The Study and the Sample

Monica Rudberg and I began the study ‘Young Women and Men in Three Generations’ in 1991. The focus of the project was to explore how cultural modernisation had been associated with the psychological project of becoming adults in three generations. We wanted to understand more of the interactions between cultural and personal gender in a process of change in order to grasp how not only cultural norms but also subjectivities are historically embedded and, more specifically, how generational relationships in the family contributed to these changes on a psychological level. We also wanted to understand more about what different class cultures and youth cultural identities meant for these processes.1 It originated as two partly independent projects: one about young women (conducted by Monica Rudberg and myself) and one about young men (a PhD project conducted by Kari Vik Kleven).[1] [2]

The project was initiated by two weeks of ethnographic observation in five classrooms in two high schools in Oslo in 1991. One school, old and centrally located in Oslo, had a very good academic reputation and the students mainly came from middle-class families where the parents received higher education, but there were also a small number of students from working-class and lower middle-class families. The other school was a suburban school with a broader recruitment profile. We found middle-class students here too, but the majority were working class and lower middle class. All the students were in their last year of high school and following the general academic track.[3] The vast majority of high schools in Norway are free and, at the time we did our study, admission depended partly on grades from junior high school and partly on where the students lived, giving priority to students living nearest to the school. In 1991 almost 40 per cent of the youth cohorts in Oslo attended the academic track in high school and another well 40 per cent attended the vocational track or other schools; thus, the students in our classes can be described as ordinary Oslo youth of that time, but selected from among those who took the academic track in high school and with variation according to social background.

The classroom observations will not be used in this book, but they are still important to mention since they were the basis that we used to select the informants in the youngest generation. After the observation period we invited approximately half of the students, selected in order to secure a variance in relation to social class, marital status of their parents, choice of academic subjects and activity profile in the classroom, for a life historical interview. Later we interviewed the girls’ mothers and maternal grandmothers, and the boys’ fathers and paternal grandfathers. Because the focus of the study was generational changes in the youth period for women and men, the single-gendered chains made sense. As we later became more interested in the family dynamics, it made less sense. However, as all generations were interviewed about their relationships with both of their parents and their spouses (where relevant), the relationships with the other gender is not absent.

Since it turned out that not all in the two older generations wanted to take part in the study (in particular, many of the fathers declined, and fewer of the grandfathers than of the grandmothers were still alive), we ended up with a sample of 22 female and 12 male chains consisting of either two or three generations.[4] In 2001 many of the youngest

Table 3.1 Overview over the informants and interviews on which this book is based

88 informants 121 interviews

Oldest generation 21 informants, born

^ 1899-1927

Middle generation 33 informants, born


Youngest generation 34 informants, all born 1971/1972

Interviews 1991 (88 in total)

  • 14 women 7 men
  • (between 64 and 92 years old)

21 women 12 men (between 38 and 72 years old)

22 women 12 men (18 years old)

Interviews 2001 (25 in total)

  • 19 women 6 men
  • (30 years old)

Interviews 2011 (8 in total)

  • 5 women 3 men
  • (40 years old)

See the Appendix for a more detailed overview over family chains and distributions on social class

informants, now approaching 30 years of age, were interviewed a second time, and in 2011 eight informants, now approaching 40, had a third interview. All together this added up to 88 informants and 121 interviews (Table 3.1):

In 2001 we interviewed all the informants we managed to get in contact with and who consented (some of the men declined). In 2011 it was our own work situation that limited the number of informants we could interview. It would have been better to include more, but research projects running over several decades must live with compromises. We prioritised at that point to achieve a balance both in relation to gender, the schools they had attended and their class background. All those we approached in 2011 agreed to be interviewed once more.

The interview method consisted of semi-structured life-phase interviews focusing on childhood, youth and the transition to adulthood.

only included the cases of the 22 young women and the 12 young men whose parents and/or grandparents were also interviewed.

Biographical narrative interview methods had not yet gained the attention as a method in the social sciences that it received during the 1990s (Josselson and Lieblich 1993; Chamberlayne et al. 2000; Hollway and Jefferson 2000; Wengraf 2001). However, we also deliberately chose a semi-structured interview format because we wanted to compare information about childhood and youth from the different generations more systematically. For the two oldest generations of women, the interview started with filling in lifelines and genealogical trees.[5] The interview guide used in the 1991 interviews was the same for all generations (with some adaption to their age and stage of life) and focused on how they remembered their childhood and youth in terms of family life and relationships with parents, grandparents, siblings and friends, as well as activities, play, school, choice of education and political and cultural engagement in youth, description of self and others, the coming of age, the body, youth culture, courtship, love and sexuality, attitudes to gender and gender equality, and how they shared the work in their adult family. The interviews of the youngest generation at 30 and 40 years of age had three aims: to get information about what had happened in their lives since the last interview; to see whether they answered differently to some of the same questions that they were asked in the interviews at 18; and to check whether they could remember what they had answered to selected items at 18. In this way we could partly compensate for the methodological problem in the design that the two oldest generations were interviewed about their childhood and youth as adults, whereas the youngest generation was interviewed while they were still in the midst of it. As will be discussed further in Chap. 8, the concurrence between what they said at 18 and later was surprisingly good, and even though they had forgotten some of the details they had provided at 18, very few came up with completely new stories.

The way in which the study was designed and the time and place it was carried out had some consequences for the sample that should be kept in mind because it delimits the range of validity of the study. First, Norway is a small country with a population that was ethnically rather homogeneous until the late twentieth century and until recently the absolute majority of people were of Norwegian and European descent. There were (and still is) a small minority of indigenous population of Sami people from the northern part of Scandinavia and a varying but small number of people of Romani descent. As late as 1970, only 1.5 per cent of the population consisted of immigrants and their children, most of them from other European countries. The figure had risen to around four per cent when we did our interviews in 1991.[6] This specific demographic history explains why there were very few immigrants and non-white students in Norwegian schools at the time we did our study and why, as a consequence, the sample in the youngest generation consists of only white people of Scandinavian descent.

Second, it turned out that all the students we picked for interviews identified as heterosexual both in the first, second and third interviews. In the pre-queer times of the initial interviews there was generally little attention paid to sexual diversity or fluidity. Homosexuality was not illegal in Norway at this time, but it was seldom disclosed in classrooms either.[7] Thus, it was a dimension that was difficult to take into consideration when selecting our sample, but we have to admit that it was not something to which we as (heterosexual) researchers gave much thought either (see also Griffin 2000 on this). Issues regarding sexual orientation were not touched upon in the interviews in 1991, but were taken up in the 2001 interviews with the youngest generation. Here we asked about their experiences with and attitudes to non-normative sexualities, and what they remembered about this from the time when they were in high school (see Chap. 7).

Third, since we chose classes of the academic track in the two city high schools, the sample turned out to be characterised by a high degree of social mobility across the three generations. Whereas the vast majority of our youngest generation received higher education, many of them had parents who grew up in working-class or lower middle-class families, most of them in Oslo. A majority of the grandparents (12 out of 21) grew up in the countryside as sons and daughters of farmers, fishermen and smallholders, and only three grew up in the bigger cities of Norway (see the Appendix for details). Thus, the geographical mobility happened with the oldest generation and the mainly upwardly social mobility happened with the middle generation. This is not an unusual generational trajectory for these generations as Norway was late to be industrialised and urbanised (see Chap. 4). In particular, it illustrates how close in time traditional rural life is to modern urban life in Norway. Many of our young informants had grandparents who had grown up in environments that reminded us of rural life in the nineteenth century. Given the character of our data, the research question was extended to explore how processes of cultural modernisation and social mobility had been associated with the psychological project of becoming adults in three generations.

  • [1] The study has been presented earlier in a book in Norwegian (Nielsen and Rudberg 2006) and inseveral English articles, among others Nielsen (2003, 2004), Nielsen et al. (2012), Nielsen andRudberg (2000, 2007), Rudberg and Nielsen (2005, 2011, 2012) and Rudberg (1995, 2009).
  • [2] As mentioned in the Acknowledgements, the PhD project was not completed. For many years theinterviews with the male chain laid untouched as Monica and I had more than enough to do withour own data. For this reason, most of the previous publications from the projects are about womenonly. We did, however, take care to get the youngest men included in the second round of interviews in 2001. In around 2008 Monica started to work with Kari’s old data. Not all data was possible to retrieve and for this reason we have less information about the men in some respects. Threearticles about the male chains appeared in the following years (Rudberg 2009; Rudberg and Nielsen2011, 2012). However, the analyses in this book are the first to see the dynamics between womenand men in a generational perspective.
  • [3] Norway has nine years of compulsory school and three years of voluntarily high school which isspecialised into different tracks: some academic (the general academic track preparing for universityadmission) and some vocational. All the students in our study followed the academic track, but afew boys (among them Erik and Glenn, who are analysed in this book) were recruited from thesports track, which also counts as academic. The students enter high school at the age of 15—16, sothe students were 18—19 when we interviewed them.
  • [4] A total of 32 women and 25 men in the youngest generation were interviewed in 1991 at the ageof 18. Of these, 19 girls and 17 men were re-interviewed in 2001. In this book, however, we have
  • [5] The interviews typically lasted between two and four hours and were tape-recorded. All interviewsfrom 1991 were fully transcribed, while the interviews in 2001 and 2011 were summarised andonly partly transcribed. The lifeline technique was simply that we drew a line on a piece of paperstarting with the year the informant was born and ending in 1991. Then we asked the informantto fill in important life events and life transitions. The genealogical tree was a chart of names, yearsof birth and occupations of parents, grandparents and siblings of both the informant and thespouse(s). The lifelines and genealogical trees turned out to be of incredible value for orientation inrelation to what was told later in the interview. It was Hedvig Ekerwald who taught us these techniques, for which we are still grateful. Unfortunately the lifeline and genealogical chart do not existfor the male chains, so for this reason our information about the men is sometimes less exact (forinstance, we have less information about the jobs of their wives).
  • [6] From 2000 the immigration numbers increased rapidly. In 2015 15.6 per cent of the populationconsisted of immigrants and their children, and only half of them were from other European countries (Statistics Norway
  • [7] Sex between men was prohibited through legislation in Norway until 1972, which was very latecompared to the other Scandinavian countries. In practice, however, it was only subject to prosecution in cases where there was a big age difference between the men or if the sex was exposed publicly. Sex between women has never been illegal in Norway (Rydstrom 2011).
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