Calibrating Time and Place
The longitudinal dimension in the study of the youngest generation helps to clarify some of the methodological effects of the design where three generations were interviewed at different points in their lives. The interviews with the youngest generation at 30 made it possible to check whether one talks differently about one’s family and upbringing as a young adult compared to as a teenager of 18, and also to see whether one remembers the views held at an earlier age. The general finding in regard to the time span was that the overall content of what was said ten years earlier was well remembered, but that details may have been forgotten or reconstructed (for instance, what kind of education one thought about but did not pursue or what attitudes one had in relation to gender equality). In a few cases, emotionally difficult issues had been forgotten, while in other cases, the stories were told with almost exactly the same words. In most cases, however, it was the same content, with slightly modified details. With regard to what life phases mean for the perception of one’s family of origin and relationship with parents, we heard more or less the same stories as the interviewees told at 18, but often more nuanced in light of what had happened later or as a result of having gained more life experience and maturity. This could sometimes contribute to a more
© The Author(s) 2017 H.B. Nielsen, Feeling Gender,
conciliatory and sometimes more critical account of a parent and the family life they had lived back then. The most considerable difference compared to the narratives at 18 was a somewhat more negative experience of parental divorces at 30. Thus, the accepting approach to their parents’ divorces at 18 may be due to the child’s new position in this generation as a ‘responsible partner’ in the family. However, completely new information was only seen in a few cases connected to very difficult experiences of divorces and of parental violence.
The interviews with eight of the informants at 40 also made it possible to see what kind of family models the youngest generation actually chose and how their attitudes towards gender equality turned out in practice. When the oldest generation was asked about gender equality, it mainly triggered their reflection about how it was, seen in the light of the new times. For the middle generation, we get accounts of how it is in their present life. And for the youngest generation at 18 and 30 years of age, the perspective is how they imagine it will be. At the age of 40, however, the youngest generation were approaching the life phase their parents were in at the time of their interviews in 1991. They found themselves in the midst of a hectic life where the main challenge was managing the work-family balance, and the interviews therefore tended to focus on this. Thus, these interviews may contribute to understanding more about the interaction between age/life phases (the point in their lives when they were interviewed), cohort effects (the life course of a specific generation) and period effects (the way in which a given sociohistorical situation affects the experiences). It is not possible to isolate the effects of each of these sources of meaning, but from what the informants tell us about their life at 40, we can see the impact of all of them. Decisions about family arrangements and what kind of gender equality that is desired or possible to attain also depend on how the three temporal dimensions interact in each case.
Another dimension considered in this chapter is the significance of place. To what degree are the patterns we found in our sample products of a specifically Scandinavian history and context? To what degree do they also display similarities with, for instance, other European countries? This question is of course too large for a sensible short answer, not only because three- or even two-generational studies are generally in short supply, but also because the design, methodology and theoretical framing of the few studies that exist are often quite incompatible. That means that it is difficult to see what is actually compared. In addition, cross-national comparisons are particularly difficult because the context, whether nationally, historically, culturally or politically, for what is compared is part of the meaning of the comparison (on this point, see Bertaux and Thompson 1997; Chant and McIlwayne 1998). Instead of trying to cover everything, I have chosen to contrast my findings with some generational studies from Britain that cover the same generations, mainly the work of Julia Brannen and her colleagues, in order to catch sight of what may be specifically Scandinavian in the three generations analysed in this book.