On the Frontier of Adulthood: Theory, Research, and Public Policy

On the Frontier of Adulthood: Theory, Research, and Public Policy

On the Frontier of Adulthood: Theory, Research, and Public Policy

On the Frontier of Adulthood: Theory, Research, and Public Policy


On the Frontier of Adulthoodreveals a startling new fact: adulthood no longer begins when adolescence ends. A lengthy period before adulthood, often spanning the twenties and even extending into the thirties, is now devoted to further education, job exploration, experimentation in romantic relationships, and personal development. Pathways into and through adulthood have become much less linear and predictable, and these changes carry tremendous social and cultural significance, especially as institutions and policies aimed at supporting young adults have not kept pace with these changes. This volume considers the nature and consequences of changes in early adulthood by drawing upon a wide variety of historical and contemporary data from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Especially dramatic shifts have occurred in the conventional markers of adulthood--leaving home, finishing school, getting a job, getting married, and having children--and in how these experiences are configured as a set. These accounts reveal how the process of becoming an adult has changed over the past century, the challenges faced by young people today, and what societies can do to smooth the transition to adulthood. "This book is the most thorough, wide-reaching, and insightful analysis of the new life stage of early adulthood."--Andrew Cherlin, Johns Hopkins University

"From West to East, young people today enter adulthood in widely diverse ways that affect their life chances. This book provides a rich portrait of this journey-an essential font of knowledge for all who care about the younger generation."--Glen H. Elder Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"On the Frontier of Adulthoodadds considerably to our knowledge about the transition from adolescence to adulthood.... It will indeed be the definitive resource for researchers for years to come. Anyone working in the area--whether in demography, sociology, economics, or developmental psychology--will wish to make use of what is gathered here."--John Modell, Brown University

"This is a must-read for scholars and policymakers who are concerned with the future of today's youth and will become a touchpoint for an emerging field of inquiry focused on adult transitions."--Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University


Frank F. Furstenberg jr., RUBÉN G. rumbaut, and richard A. settersten jr.

Since the publication of Phillipe Ariès's Centuries of Childhood (1962), social historians and scholars of human development have debated how, when, and why distinct life “stages” are created and culturally defined. It is now commonly understood that economic and social conditions in tandem create categories such as childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and old age that are recognized and reified in popular discourse. Ideas about life periods are rooted in social structural changes that give rise to new behaviors. They come about as inventions or solutions to structural dilemmas created when social change renders old practices unworkable or, in common parlance, out of fashion. in modern societies, these new patterns are often swiftly diffused in the form of new social norms, institutional arrangements, social affiliations, and personal identities.

This sort of change occurred in the early part of the last century when Stanley Hall (1904) “discovered” adolescence, a term applied to describe a “new life stage.” the idea of a period of life between childhood and adulthood was quickly adopted in the United States because it seemed to fit the circumstances of young people at a time when public schooling was becoming universal, as the economic base of the nation moved away from agriculture toward industry, and as younger teens were no longer as readily suited . . .

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