Social Album. Lifestyles in Generational Transitions

Antti Häkkinen, Anne Puuronen, Mikko Salasuo & Anni Ojajärvi

Summaries of articles


Antti Häkkinen, Mikko Salasuo, Anni Ojajärvi & Anne Puuronen

People belong simultaneously to a biological and a social generation. While they constitute a part of the continuum extending from their ancestors to posterity, they are also members of their own age cohort. Family is a key factor for the biological generation: a place where the members of the generation and their diverse experiences meet.

This study explores the dinner tables of families in Päijät-Häme, Finland. The family table is a metaphor. It describes the wide range of life situations to which grandparents, parents and children bring their values and attitudes, teachings and ideas about life. The table is a place for negotiations and debates. It is where identities and world views are built. Interaction at the tables of families is reflected in the surrounding society through individuals. This is an age-old process, a mechanism used by families to secure the preservation of skills, knowledge and traditions within the family, but where they also refute, defy and change the world.

The stories are not only direct reflections of what has happened in reality; they are also moving images of a life lived. The issue is not only what is told to researchers, but also how and why something is told and what the telling means to the storyteller (Abrams 2010, 1). The way of telling about one’s life is always culture-bound. The images of the stories are also images of a certain sphere of culture and a geographic region. Society is present in the images of people’s social reality. (See Vilkko 1997, 90–92.) When the images of the various members of the same family are placed side by side, the result is a set of images describing different experiences and lives lived. The image sets of families constitute a social album, a collection of variedly interlocked social realities, lives lived, traditions, inherited mentalities and society. (Bernler & Bjerkman 1990.)

At the dinner tables in Päität-Häme, the researchers collected stories from 67 persons, who represented three generations in altogether 20 families. The specific themes of the discussions were people’s lifestyles, work, health, food and physical exercise. The material has been expanded with other biography interviews and archive material, which extends the timeline from the early 18th century to the present day. However, the various perspectives of the study intersect at the tables in Päijät-Häme.

Mechanisms for interaction between generations

Cultures and societies change but the transfer of tangible and intangible capital, property, occupations and skills, but also of language, religions and customs, from one generation to the next is a central and important feature of a community (Bertaux & Thompson 2007, 1). Effort is made to control the future by force, by example, through communications and by reviewing the past in relation to the present. Older generations pass on their knowledge and traditional concepts. This strengthens the traditions and helps create cultural continuums (Siikala & Siikala 2005, 40–41).

This is a process moving in two directions, where cultural insights battle with each other in various arenas, within families and in the public domain (Stark 2011, 398–400). The end result is an intergenerational continuum or a break in the transfer of intangible capital from one generation to the next. Despite the challenges posed by other social institutions, the importance of the family for socialisation has prevailed because its impact is long-lived (in principle for life), close (physically and emotionally), strong (supported by law) and varied (mental and financial capital). (Giddens 1989, 383–415; Bertaux & Thompson 2007, 1.) The family can also be seen as a social institution where the life courses of the various family members, grandparents, parents and children, intersect (Glick 1947).

Thus, the family is a space and a place where both biological and social generations encounter one another (Burnett 2010, 41–58). In this respect, the situation prevailing in the family at any single time is characterised by the concept of social configuration. In this context, social configuration can be understood as a dynamic structure created by the family members together, where everyone’s actions and expectations towards each other constitute the configuration (Elias 1978, 130).

Life course analysis as the framework for this study

This study focuses on family units and life courses as engines of social change. The life course analysis is a method developed for this study design. It strives to fit human life analysis into society’s structural, cultural and social contexts.

Life course can be understood as various positions that follow each other, differ and overlap. Life course analysis studies the continuum of these positions and the changes taking place in them, while monitoring the timing of transitions. The trajectories or paths of the life course consist of various positions, their durations, variations and different combinations. It is customary for life course to become institutionalised culturally and socially as idols, ideal lifestyles. For instance, “the model of a good life” is a deeply rooted concept of how a person should live his or her life (Kok 2007, 204).

The life course analysis consists of five key elements. Firstly, life course must be seen as a whole, as a cumulating process continuing throughout the life. An individual’s decisions can be interpreted only by taking the earlier experiences of the life course into account. Secondly, people steer and control their own lives within the framework of their constraints and opportunities. Thirdly, a person’s life is tied to a certain historical time, which defines the surrounding society and the changes taking place therein. These changes in the context of the life course play a central role in the analysis framework. Fourthly, life is lived in the reciprocal networks of social relations. Social and historical impacts are transmitted through these networks. It is also possible to affect society by means of these networks. Finally, the timing of the key transitions of the life course is important and has various consequences. (Kok 2007, 204–205; Giele & Elder Jr. 1998; Elder Jr. & Giele 2009, 8–15; Shanahan & Macmillan 2008, xiv–xix.) For the life course analysis, it is essential that its five axioms constitute a uniform, interactive whole.

Finnish generations, life course and history – From generation to generation

Antti Häkkinen

A period of 300 years means approximately ten biological generations. The ten generations research material used in this chapter in addition to the interviews comes from a social-demographic database that covers a longer time span and a wider region than the material collected in Päijät-Häme. It comprises about 150 generation chains that usually extend over ten generations, from the start of the 18th century to the present day. The roughly 300 male and female ancestors in the study were traced by first selecting eight families from different social classes and language groups who had applied for poor relief in Helsinki in the early 1930s, and then by building their parents’ family trees down to the beginning of the 18th century. The descendant tables of these ancestors were then constructed systematically up to the early 1900s and more randomly up to the year 2000. The ancestors came from three principal regions, Western, Eastern and Southern Finland. At first, the descendants remained firmly in the same parishes where they were born, but in the course of the 19th century they began to spread to other regions of the country and later also abroad. The material also includes persons born abroad. The material comprises over 50,000 people.

The 300 year period of Finnish history comprises at least ten generations born at intervals of 30 years. The generations can be named after major social changes that took place during the life course of each age cohort. The date of birth and the historical period determine the life of each generation. At the very least, social processes create the framework for the life course and its opportunities, experiences and views. The changes become visible only after the biological generations of different periods are compared against each other. This review focuses on unexpected changes that have occurred in the life courses of persons of different generations who are members of the same family. How did a child live his or her life when compared against the lives of the child’s parents or grandparents? What was there that the parents could not do during their own lives but that was possible for their children? What was new in the ways of thinking and acting? What was passed down the chain of generations as heritage?

The first generation, “the children of famine and wrath” born between 1700 and 1730, are remembered for “the population funnel” and the mentality of wrath. They were the children of people who had been lucky enough to survive the great famine of the 1690s, but were themselves affected by the Russian occupation of Finland, or “the Greater Wrath”. At least one quarter (28%) of the Finnish population died during the great famine of 1696–97 (Muroma 1991, 180). Difficulties continued in the country impoverished by the famine. Situated between the great powers, the then eastern province of Sweden was subjected to exceptionally brutal violence. The story of “the time of wrath” survived as an oral narrative and was passed on from one generation to the next, thereby fuelling the fear, rancour and hatred felt towards the invader from the east. The brutalities that occurred during the Greater Wrath did not directly touch the persons in the research material. None of them fell victim to violent crime. However, life was not easy. The armies marched back and forth across the country, and the population was hit hard by grain thefts, property destruction, epidemics and widespread hunger. (Jutikkala 1959, Map 38; Vilkuna 2005).

The second generation, born in the years 1731–1760, was the generation of toilers. The name reflects the fact that this generation, in particular, worked hard to clear new farmland. More farmland was definitely needed because the rate of population growth in Finland was record high in 18th-century Europe (Solantie 2012, 147–151; Pitkänen 1994, 40–45). This was the impulse for the myth of “Paavo of Saarijärvi”, rooted in the Finnish consciousness as an unyielding, hard-working farmer who trusts in God and in his land. People in the generation of toilers settled down near their former homesteads or crofts. Communities were able to expand because there was still land to be cleared for farming.

The third generation, born in the years 1761–1790, is the generation of the Basic Land Consolidation. In the seemingly endless process that started in the 1760s and accelerated in the 1800s, the old Finnish village structure was broken down, houses were separated from each other, fields were consolidated, and lands formerly in joint use were divided among the State and the landed farmers (Soininen 1974, 309–322). The village community had hardly been any El Dorado and joint farming was not only an indication of community spirit, but it is certain that this drawn-out consolidation process robbed the landless of the opportunity to earn their living independently, making them dependent on landowners (Ylikangas 2007, 106–155). Social divisions came about and began to widen during that time, at the latest.

The fourth generation, born in the years 1791–1820, are children of war. They were contemporaries of the Finnish War. Once more, the country was trampled by greater powers and war rolled across the terrain. Not only the war, but also hunger and diseases inflicted misery on the people. Typhus, dysentery and outright hunger caused mortality to triple throughout the country (Pitkänen, 1994, Figure 2.3), and the locations where battles were fought suffered much more (Lappalainen, Wolke & Pylkkänen 2008). The number of soldiers fallen in battles remained surprisingly small, but the civilian population suffered (Villstrand 2012, 282). Epidemics became a scourge that permeated the whole of the 19th century. It even seems to have shortened people’s average lifespan when compared against the previous century.

The fifth generation, born in the years 1821–1850, is the generation of tenant farmers. Since the tenant farmers’ situation became one of the greatest problems of the 19th century, it is justified to name the generation after them. For many people, the whole of the 19th century was a period of relative impoverishment and social decline. The children of landed farmers often became tenant farmers, and the children of tenant farmers often became farm labourers of various types. Being a tenant farmer did not necessarily mean a poor economic status. There were also affluent tenant farms, but the crucial issue was the tenant farmer’s lack of independence. He could not himself control his status or guarantee his future even though there was often a family relationship between the landowner and the tenant. An independent status was above all economic independence; the tenant farmer was both a farmer and a labourer for his landlord. The lease terms and the amount of rent became a simmering conflict that gradually came to a head. Similarly, there was increasing controversy about the benefits in kind that used to be included in the tenancy (such as the right to take firewood from the landlord’s forest). (Soininen 1974, 36–40; Häkkinen 1989.)

The sixth generation, born in the years 1851–1880 are children of the famine years. The generation born in the latter half of the 19th century is characterised by want and misery. It was burdened by repeated crop failures and above all the great famine years of the 1860s, Europe’s last peacetime hunger catastrophe, when nearly eight per cent of the population died of hunger and diseases. This period left a permanent mark on the Finnish mentality and gave hunger a special meaning. It is recorded deep in local stories of the famine years. These years have been the start or a turning point of many family narratives, the moment that marked the beginning of everything or that changed everything (Häkkinen et al. 1991).

The seventh generation, born in the years 1881–1910, is called the generation of migrants. If locality was the typical feature of the previous generations, regional and social mobility virtually exploded at the end of the 19th century. Society changed and became more international, and restrictions were dismantled (Lento 1951, 38–53). Previously, people were born, grew up, got married, raised children and worked within the same few square kilometres, but now everything changed all at once. This process can be given many different meanings, but one thing is clear: it dispersed the old, relatively close family community. In the past, only death parted close family members. Now people moved to cities in Southern Finland or overseas – from where few ever returned. Yet it must be remembered that the majority never moved but lived their entire lives in the same locality, albeit not in the same way.

The eighth generation, born in the years 1911–1940, is the nationalist generation. It is not hard to give a name to this generation. First and foremost, the generation is characterised by a strongly nationalist sentiment. Unlike the previous generations, those born between the years 1911 and 1940 lived in a newly independent nation state as its loyal citizens. Only few people migrated to another country. “Nation builders” is a justified designation for this generation, whose occupational skills developed in step with the economic growth that enabled the growing nation to focus its resources on education. Although many had non-existent school education (such as in the example interview) or attended only six classes of primary school, various occupational courses and training were typical for this age class.

The ninth generation, born in the years 1941–1970, is a network generation. They were born during or after the war. The generation also includes people born in the 1960s and 1970s, who are usually included in the generation that followed the baby boomers.  When this generation was young, their lives still had many features that are commonly associated with the old, agrarian, poor and rural way of life. However, after reaching adulthood, they lived completely differently: in a way that was rich, modern and urban. That is why this generation, with one foot in the country and the other in the city, has been called “the transition generation” or “the hinge generation” (Karisto 2005, 39–41). The great social change and progress are true but we ask: in the end, how much, and in what form, did they really affect the thinking and behaviour of the new generation? At least when speaking about life in general and especially about work, food and health, the baby boomers’ style of speech is very similar to that of their parents born in the early 20th century. In the Päijät-Häme material, the styles of speech among these two generations are close to each other and differ clearly from the expressions used by the youngest generation in the material (born in the 1970s and 1980s).

The tenth generation, born in the years 1971–2000, is an urban generation. Their values and attitudes were not formed in the same way as those of the preceding generations. Thoughts and attitudes were read, learned and reflected upon; they were no longer inherited or transferred. This generation had access to many sources of information and views. Perhaps for the first time, a generation was itself able to construct its view of the world, not by emulating anyone or by setting itself up against others, but genuinely and independently. If the earlier generations, one way or another, had lived in the country at least part of their lives, had done rural work or had earned income from agriculture, the tenth generation is in this respect completely separate and independent. It can be thought that this is the first genuinely urban generation. Neither foot is in the country any longer. If this view is expanded, the unbroken chain of ten generations breaks here. The time of farmers and farmers’ wives is over.

What, then, has been the common experience of the latest generation? Perhaps it was the daycare centre or comprehensive school. Perhaps it was the recession of the 1990s. Does this generation have an experience unique to it yet? After all, an experience is more than experiencing, it is also the interpretation of events constructed afterwards. But in reality, this is the end of the chain: landed farmer–landed farmer–tenant farmer–tenant farmer–tenant farmer–farm labourer–outdoor worker–foreman–social services director–trading manager or copywriter. For many representatives of the tenth generation, the recession of the 1990s is the great narrative that turned the family’s life courses upside down. For others, the national story has disappeared and they work in Brussels or New York. The generation’s story is in progress and unfinished. It is certain, however, that if the common practice is to differentiate between generations on the basis of a unique experience, even the last generation will have its own special experience.

It is amazing how little people’s everyday lives seem to have changed during the first 270 years of the period under review. Daily bread obtained from the land or from agricultural work was the basis of life, and earning that bread was full-time work. The struggle for survival did not ease up until the last three generations and was transformed into a field of open opportunities only during the life of the last generation, born in the 1970s and thereafter. It was surprising that the 19th century appeared to be a particularly harsh period. People’s life expectancy fell markedly and impoverishment was a collective process. People had to settle for a poorer life than their parents.

Especially in the late 19th century, the outlook was not bright. When emigration and internal migration emerged as new options, it was as if a pressure cooker had exploded: people began to move into cities, industrial localities or to America. Nor did this movement stop during the 20th century. The last two generations have been the first genuinely international generations. The family also underwent a change.

Remarriage used to be common because many spouses were widowed prematurely. Since the family was society’s smallest but most important safety net, people remarried as soon as possible, especially if there were small children in the family. When the amendment to the Marriage Act allowed divorce also under normal circumstances, marriages began to break and then remarrying became more common. It was not until the 1970s when cohabitation really began to threaten the old family institution. However, the relationship between cohabitation and marriage seems largely to correspond to the earlier relationship between engagement and marriage. Engagement was a promise to marry, and if everything worked well, the couple was married. Couples do roughly the same today. They cohabit but when the first child is born, they get married.

There is still one essential change taking place at the very end of the chain of generations. That is, in one way or another, all previous generations lived with either both feet or at least one foot in the country. It is only the last generation that is a genuinely urban, modern generation. This change brought a change to the whole spectrum of life: work, lifestyle, hobbies and family.

Generations’ soups and the application of nutrition education at home

Anne Puuronen

This chapter examines intergenerational differences and continuities in foods at Finnish homes from the 1950s to the 2000s. The social background is late modern Finland at the time of the rise in living standard and structural transition.

The text demonstrates that during this period, in particular the spread of technology, the food industry, nutrition education and, later, the crises affecting the global food system are reflected as widespread agents of generational change in the way foods are made, in eating habits and in eating-related attitudes and values. Similarly, within the sphere of private life, maintaining food traditions, continuity and, on the other hand, variation in these, i.e. families’ everyday eating habits that are carried through in the chains of generations, are perceived as important.

In general it can be said that the everyday food culture of Finland’s baby boomers and the generations before them is characterised by self-sufficiency and a fairly direct relationship to ingredients from nature in the preparation of food. Proceeding towards late modernity, immaterial breaks in the meaning both of the raw ingredients of foods and of primary food production grow stronger from one generation to the next. The shift from self-sufficiency to the period of structural transition was also spurred by the development and spread of domestic appliances, such as refrigerators and freezers, in the 1950s. The superiority of the new technology as compared against what preceded it was not considered self-evident. Domestic appliances gradually became agents of change in the food cultures of generations during the period under review. The youngest generations have become more dependent than before on the food industry and the selection in shops, and they have thus diverged from primary food production.

Attitudes towards ready-made foods and their use can be raised as the most central indicator of the generational changes and structural change concerning food cultures in the homes of Finns. Ready-made foods are associated with ease and convenience in comparison to food prepared oneself. On the other hand, the use of ready-made foods is spiced by a generations-long value debate both for and against that began in the 1950s and still continues.  In this connection, the change affecting the nature of the family meal also expresses intergenerational differences in meaning between Finns during the period under review. The family meal has a strong position among members of the baby boom generation and earlier generations as an occasion of joint communication. With the generations born in the 1970s, eating together in Finnish homes is adjusting to family members’ different habits regarding how time is spent. The sharpest gender divisions concerning food preparation in Finns’ homes have also changed during the same period.

The novelties brought about by modernisation during the period under review also included nutrition education. In this sphere, citizens’ attitudes towards the use of dietary fats rise to become the key indicator of generational and structural changes in Finland. A historically distinctive feature of Finland in the 1950s was the high appreciation for fatty and sweet foodstuffs among baby boomers in the wake of the great shortages of the war years. Among this generation, which had had a childhood of scarcity, the teachings of nutrition education concerning reduction in the use of dietary fats were experienced primarily as wasting valuable ingredients. The generation comprising the children of baby boomers, in turn, represents a generation that grew up with child health clinics, school health education and food circles. This generation’s relationship to nutrition education can be defined as “information overload”.

In the 1950s ready-made foods brought the additives contained in foodstuffs to the dinner tables of homes. In this connection, the discussion of food safety and the risks associated more broadly with the global food system, as well as environmental and ethical stands, were as important in talk about food in the 2000s among the youngest generations studied as the talk about food shortages was among members of the baby boom generation born in the 1940s and older generations.

Proceeding from the 1950s to the Finland of the 2010s, one can see that economic, cultural and social development has had a significant impact on food preparation from the raw ingredients down to household food storage and even Finns’ eating habits. From the perspective of generation research, the immaterial aspect of the change that has occurred in the food cultures of homes is significant. During the period under review, both the old and the new food culture and communality are transmitted and built in the chain of generations while at the same time, some line of meaning falls away.

Generations in motion – from obligatory physical activity to couch potatoes

Mikko Salasuo & Anni Ojajärvi

Physical exertion and activity had always been self-evident features of the agrarian society. This chapter investigates how physical activity is present in the childhood and adolescence of four successive generations, and how its importance is changing. Special attention was paid to how physical activity, sports and exercise were transmitted from one generation to the next in the same family.

The primary material consisted of the interviews conducted in Päijät-Häme. The resulting 61 semi-structured interviews encompassed three family generations in altogether 20 families. The fourth generation’s perspective was constructed by means of interviews conducted among young people in Häme in 2008 and 2009. Although these young people were not of the same biological family as the other three generations in the study, their ages and environment made them suitable to represent the youngest generation. These interviews made it possible to widen the perspective from people born in the 1920s to the present day. In all, this chapter is based on a corpus of 82 interviews.

People’s living conditions have undergone radical changes during the past century. These changes have markedly reduced the necessity to be physically active. This development has had a tangible effect on the four generations examined in this study, who have adapted their lives to the new social rhythm brought about by the changes in society. The dynamics of values, attitudes and practices transmitted between generations have also been confronted with upheavals resulting from social transformations.

The starting point provided by the rural poor in Päijät-Häme was an agrarian family with strong ties to the land and the locus. In many respects, the first generation of the study represented the image of Finnish rural life before the major changes of the 20th century. Obligatory physical activity was the lifeline for the survival and meagre livelihood of the whole family. Life was based on chores and work done by hand and by foot. Homes were cramped and in a poor condition, and they were used mainly for sleeping and to provide shelter against the cold. Distances to neighbours, markets and schools were long.

The socialisation of children took place within the family. Their “home world” was the home and its immediate vicinity. Childhood was spent freely at play in the setting provided by nature, but at an early age children also participated in household chores and in earning the family’s daily bread. By means of learning through experience, the parents wanted to pass on the basic skills and knowledge needed in agriculture. The children’s work also included the gathering of food in nature. Among the various forms of transport, skiing in particular was vital for life in the country and children were taught how to ski at a young age. Children also learned quickly that nature is the most important element affecting their living conditions.

The first generation did not generally spend many years at school. Trips to and from school were long and they were travelled on foot or on skis. After school, children were still expected to do their share of household chores. Parents’ ill health or death forced many young people to start working on the family farm, making it necessary to give up school. The Depression of the 1930s also had an impact on the first generation’s formative years. Once the Depression had subsided, the Second World War broke out just as the first generation was on the threshold of its youth. The boys went off to war while the girls stayed on the home front to work. When peace returned, the first generation had already reached marriageable age. All representatives of the first generation in the material were married after the war, and the new generation was born in 1946–1950.

The second generation in the material consisted of the post-war baby boomers. After the war, their parents had either continued farming locally, had moved to nearby village centres or had taken up industrial jobs in towns and cities. In consequence, the second generation was divided into two: those who continued their parents’ work on farms and those who lived in the new village and urban surroundings. This division had a long-term impact on the second generation’s life and later also on their children. No major changes occurred in agriculture during the first post-war years. Those second generation members who were born in the country therefore had a childhood that was very similar to that of their parents. The hoe, the saw and the berry basket were part of childhood games as soon as the child was strong enough.

As the second generation was growing up, the school network had become denser and trips to school had shortened. Roads had improved and it was rare that farms were as isolated as they had been in the 1920s. Some lucky ones could also get a ride to school by bus or by car. In the main, trips to school were taken by bike in spring and autumn and on skis and kicksleds in winter. Physical education at school had also changed. During the 1950s, the number of ball games increased and the popularity of gymnastics declined. The improved availability of sports equipment also enabled a wider spectrum of interests during free time. In the 1950s and 1960s, sports clubs still reached the second generation of the material rather poorly.

Children and adolescents who had moved to village centres and towns encountered a new environment. The behaviour patterns offered by parents suited the more densely inhabited areas and apartment buildings to a varying degree. Education emphasised the importance of spending time outdoors freely and the utilisation of the stimuli provided by the environment. Children and young people utilised their environment for games and pastimes but the city did not offer the same kinds of opportunities as the countryside. This resulted in new forms of playing and being which no longer had anything to do with physical exercise or sports. The cellars and stairwells of buildings and the indoor spaces of homes served as the breeding ground for a new type of youth culture. Physical activity continued to play an important role in the lives of the second-generation children and adolescents living in cities, but the associated obligations began to diminish.

The second generation of the research material cannot be said to stand out as “a hinge generation” or a generation of major changes from the perspective of physical activity or otherwise, either. For them, the 1960s meant either drudgery on the farm or adaptation to the rhythm of life in population centres. Lifestyle-related changes only arise in their children’s lives. To a great extent, the second generation lived and moved according to practices they had inherited from their parents in the “home world” of the agrarian society.

The third generation was born in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, when families had moved closer to built-up areas and great strides had been made in agriculture. The mentality inspired by nature and toil among the rural poor began to recede. This was a period of a more technical sports culture where sports was taken up as an activity of its own. Bikes were important as a means of transport, and various sports activities began to attract children and young people. In particular, indoor sports facilities provided new opportunities for physical exercise in winter. Changes in living conditions and measures taken by the welfare state offered a new type of backdrop for the third generation. Obligatory physical activity subsided in the third generation’s life.

New youth cultures introduced lifestyles competing with physical activity and sports. The spread of consumer culture also expanded children’s and young people’s options for spending their free time, and commercialism entered the field of sports. The essential issue was not necessarily the sports activity itself but how one looked when pursuing the activity. The popularity of downhill skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and other lifestyle sports skyrocketed. Sports also moved towards the time of the experience society with its values and attitudes. In the families of sports enthusiasts, the parents’ role was accentuated in a new way. They had to be active fans and supporters of their children’s interests. Adults were needed to pay for ski lift passes, club fees, licences and equipment and to drive children to practices and competitions. Someone had to wash the sports gear and look after timetables. For the first time, there was also room for those who did not want to engage in physical activity or strain themselves at all. Physical education at school was still seemingly obligatory, but even that was easy to avoid.

The fourth generation in the research material consists of young adults who were around twenty years of age in the early 2000s. The change in sports culture that started during the previous generation seems to have accelerated in their lifetime. Obligatory physical activity is on the margins of life and nearly everything is based on individual choices. Daily life shows few traces of physically strenuous activity. This in turn is reflected in the fact that the physical fitness of children and young people has plummeted. Instead of an obligation or an easy alternative, a separately pursued sports interest has become a consumer choice. The fourth generation’s physical activities and sports hobbies are characterised by an experimental approach. A number of sports were practised in childhood but only for a short time. Then the next one was taken up for a while. The parents’ role resembles the situation of their own parents some twenty years ago. Unlike in the previous decades, physical exercise and adherence to a healthy lifestyle have become the measure of good parenthood. The parents’ role as drivers, payers and trainers has become emphasized. Parents must try to persuade their children to leave the digital home entertainment centres and be active outdoors. Hobbies have also become considerably more expensive since the parents’ own youth. In consequence, the children of high-income families are more active in pursuing sports than their peers.

The “home world” appears to have a particularly important role for the fourth generation and their age bracket. When parents exercise together with their children, this correlates strongly with the children’s physical activity later in life. This is not only a question of the practical arrangements for a separate interest; much more important is socialisation into physical activity through model behaviour. In the course of primary socialisation, children obtain cultural models and meaning systems that they carry with them for the rest of their lives. Because physical activity and exercise are not naturally present in the “home world”, parents must bring them there.

Thus, a new kind of dynamic affecting physical activity and exercise has arisen between generations. In order to get children to be physically active, parents must also be active. It is not enough for parents just to support their children’s sports interests; they must also contribute actively to the selection of sports interests and motivate their children. Children whose parents are not physically active or do not engage in sports are not socialised into the meaning systems of physical activity.

Physical activity and exercise have had a changing place in the life courses of various generations. The first generation would not have survived without constant physical activity, skiing skills and occasional toiling. Life was also physically demanding in the second generation’s childhood, especially in the countryside. The everyday lives of children and adolescents living in towns and cities also included much physical activity. The children of the 1960s – and especially in the 1970s also the children of families coming from poor rural conditions – were able to enjoy the increasing affluence. Skis were not needed to get from one place to another and they were abandoned as a symbol reminiscent of the physical activity required of the earlier generations. The ambivalence associated with skiing and compulsory skiing is also easy to see in the physical education classes of the third generation. Times were different, and unlike in the grandparents’ “home world”, skis were unfamiliar objects. The new sports were social, fast and entertaining. They gained popularity both in terms of the number of active participants and on television.

The 1990s recession generation at work

Anne Puuronen

This chapter examines the views and experiences of work, unemployment, and finding employment among men and one woman, born in 1967–1976, through their life courses. Unlike all the other chapters of the book that build the analysis on comparison between different generations, in this text the examination of the formation of a generation’s experience is limited to the life course contexts of the generation referred to in Finnish generation research as the recession generation.  How did the young people called the recession generation relate to work and job-seeking in a social situation where the shadow of the recession fell upon them just as they were reaching the age of entering the labour market?

The text demonstrates that the dominant conception in generation research whereby everyone of the same generation by virtue of their age would self-evidently share a key experience having the same content is overly general. Life course analysis reveals that experiences of the recession and identification with the recession generation differed widely among members of the generation called the recession generation.

The feeling of belonging to the recession generation was strongest among those young people for whom the recession became a major obstacle to entering the labour market and, correspondingly, for whom the economic situation could lead to the loss of jobs. When the economic situation was rectified, the shadow of the recession often followed them later as new difficulties in finding employment and as mental health and substance abuse problems. The recession generation’s differences in identification at the age of entry to the labour market in the early 1990s stemmed from other factors in the young people’s social life and phase of life, especially their educational status, couple relationship and family status at the time; for instance, being on parental leave and, among men, military service.  These factors weakened identification with the recession generation. Family bonds, such as parents’ or the relations’ possibilities to employ “a youngster of the recession” in a private family business during the recession played a great role in how much a young person belonging to the recession generation by virtue of age saw himself or herself as a member of the recession generation.

Social Album: Closing Texts

Antti Häkkinen & Mikko Salasuo

The individual’s status in the chain or network of different generations is difficult to understand unless one examines what actually moved and was transmitted in them. What are the most important immaterial contents that have been conveyed to us over generations? What are the mental elements that have accumulated in the course of generations?

At least on the basis of the stories told by the people interviewed, the definitions of “preventing accidents” and “a good life”, and the ways of striving to attain them, have been transmitted to them from previous generations. Deaths from hunger, illnesses, days of toil and the miseries of war recede, become symbolised and diverge, as well as melting into elements for metastories of a healthy and good life, happiness and love, good nutrition, physical exercise, and the ideal lifestyle. They simultaneously appear both as “old wisdoms” and as the everyday experiences of the current generation, as ideological systems with their own conditions and definitions.

The social conditions prevailing at the time create their own framework and terms for realising these goals. The whole biological chain of generations during the last three centuries has been subjected to numerous social waves. Slow change has been replaced by a faster social rhythm. The deep transitions of the agrarian society, which were often followed by famine, death and suffering, have over the past decades been superseded by the softer surface quakes produced by modernisation. The tempos of continuity and changes are not permanent. One of the key findings of the study is that the 19th century in particular was an especially difficult time for Finns and for the population of Päijät-Häme.

In the perspective of the past three centuries, the period after the early 20th century appears to be a series of continuous social waves in which horizontal changes have followed one after the other. Intergenerational effects are no longer direct and visible in the same way as before, because interaction between the generations is centred round the family dinner table, out of sight from outsiders. It is more intimate than previously. In the past, the transfer of capitals between generations occurred as part of everyday life in the fields, while cooking, on logging sites and in livestock tending, as learning by experience and as the continuation of parents’ work.

Moreover, the family has also been in the midst of change. In the latter half of the 20th century, the habitats of parents and children began to diverge from each other. Today, the days pass doing paid work and at school. Free time offers family members their own age-bound and generation-bound hobbies, targets of interest and activities. The “home world” has shrunk and consists primarily of only one’s own family members. Grandparents, relatives and others present in agrarian times have shifted further away from the everyday life of children and young people. They have been replaced by education professionals from different institutions, teachers, youth workers, coaches, and other pedagogical actors.

The life course of children in the research material born in the late 1960s and thereafter differs from that of earlier generations. Negotiations between generations are increasingly more equal, and age-old approaches may no longer be valid in this ever more complex world. At the dinner table, parents and children together consider which school children attend and what languages are worth studying. They discuss what type of career ideas the children have, what they want and what hobbies they can have, where they may move about without adults, what foods are healthy, when they have their sweets day and when the whole family has the opportunity to spend time together. Children and young people bring to the table the ideas learned and the attitudes read at school as well as commercial and youth culture trends. Amidst the multitude of choices, parenting has become more difficult, but at the same time the importance of parents is highlighted as choices for children are made and implemented.

All of the choices made by parents are of great importance with regard to the child’s later life course. As a result of the increase in the options available, the widening of world views and the disappearance of stringent models of community norms, parents cannot transfer their childhood models and practices as such directly to their own children. This causes breaks in generational chains. Owing to the effects of social waves, values, attitudes and practices that were considered good in previous decades or even centuries become brittle or break completely. In their place come new models of the good life and ways to ensure the transfer of material and immaterial capital in the generational chain. The process is slow, although certain age cohorts seem to be placed at the hinge points of social transitions.

If the youngest generation of the primary material – born in the 1970s in Päijät Häme – lived in what is already a completely new world, how could the status of their parents, the so-called baby boomers, be characterised? In many other studies, the baby boomer age groups have been assigned the role of the hinge generation. The central result of this study is that in many families, both in the countryside and in towns, baby boomers appear still to have lived in the ethos of the agrarian society and to have followed the lifestyles handed down by earlier generations. Their life seems to be slow adaptation and keeping with traditions at the same time. At least one foot was still firmly in the rural soil. In this study material it was not until the children of the baby boomers that the “home world” as regards the use of time, structures and the reality encountered represented the new age and differed from the life of previous generations in the family – both feet had transferred from the agrarian society to the modern age.