Exploring Cultural Conceptions of the Transition to Adulthood

Exploring Cultural Conceptions of the Transition to Adulthood

Exploring Cultural Conceptions of the Transition to Adulthood

Exploring Cultural Conceptions of the Transition to Adulthood


The transition to adulthood has been studied for decades in terms of transition events such as leaving home, finishing education, and entering marriage and parenthood, but only recently have studies examined the conceptions of young people themselves on what it means to become an adult. The goal of this volume is to extend the study of conceptions of adulthood to a wider range of cultures.

The chapters in this volume examine conceptions of adulthood among Israelis, Argentines, American Mormons, Germans, Canadians, and three American ethnic minority groups. There is a widespread emphasis across cultures on individualistic criteria for adulthood, but each culture has been found to emphasize culturally distinctive criteria as well. This volume represents a beginning in research on cultural conceptions of the transition to adulthood and points the way to a broad range of opportunities for future investigation.

This is the 100th issue of the quarterly report New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.


This chapter examines the conceptions of adulthood of
adolescents, emerging adults, and parents of adolescents
in Israel. It shows a general consensus regarding the
important markers of adulthood (similar to American
middle-class conceptions) while identifying several
cultural, age, and gender differences

Ofra Mayseless, Miri Scharf

What criteria are most important in signifying adult status? Are there universal commonly held conceptions regarding adulthood, or are these conceptions cultural and context bound?

In a series of studies of Americans, Arnett (1994, 1997, 1998, 2000) identified several major domains of markers of adulthood. First, biological or age-related attributes were identified as relevant to ascribing an adult status. These include reaching a certain age, the biological capacity to bear children, and growing to full height. Age-related attributes may also include passing societal age restrictions such as the legal age to obtain a driving license or to drink alcohol. Second, drawing on sociological observations (Hogan and Astone, 1986), role transitions such as marriage, independent residence, being employed full time, and parenting were also identified as possible criteria for the depiction of a person as an adult. In most traditional societies, the adoption of these roles was identified as the major marker of achieving adulthood (Schlegel and Barry, 1991). Third, in line with these external social markers, the relevant family capacities related to marriage and parenthood were also identified as indicators of adulthood (Gilmore, 1990). These include such capacities as providing for a family, protecting one’s family, managing a household, and caring for children.

Besides the biological and societal considerations, two psychological aspects were described as well. The first has been described in the developmental literature as the culmination of the separation and individuation process (Arnett, 2001; Blos, 1967; Hoffman, 1984) and involves the negotiation of a mature and equal stance in relation to parents and the capacity to make independent decisions and to care for oneself. The second may be described . . .

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