Reading Generations

It is challenging not only to analyse generational material, but also to read it. I have given the informants names according to their gender, generation and class,[1] and have used the same initials in the names of the same chain (see the Appendix for a survey of the names and social mobility of the 34 chains). Each generation has been given its own empirical chapter, but the names should make it possible to see family links between the chapters. For different reasons, not all interviews were equally useful— and that is the reason that a chain sometimes ‘disappears’ in later chapters. For the youngest generation, it can also be due to a missing second round of interviews in some cases. In larger quotes from the two older generations, the name of the informant is tagged with the year of birth, whereas for the youngest generation it is the age at the interview (18, 30 or 40) that is marked. Quotes from the informants are in italics whether they appear as block quotes or are integrated in the running text. Most of the informants in the older generation have kept traces of the regional dialects of their childhood. In the translation into English, this class and time colouring was not possible to preserve.

All informants are presented with their class background the first time they are mentioned, both as children and adults. In relation to class division I have used a combination of education, character of work, position at work and economic capital in the family to make a simple system that works reasonably well with the different generations. It distinguishes between housewives (only women), farmers/fishermen families, working class, lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class and families who are self-employed (see the Appendix for definitions and more details). Sometimes, when it makes sense, I also characterise found patterns in terms of a rougher contrast of working class (including lower middle class) versus middle class (including upper middle class) where education or economic capital is the dividing line, but it is important to be aware that not all informants are covered by these binary pairs. Another issue is that social class can (and in this sample most often does) change from the childhood family to the adult family. I have used age categories to specify this; thus, being a ‘working-class boy’ means that this informant grew up working class, whereas being a ‘middle-class woman’ indicates the class in which this informant ended up as an adult. The quotes have been selected to make visible relevant class differences, but they are not in all cases balanced in relation to gender. The reason for privileging quotes from men in some sections is that less is known about men’s experiences when it comes to issues like family, care work and bodies/sexuality, and therefore we wanted to pay special attention to this.

Several things should be kept in mind while reading the analyses. Unless something else is mentioned, ‘the women’ and ‘the men’ will refer to women and men in our sample, not the general population of women and men in these generations. Another thing that is important to remember is that the men and women in the same generations come from different families. Especially in the section about how the different generations organised work and care in their families as adults, it is important to steer clear of misunderstandings. For instance, when we write what the men or the women thought about their partners’ contribution to the household, it is essential to remember that the men and women from the same generation in the sample are not couples.

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  • [1] In this the databases of Statistics Norway have been very useful. They give information about thefrequency of different names in Norway since 1880 ( and I amaware that non-Norwegians will probably not be able to appreciate this element of time colouring.However, I have avoided using names with the specific Scandinavian letters ж, 0 and a.
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