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Adulthood is usually defined in terms of a series of markers: leaving school, starting a first job, leaving the parental home, forming a first union, marrying and having a first child, becoming a citizen. Such approaches draw on the idea that young people make one transition to what is locally agreed to be a clearly defined status—a destination at which one ‘arrives’. But globally, there is recognition that many of these markers are reversible and impermanent, so that there is no simple and clear notion of ‘youth’ in contrast to adulthood, and no notion of ‘arrival’ at a singular adulthood. Rather there are ‘fragile and reversible transitions’, negotiations and controls, and boundaries to cross before young men and women can take control of their lives as adults. Nevertheless, youth policy remains strongly influenced by the idea of linear transition, and the associated metaphor of individualised ‘pathways’ from school to work and adulthood.
In this paper we draw on data on social and human outcomes of schooling, collected under the aegis of the RECOUP programme of research, to consider the evidence on how schooling affects the nature of young men and women’s chances of gaining, for example: livelihood and enterprise; self- protection, security and equality; and agency, resilience and autonomy as adults in the RECOUP partner countries, and the implications for education and youth policy.