The way we live: understanding the acquisition of living skills to facilitate the consumer empowerment of young people in the 21st century

Horne, S. and Hewer, P.A. and Kerr, K. (2003) The way we live: understanding the acquisition of living skills to facilitate the consumer empowerment of young people in the 21st century. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 23 (3). pp. 226-227. ISSN 1470-6423 (

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This research seeks to understand the perceived sources of acquisition of living skills by young people and to examine the formal and informal channels of acquisition. The study focuses particularly on the concept of living skills. These are the skills of transition, of growing up, and independence. For the purpose of the research the skills investigated are those associated (or formerly associated) with the school subject of Home Economics and were distilled from past curricula and documentation (DES, 1985; SCP, 1971). They cover three types of skill: social/interpersonal, cognitive and manual. Social skills include awareness of others, and a sense of responsibility, which is the basis of child-care and showing tolerance of and concern and consideration for others. Cognitive skills are those associated with decision-making and management, they involve thinking, reasoning and the use of knowledge. Manual skills are concerned with the use of the hands, with dexterity and with the achievement of specific goals, for example the ability to use tools and appliances with emphasis on the safe handling of them. They can also be linked to knowledge in terms of, for example aspects of food safety and hygiene. Research to date has failed to tackle the concept of acquisition of the skills of transition from home to independent living. Most research is focused on skills pertaining to a particular occupation role (Newman and Newman, 1988; Blustein et al., 1989; Nurmi et al., 1994) rather than those of living skills. Respondents were asked where they had learnt most about manual, cognitive and social skills. To facilitate analysis the channels were condensed to family (mother, father, other family members), community (friends, voluntary organisations), self (trial and error, television, books and magazines), taught (at school, university and work), with a final category of 'never learnt' (categories adapted from Macbeth, 1989). The findings revealed that the perceived acquisition of these living skills was through informal channels. From this research it can be argued that the family, being the main perceived source of acquisition of living skills creates the right time, the right place and facilitates exchange efficiencies. However, in this over-dependence on an informal framework it is unlikely that discrepancies of skill provision can be alleviated. Additionally, standardisation may be difficult if not impossible to achieve. Compounding this is the tendency of young people to have to resort to self-learning, which it could be argued is acceptable for some skills but not for those reliant on correct information input (such as food hygiene and nutrition).