated in so-called ‘sub-gentrification areas’. These neighbourhoods are typified by the presence of ‘young urban wealthy couples’. Young adults belonging to this type, are on average well educated, but compared to the gentrifiers, they are older and often they form part of a household with or without children. These households are slowly replacing the elderly bourgeoisie who originally lived in these neighbourhoods.
Next to the ‘young urban singles’, the city centre is occupied by a second important neighbourhood type with ‘poor urban youngsters’. This group features a large share of foreigners. In Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp, they are concentrated in the 19th century worker belts of the city centre. In Liège and Charleroi, they are more distributed nearby the former coal basins and steelworks. This type also counts a high share of unemployed persons, still living with their parents. The reason for living in the parental home is not one of a free choice, but rather an absolute necessity. Due to the difficulties and instability they experience on the labour market and the prices on the housing market, they lack the financial means to supply in their own housing.
Gentrifiers and poor urban youngsters ‘meet’ each other in the intermediate ‘tensions zones’. These neighbourhoods house a mixture of couples with or without children, one parent families and singles. Due to the presence of both lower and higher social classes, these neighbourhoods have to contend with a strong pressure on the housing market. As housing prices are a bit lower here, wealthier couples are able to buy and renovate a house. As a result of these renovation processes, real estate prices are also rising in these areas which makes them unaffordable for the poorer households. As a consequence, they are forced to move to less qualitative and more deprived neighbourhoods.
A similar tension zone appears at the outer edge of the poor urban youngsters zone. It reflects the overflow of migrants into former lower middle class areas, as a result of the pressures in the former zone, due, among other factors (like the constant flow of immigration) to gentrification.
Finally, the ‘suburban mixed type’ is much like the poor urban youngsters neighbourhoods, with young households located in impoverished, former industrial areas. However, these neighbourhoods are located in the suburbs instead of the inner city and counts less foreigners but more highly-educated persons. This type suggests the existence of a 'second-class' suburbanisation pattern.
Mapping the results shows a striking correspondence between the typology of young households on the one hand and the historical socio-spatial structures of cities on the other hand: the geography of young adults forms a clear reproduction of the historical socio-spatial structures of cities. But conversely, the appearance of gentrification areas, tension zones, suburban mixed types and the presence of young suburban families in the outer belt of the urban area show that those socio-spatial structures are in turn influenced by the behaviour of young adults.
Map 1: Cartography of the household typology: urban area of Brussels
Map 2: Cartography of the household typology: urban areas of Antwerp and Ghent
CharleroiMap 3: Cartography of the household typology: urban area of Liège and Charleroi
Development of residential trajectories: an analysis into zones of arrival, motivations and restrictions of young adults in the Brussels urban area
The former analyses don’t give information about who moves when and where. In view of the results of the neighbourhood typologies according to the young adults household forms, we decided to conduct a survey in order to gain a better view of residential behaviour in Brussels with a large number of respondents so that quantitative analysis became possible. The survey questions were designed in such a way that answers to the following research questions could be derived: will young adults, just as their parents, opt for a suburban living environment or do they consider the city as an equal place of living for the long term? Taking into account the motivations and restrictions young adults have to deal with nowadays, how will the suburbanisation movement evolve and within this context, how do we have to interpret the process of second-class suburbanisation? Will gentrifiers stay in the inner city, or will they eventually suburbanise at a later age?, etc.
The data originate from a street survey and in-depth interviews which took place with young adults between 18 and 34 years old, living in the metropolitan area of Brussels. The neighbourhoods in which the survey was conducted were selected by the research team on the basis of the typology. Young adults were arbitrarily asked to participate in streets, in and around bars or cultural centres or on other public places. 1264 young adults were questioned. Those who agreed to be interviewed after the survey and who left their contact address were called again one year later for an in-depth interview. 55 interviews were taken, of young adults living in the inner city and the suburbs. There is some bias, both in the survey and the interviews towards highly educated young adults.
Where do young adults move to: the survey results
A first handling of the survey searched for relations between the present residential location, the age of the respondent, the reasons for moving, the motives for being in the present neighbourhood and the housing situation during childhood. These relations were explored with Factorial Correspondence Analysis. This method visualises these relations in a number of dimensions that maximise the representation of deviations from an equirepartition of the observations over the neighbourhood types and the variables considered (in other words: deviations of expected values as they would be calculated for a Chi-square test). An interesting feature of the technique is that the interrelations shown are only marginally affected by biases in the data, at least as far as the nature of the relations sought for are not affected by these biases. The results are shown in figure 1, which takes 93% of the deviations into account. The more a variable or neighbourhood type displays a profile that deviates from the expected values, the further away it is plotted from the centre of the graph. Variables and types are plotted in the same direction and close to each other when they share the same over – or under-representations (e.g. ownership and suburbs are related).
The plot convincingly demonstrates the fact that housing trajectories of young adults are still closely related to the housing situation of their parents. The housing situation during childhood is closely related to the present neighbourhood type of the young adults.
Young adults who grew up in residential areas in Brussels or outside the Brussels urban area consider the living in a gentrification area as an important first step in their own housing trajectory. At an early age, these people choose for a place of residence nearby the working place, in a pleasant social environment with a large offer on services and recreation facilities and with a good accessibility on foot, by bike or by public transport.
On the vertical axis, gentrification areas are opposed to improvement of housing conditions as a motive to move and the age categories also align along the same axis from young to older. This indicates that living in the city centre is just a temporary phase in their trajectory. Once people are getting older and have created some familial and professional stability, middle class young adults seem to exchange this postfordist behaviour for a fordist life style. In their search for a new place of residence, they don’t look for urban advantages anymore. Priority goes rather to home-ownership, improvement of the housing quality, looking for a suitable place for children to grow up and if possible looking for a place of residence near the family.
Figure 1: Correspondence analysis of present residential neighbourhood type, age category, place of residence during childhood, reasons for the neighbourhood choice and motives to move.
Besides gentrifiers, young adults who still prefer an urban living environment are on the one hand youngsters who grew up in the city and prefer to keep on living nearby their family. On the other hand, the city centre is inhabited by poorer households who (for that reason) are blocked in the cheapest areas of the city, i.e. former 19th century working class areas converted into migrant neighbourhoods. Those vulnerable groups get but few chances on the housing market. Forced migrations because of lease termination are no exception and the most important criterion in their search for a new place to live is its financial affordability.
A second analysis of the survey data concerns the first, the second and the last housing situations of the surveyed young adults. The first independent housing situation is taken as a starting point and is therefore not included in this analysis. The synthesis of this study is visualised in a figure that displays the neighbourhood types at each stage of the residential career and the residential movements between them. The detailed analysis of who is moving and why enables to typify these residential movements, while the width of the arrows representing them reflects the importance of the flows between the neighbourhood types (figure 2).
second class suburbanisation
The results show clearly that residential circulation primarily operates within the city or within the suburbs. The picture of a “back-to-the city” movement appears ineffective, for people who settled in the suburbs and went back to the city are extremely rare among young adults. Thus, gentrification dynamics seem to be carried by young people already living downtown or settling there at the time of their emancipation.
Figure 2: Synthesis of the main migration movements of young adults
The suburbs, the gentrification areas and the working class areas each represent a typical residential trajectory confined within these neighbourhood types and related to a set of constraints that block the involved young adults in these types of residential space. These spaces are geographically and socially separated from each other by transition zones where residential logics are more mixed.
As mentioned before, the suburbs are characterized by residential trajectories still strongly influenced by the social referents of the fordist period. The ideal of marriage, procreation and home-ownership are still very widespread among the inhabitants of these zones. Nevertheless, young adults eager to carry out this type of trajectory are confronted with land price constraints in the suburbs closest to the city. Consequently, they have to settle down in more remote areas or in areas marked by deindustrialisation which lead to what we have called ‘second class suburbanisation’.
Within the city, the gentrification areas are characterized by a strong rotation of the young adults within the private rental market. If, initially this residential location can be a choice related to “living through one’s youth”, its extension within the private rental market is in some cases a sign of the constraints imposed by both the inner city and the suburban real estate prices. Thus, access to home-ownership being impossible or implying too much sacrifices (purchase in the remote periphery, long commutes,…), young urban adults are captive in gentrification areas where they live a pleasant but forced transition phase (see also Leloup 2005).
A third set of constrained trajectories concerns the less educated young adults who are also less integrated on the labour market. These most deprived young adults which are generally of foreign origin and keep on being sheltered in the 19th century working class areas. The permanence of this process proves that many of these young adults are unable to support the costs of housing in other neighbourhood types and thus are captive in these deprived areas. These areas are neighbouring the gentrification areas. The advance of the gentrification process and its spatial extension are threatening the future of these neighbourhoods and their inhabitants.
Other work signalled departures from these neighbourhoods towards remote de-industrialised peripheral areas or former small industrial cities (Vilvoorde, Tubize, Ronse …). These residential movements couldn’t be included in this research. However, they could constitute a further type of residential trajectory, expressing the constraints of over-concentration in the poor inner city areas, were foreign immigration is equally a continuous process.
Reasons for moving and restrictions experienced by young adults
The in-depth interviews produced very rich information about the context and the motivations of the young adults residential movements. The interviews have been analysed to make sense of these changes. Besides the housing trajectories, professional and household careers were scrutinized in relation to residential change. Movements related to the improvement of the housing situation as such were labelled as “living careers”. Moreover, constraints as well as coincidental reasons for movements or trapping in neighbourhoods and dwelling were explored in detail.
The residential movements depend in the first place on the residential trajectory stage in which one is situated (figure 3). Most young adults leave the parental home when entering the labour market. Besides the desire of living on their own (or living together with a partner or friends), minimizing the distance to work is often top priority in the first stage. Compared to the elder generations who could choose work in function of the place of living, today, young adults determine their first dwelling clearly in function of their place of work. The required flexibility on the labour market has, in other words, an important impact on the housing behaviour of young adults. As most of the respondents found their job in the city, this is a first explanation why young adults choose for an urban living environment.
A second reason for preferring an urban place of living is linked to the advantages the city brings with. It not only reduces commuting in time and distance, but it also offers a range of advantages like the availability of services and recreation facilities. Moreover, the interviewees clearly enjoy an extensive network of public transport which may postpone the purchase of a (second) car.
Finally, many respondents have created a strong circle of friends during their studies. To maintain these relationships once they entered the labour market, young adults prefer to live nearby the place where they stayed during their education period. This is an important factor in explaining, at least in Brussels, the relation between the location of higher educational facilities and the areas of gentrification  .
While this starting situation of residential independence is strongly linked to the proximity of work and to a general preference for an urban living environment, the following movements depend much more on the household career and targets in housing trajectories or the living career. Changes in the household composition often generate migration movements. Living together, additions to the family, as well as divorces, are important triggers for residential change.
In the sphere of the living career, households move to reach a better housing quality, a better living environment and most importantly to access home-ownership.
Figure 3: Reasons for moving, by stage in the housing trajectory
The most important differentiating factor in the residential behaviour of the interviewees is household composition, more precisely the difference between singles and couples with or without children. During the first stage of the trajectory, singles rather opt for an urban residential environment because of the services and recreation facilities, as well as because of the proximity of friends – a result already suggested by the results of the correspondence analysis on the survey data. If couples choose for an urban environment, it is because of practical advantages like proximity of public transportation and of work. In the second stage, singles mostly move because of changes in the household composition (living together amicably, live alone), while couples rather move to improve their housing conditions and to access home-ownership.
Housing trajectories thus generally reflect efforts of the young adults to stabilize their life. In the beginning, attention goes to the stabilization of the professional and the household career. Once one has reached a satisfying position in those two careers, residential change corresponds to improving and stabilizing the housing situation. For almost every respondent, stabilization of the latter corresponds to the purchase of a good quality, detached family dwelling with a garden, located in a nice and calm environment and which is also suitable in case of addition to the family.
The fact that young adults of all social classes consider ownership as the ultimate goal, results on the one hand from the long policy tradition of anti-urban home-ownership support that takes root in Belgian class struggle (Kesteloot & De Maesschalck 2001) and on the other hand, it means that the present-day young adults also consider the home as a kind of shelter within a society which is build up on ideas of individualism, flexibility and insecurity.
Nevertheless during their residential trajectory, all respondents are confronted with a range of constraints, even though their impact on their residential trajectory is not always as drastic. A few constraints should just be interpreted as housing disadvantages, without resulting in a residential change. Other constraints will indeed have an impact on the housing trajectory. In that case, young adults have to find compromises to reach a good balance between their housing needs and their housing desires. The interviews reveal that in many individual housing trajectories, precarious situations appear and that these situations influence the further housing trajectory more deeply than others.
When looking at the professional career, unemployed persons and people with temporary and insecure contracts are particularly confronted with important constraints on their housing career. Lots of them are unable to rent a dwelling on the basis of their instable working position.
From the point of view of household career, singles experience specific difficulties on the housing market. The housing cost takes an important part in their overall budget and they are often forced to save in other expenses like leisure activities. This type of constraint, and the increasing number of singles among the young adults, explains occurrence of living together with friends and the “Tanguy” solution (which should rather be named a “Mohamed“ solution in the poor inner city neighbourhoods).
From the point of view of housing careers, tenants appear to be frequently in difficult situations. They are limited in their freedom because they are bound to a rental agreement, which in the Belgian case is favouring the interests of the landowner. Tenants can easily be forced to move if the owner wishes so and this gives the owner the opportunity to increase the rent.
Even double-income couples are confronted with several constraints during their residential trajectory, though their difficulties are of another nature. They mostly succeed in buying a single family dwelling with garden, be it with one or more concessions concerning the region or dwelling they finally choose. Those who want to buy a dwelling within the Brussels Capital Region, often end up in the cheaper working class areas north or west of the city centre, though they would prefer a house in the residential south-eastern part of the city. Others decide, after searching in vain, to leave the inner city and to settle down in cheaper areas in the first suburban belt (the former small scale suburban working class areas) producing what we called “second class suburbanisation”.
Still others young adults would prefer to settle in those first suburban suburbs (usually because they grew up in those area), but due to the very high housing prices, they are forced to move one or two municipalities further, where prices are lower.
During the last 30 years, the development of a flexible economy, the rise of non-family living arrangements and the introduction of a post-modernist life style with an emphasis on individualism have strongly influenced human relations, including household relations and their residential strategies.
Within this context, home-ownership means a kind of shelter for young adults. This is reflected in the fact that, due to increasing problems in entering the labour market and the development of new ideologies that made the housing trajectories of young adults more complex and longer, the purchase of a dwelling is still the ultimate goal for young adults of all social classes.
Renting is often considered as a necessary but adverse stage in the housing trajectory. Ownership on the contrary is regarded as a way of improving housing conditions. Nevertheless, the second demographic transition produces an increasing number of vulnerable household types as single person households and one parent families for whom the access to owner-occupied property is very difficult or even impossible.
During their search for private property, young adults are confronted more than ever with a range of spatial constraints, both in the city centre as in the suburbs.
The inner suburbs, which traditionally were the place where people went looking for a house, have become impossibly expensive for youngsters of the middle and lower social classes. Therefore, young adults are forced to look for affordable alternatives to fulfil their housing needs. This research unveiled four residential strategies.
A first strategy involves settlement on a longer distance from the city centre to avoid the high housing costs of the inner suburban belt. Young adults are forced to move one or two municipalities further than the one they prefer. However, such a strategy can bring along organisational and financial difficulties, especially regarding commuting. Commuting time and costs are increasing and often, the households are forced to buy a second car.
‘Second-class suburbanisation’ defines a second strategy that can appear in two forms: first, young adults choose for a suburban housing place but because of financial limitations, they end up in rather deprived neighbourhoods characterized by lost industrial activities; secondly, young adults go and live in the municipality they prefer, but lose in size or quality of the dwelling (smaller garden, less bedrooms, …).
The third strategy can be described as ‘waiting in the suburbs’. It concerns young adults who settle down in the suburbs, but who opt for a rented dwelling in expectation of access to ownership. Another possibility is that young adults keep on living in the parental home until they are able to buy a house. Often, those youngsters don’t manage to realize their plans, and this forces them to fall back on one of the first two strategies.
Finally, a fourth, more defensive strategy appears under the form of young adults who remain in the realm of the rental market. This market still supplies small dwellings which are quite suitable for young adults at the beginning of their working career. Those unable to access home-ownership later on, will however be left behind within this rental market.
An alternative way to reach ownership is to buy a house together with friends. This strategy appears as a good compromise between opportunities and constraints, but this solution is seldom considered as a final housing situation. Most young adults consider such a move more as an investment than an important stage in their housing trajectory.
It seems that almost all interviewed young adults have to impair their housing preferences. Such a conclusion has important social consequences. On the one hand, demand for cheaper housing is rising while supply is generally decreasing. The resulting increase of the real estate prices forecloses ownership accession by the middle and lower social classes.
On the other hand, the lowest social classes are not only confronted with social exclusion on the sale market, but also with an increasing pressure on the rental market. Therefore, low educated young adults with a weak position on the labour market are often forced to keep on living with their parents. Those who choose to leave the parental home anyhow, are often compelled to leave the city town and to settle down in deprived areas outside the metropolitan region.
The housing conditions of young adults also suffer from a general perception that the new generations live in better conditions than before. Such a perception hinders actions to improve their situation. Moreover, as far as actions take place, they are too often concentrated on traditional middle class families. Our research proves that most difficulties and constraints are experienced by ‘new’ household types such as singles and one parent families, as well as young adults from deprived inner city areas. Therefore, a shift in political actions is badly needed.
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