Thursday, August 19, 2010

Emerging Adulthood

This lengthy NY Times article about 20-somethings is a quite a contrast with Robert Epstein's Teen 2.0.
The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.
There includes some interesting ideas about extending adolescence even further, calling it emerging adulthood:
JEFFREY JENSEN ARNETT, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., is leading the movement to view the 20s as a distinct life stage, which he calls “emerging adulthood.” He says what is happening now is analogous to what happened a century ago, when social and economic changes helped create adolescence — a stage we take for granted but one that had to be recognized by psychologists, accepted by society and accommodated by institutions that served the young. Similar changes at the turn of the 21st century have laid the groundwork for another new stage, Arnett says, between the age of 18 and the late 20s.
It's a fascinating article, especially as one who has, in effect, skipped "emerging adulthood" to become an adult in my early 20s. (Call me old fashioned.) Arnett's views are the polar opposite of Epstein, arguing that adding another life stage on top of adolescence is a benefit to our society as a whole, calling it a period of rich self-discovery. (Though they do seem to both agree that adolescence is a cultural construct). If you work with college-aged people, are a parent of a child in their 20s, or are in your 20s yourself, I'd highly recommend reading and analyzing the article and its implications.

Is having 27-year-olds living at home, delaying education, living with their romantic interests instead of getting married, not committing to a career, or extending identity formation really beneficial for anyone? Isn't emerging adulthood just delaying the inevitable and allowing immaturity to culturally thrive?

What do you think of emerging adulthood?

(ht to chuck)

5 comments:

  1. First, very interesting topic. I learned a lot reading through the second article. Here are a couple of my thoughts:

    1. As the second article talked about the possible correspondence between the new stage of adolescent recognized in the early 1900s and this “emerging adulthood” stage, it made this statement: “If emerging adulthood is an analogous stage, analogous changes are in the wings.” I immediately thought about the new provisions in Obama’s health care bill about “children” in their 20s being allowed to stay on their parent’s health plans, which the article soon mentioned. In what other ways is the government going to step-in to help these “emerging adults” and tax the “emerged adults” even more? Later on, on page 9 of the article, it suggests ways society can help and support these emerging adults, such as “a government-sponsored savings account…created for every newborn, to be cashed in at age 21 to support a year’s worth of travel, education or volunteer work.” Are you kidding me???? This seems absolutely absurd! Here we are with a huge national debt and tons of economic problems, and one suggestion is that the government (i.e. taxpayers like you and me) pay for 21-year-olds to have a year off from life to play! I can see no benefit to society of young people postponing become adults. The fewer contributing, independent adults we have, the greater the burden on society.

    2. Not sure how closely this relates, but just a few days ago I was reading an article about the Duggar family (the ones with 19 children) and got sidetracked reading a bunch of the comments. Not surprisingly, many people were upset that the Duggars had so many children, but what surprised me was one of the recurring reasons: that the older children were forced to help with the younger children. Really? That’s a bad thing? They kept saying, “Let children be children!” Since when do no-responsibilities, learning nothing about raising children or caring for a home equate with the best childhood? I think it is the very children of these type of parents that often turn into these young adults that can’t seem to grow up. Yes, childhood is a time of play, adventure and care-free abandon, but it is also a time for parents to train their children how to be adults. This should be done with chores, responsibilities, teaching, and, gasp, even hands-on experience with helping younger siblings. This is what prepares children for adulthood and becoming parents themselves. Although I’ve never read any studies on this and it is purely my opinion, it seems to fit from my own experience. It seems that every decade of children that graduate high school seem to have an overall lower work-ethic and sense of responsibility. The less we train them as children, the less they will be prepared to enter into the adult world and the more they will want to prolong their childhood in this “emerging adulthood” stage.

    Just my two cents.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm going to have to break this into two comments, because google said my comment was too long! :)

    First, very interesting articles and topic. I learned a lot reading through the second article. Here are a couple of my thoughts:

    1. As the second article talked about the possible correspondence between the new stage of adolescent recognized in the early 1900s and this “emerging adulthood” stage, it made this statement: “If emerging adulthood is an analogous stage, analogous changes are in the wings.” I immediately thought about the new provisions in Obama’s health care bill about “children” in their 20s being allowed to stay on their parent’s health plans, which the article soon mentioned. In what other ways is the government going to step-in to help these “emerging adults” and tax the “emerged adults” even more? Later on, on page 9 of the article, it suggests ways society can help and support these emerging adults, such as “a government-sponsored savings account…created for every newborn, to be cashed in at age 21 to support a year’s worth of travel, education or volunteer work.” Are you kidding me???? This seems absolutely absurd! Here we are with a huge national debt and tons of economic problems, and one suggestion is that the government (i.e. taxpayers like you and me) pay for 21-year-olds to have a year off from life to play! I can see no benefit to society of young people postponing become adults. The fewer contributing, independent adults we have, the greater the burden on society.

    ReplyDelete
  3. 2. Not sure how closely this relates, but just a few days ago I was reading an article about the Duggar family (the ones with 19 children) and got sidetracked reading a bunch of the comments. Not surprisingly, many people were upset that the Duggars had so many children, but what surprised me was one of the recurring reasons: that the older children were forced to help with the younger children. Really? That’s a bad thing? They kept saying, “Let children be children!” Since when do no-responsibilities, learning nothing about raising children or caring for a home equate with the best childhood? I think it is the very children of these type of parents that often turn into these young adults that can’t seem to grow up. Yes, childhood is a time of play, adventure and care-free abandon, but it is also a time for parents to train their children how to be adults. This should be done with chores, responsibilities, teaching, and, gasp, even hands-on experience with helping younger siblings. This is what prepares children for adulthood and becoming parents themselves. Although I’ve never read any studies on this and it is purely my opinion, it seems to fit from my own experience. It seems that every decade of children that graduate high school seem to have an overall lower work-ethic and sense of responsibility. The less we train them as children, the less they will be prepared to enter into the adult world and the more they will want to prolong their childhood in this “emerging adulthood” stage.

    Just my two cents.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sara, I guess it worked the first time with the long comment! Great thoughts!

    The article clearly advocates for letting adults delay acting like adults for as long as possible, but I didn't connect the dots with the government involvement. Government-sponsored extended adolescence?

    For your second comment, I'd highly recommend reading Robert Epstein's "Teen 2.0" and thinking through the implications for parenting. I think you'll find that much of Epstein's research resonates with your opinion. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well, as someone who did some of those things in his 20s, I have to say it's not so much of a black box if you take economics into account. Younger people have less access to decent jobs, and thus end up moving around (and sometimes moving home), moving from job to job, and living unstably (thus less willing/able to marry).

    There's no mystery here. Then again, there's also the enshrinement of marriage (of the sort that was normative in the 1950s or 1970s) as any kind of measure of adulthood. Lots of cultures do have standards for adulthood related to marriage, but they don't all require church weddings or trips to city hall.

    Questioning why alternate forms of pairing up have become more dominant is an interesting question in terms of culture, but from a scientific point of view, if people are pairing up, they're pairing up. It's cultural blinders, I think that makes us differentiate so vehemently between the largely temporary, but official, marriages common in America today and the unofficial "living together" of younger people today.

    I think this speaks also to your criticism of chapter 8, elsewhere on this blog. Essentially, you claims kids don't have the wherewithal for the commitment dimension of love, but I'd argue they're not necessarily any more lacking in that front than adults.

    I also think you miss a third option, which is, instead of repressing sexuality, or confining it to a marriage too early, perhaps it would be better if kids were educated to be responsible, and were allowed to experiment somewhat. Experimentation is a big part of how identity is formed in other areas of life, and we all acknowledge young people should, say, try playing an instrument before deciding to become a musical performer; should try drawing for a while before investing themselves fully in the goal of being a comic book artist. Why should their sexual/romantic lives be any different? And what harm would it do, if they were being responsible and careful and considerate and compassionate to their partners?

    You might have particular religious reasons for thinking so, but I don't, and fail to see any compelling argument against it. (At least, none that couldn't be applied equally well to adults.)

    ReplyDelete