What’s Going on with Young People Today? The Long and Twisting Path to Adulthood


Richard A. Settersten Jr. and Barbara Ray; The Future of Children

This report takes a look at what its researchers call “the lengthening transition” to adulthood for Americans, comparing data from the early 20th century to the trends among today’s young adults.

The transition into adulthood as described in this report comprises five main events: leaving home, completing school, entering the workforce, getting married and having children. The authors argue, however, that economic and social changes over the past few decades have made achieving these milestones at an early age increasingly uncommon, and in some cases, difficult.

The report examines adult-transitioning behaviors from various points in American history. It refers to World War II, an era in which marriage and childbearing took place “almost in lockstep with the conclusion of schooling,” and with whose postwar period came an influx of high-paying industrial jobs. The report notes that young adults are less likely to find themselves in similar situations today, and instead, their early years involve the pursuit of higher education and professional degrees.

It also includes findings from the 2002 General Social Survey, an opinion poll given to 1,400 American adults, which asked participants to rate the aforementioned events in importance. Over 95 percent of respondents considered completing school, establishing an independent household, and being employed full-time the most important markers of adulthood. It is noted that these ideals, in comparison with behavioral trends of the same age group in the 1950s, now are considered life choices that complete adulthood, while in the past, they were requirements that started it.

With the increasing difficulty with which young Americans today are making quick transition into adulthood, the report suggests that existing institutions must develop to accommodate this new, longer reality.

Free, 23 pages.



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