Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

The Emerging Adulthood Years: Finding One’s Way in Career and Intimate Love Relationships

Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

The Emerging Adulthood Years: Finding One’s Way in Career and Intimate Love Relationships

Article excerpt

Many emerging adults were described as having difficulties taking their first steps into the adult world (Arnett 2004; Settersten and Ray 2010). These difficulties are manifested in postponement of developmental transitions, and an increased likelihood of oscillation between transitory and inconsistent states (Cohen et al., 2003). Fluctuations have mainly been perceived from a deficit model (European Group for Integrated Social Research [EGRIS] 2001; Maxwell 2006). This study aims to understand the meaning of fluctuations within the domains of work and love among young people. Does the longer road to a stable job or romantic commitment represent personal difficulties that result in floundering (Maxwell 2006), or do these instabilities rather represent experimentation and trying different options within a process of reorganization of different functions into a new, integrated form of adult organization (Mayes 2001; Knight 2011)? Employing a multimethod approach, this study explores the diverse pathways of career pursuit and development, as well as the progress into stable, intimate, and committed romantic relationships, and the extent to which a pathway is adaptive or maladaptive. Finally, the study also examines individual and family precursors of the different work and love developmental pathways.

Statistics and demographic studies from industrialized countries have shown that the period during which emerging adults assume adult responsibilities has moved to the end of the third decade of life (Côté 2000; Arnett 2004; Settersten and Ray 2010). This change has become more substantial and is not only reflected in the postponement of various developmental tasks. It is common to find emerging adults who have less clearly articulated occupational goals and unfocused strategies for negotiating the transition (Evans and Heinz 1994), and observation of the lives of many young people shows that they might move between transitory and inconsistent states (Cohen et al. 2003). For example, they might find a job, decide on an occupation, renounce this later, return to further training or education, and pursue a different occupation. In between these, they might oscillate between periods of work and unemployment (Arnett 2004).

Similarly, as the age of marriage has moved toward the thirties, the majority of emerging adults also move between transitory and inconsistent states with regard to their intimate love relationships (EGRIS 2001). For example, relational instabilities such as "hooking up" and "friends with benefits" have recently appeared as common forms of romantic engagement among emerging adults (Paul and Hayes 2002; Gute and Eshbaugh 2008; Puentes, Knox, and Zusman 2008). Even cohabitation, which in the past often led to commitment and marriage, has become just another form of a nonstable relational pattern for many emerging adults (Manning and Smock 2005).

The decreasing number of emerging adults who make a smooth and linear transition to adulthood has led to ideas that frame young adulthood as a stage of confusion that does not necessarily end (Côté 2000). Instabilities can, however, also be understood differently. Discussing educational instabilities, te Riele (2004) suggested that a detour from education does not necessarily lead to a negative experience. Although some emerging adults benefit from their studies, others find they benefit from their time away from schooling in terms of valuable life experiences and improved motivation. They might start a project or find an occupation that requires much time and effort, and yields an amount of reward that renders studying obsolete. Others might be employed in "side jobs" that require few skills, but also find some work in other fields that is meaningful for them. Others might complete their studies and start working in the field of their schooling, but later find that this does not fulfill their expectations of life. Consequently, they might pursue other fields of study, while taking advantage of their nonformal learning capabilities in the interim. …

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