Varieties of Youth
‘Youth’ may conventionally be defined as the group of human beings who have reached the end of puberty but have not yet acquired the full rights and duties of adult life. Foremost among these rights and duties are marriage and earning a livelihood both for oneself and for one’s family. It is clear that the time interval occupied by ‘youth’ depends on the type of culture and society in which an individual lives as well as on the social standing he enjoys. In so-called primitive societies the interval is close to zero: at the end of puberty, the young man or woman is accepted as an adult into the community. The traditional rites of passage mark the importance of this event. Also, in societies in which child labour or the pre-arranged marriage of children is the rule, ‘youth’ is limited to members of the classes whose sons and daughters are exempt from such labour and consequently enjoy a certain degree of leisure. In civilisations like the Athens of Pericles or the Florence of the Renaissance the scions of the educated and well-to-do families had a sufficiently long period of time between puberty and the responsibilities of adulthood to prepare themselves for the life that corresponded to their social status.
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