The changing meanings of work among university-educated young adults from a temporal perspective

  • Justyna Sarnowska SWPS University, Warsaw, Poland
  • Dominika Winogrodzka SWPS University, Warsaw, Poland
  • Paula Pustułka SWPS University, Warsaw, Poland
Keywords: young adults, meanings of work, transition to adulthood, life-course, temporal theory, labour market


The article discusses the processes of meaning-making which are connected to the significance of work/employment as it intersects with the passage of time. We focus on the narratives of young people (aged 19–34) with a university education at different stages of entering adulthood. Drawing on research linked to education-to-work transitions, we rely on the notion of flexible social time [Adam 1998] to present how individuals subjectively construct breaks and turning points in their biographies. It is argued that the passage of time alters the experience and evaluation of events on the labour market. Based on empirical material from the project entitled Education-todomestic and- foreign labour market transitions of youth: The role of locality, peer group and new media, we discuss three stages tied to varied meanings of work, from late adolescence to adulthood. In particular, we give voice to the interviewees who shared their reflections about: (1) working during high-school, (2) combining university education with employment, and (3) transitioning from education to work, and later career trajectories until their early 30s. The article sheds light on the issue of labour market stability as distinctively constructed at subsequent life-stages.