Working paper number: 475

Author(s): John Spyropoulos
Unit: CSSR


This paper examines both the transition to adulthood, as perceived by a cohort of young adults of mixed gender from poor families in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa, and what brought about this transition. These changes became evident in the context of the COVID pandemic, five years after the initial research in 2016.

Changed domestic responsibilities intersect with trajectories of variable and changing employment statuses to manifest four versions of adult status within domestic moral economies. Some participants attain regular employment, and transition to an economically-secure domestic responsibility. Others, mostly the women participants, continue to take economically-precarious responsibility reliant on contract employment. Others exemplify economically-dependent responsibility, and the fourth version of adult status exemplifies the risks of their precarious lives. This study reaches a normative conclusion that social science scholarship should characterise this age cohort not by chronological age but by categories of economic status and intensified adult responsibility in the domestic domain.

This paper contributes to youth studies an instance of the progression of young adults to a state of adulthood experienced as a ‘non-standard’, unstable transition from a state of material and existential depletion, of ‘unattainability’ of the life aspired to, to an adult status involving an interplay between money earned and domestic obligation that is in tension with positional consumption. This paper further contributes to scholarly work on domestic moral economy a conceptualisation of its internal temporal dynamic. The dynamic involves the flow of parallel life courses and intersecting relations of obligation and aspiration over time between age cohorts involving money.

 Publication file: WP475Spyropoulos.pdf