Thursday, July 12, 2007

Emerging Adulthood

Stumbled across this interesting book, Emerging Adulthood online last week. Dr. Arnett investigates this period of our lives where we're no longer adolescents, but not quite adults yet. Admittedly this only demonstrates my narcissism since this is the stage of life where I'm at right now. I'm conscious that in many settings, what's being described here can only be seen as a privilege. It's written from a sociological perspective, I think, and while it's mainly applied to the American scene, I thought quite a lot of what I read would make sense to anyone living in an urban setting worldwide.

Here's a few choice quotes:

For today’s young people, the road to adulthood is a long one. They leave home at age 18 or 19, but most do not marry, become parents, and find a long-term job until at least their late twenties. From their late teens to their late twenties they explore the possibilities available to them in love and work, and move gradually toward making enduring choices. Such freedom to explore different options is exciting, and this period is a time of high hopes and big dreams. However, it is also a time of anxiety and uncertainty, because the lives of young people are so unsettled, and many of them have no idea where their explorations will lead. They struggle with uncertainty even as they revel in being freer than they ever were in childhood or ever will be once they take on the full weight of adult responsibilities. may be that the most important reason of all for the rise in the typical ages of entering marriage and parenthood is less tangible than changes in sexual behavior or more years spent in college and graduate school. There has been a profound change in how young people view the meaning and value of becoming an adult and entering the adult roles of spouse and parent...

The young people of today, in contrast, see adulthood and its obligations in quite a different light. In their late teens and early twenties, marriage, home, and hildren are seen by most of them not as achievements to be pursued but as perils to be avoided. It is not that they do not want marriage, a home, and (one or two) children—eventually. Most of them do want to take on all of these adult obligations, and most of them will have done so by the time they reach age 30. It is just that, in their late teens and early twenties, they ponder these obligations and think, “Yes, but not yet.” Adulthood and its obligations offer security and stability, but they also represent a closing of doors—the end of independence, the end of spontaneity, the end of a sense of wide-open possibilities.
[I know a lot of my friends and I, subconsiously or not, think this way to varying degrees]

Although the rise of emerging adulthood is partly a consequence of the rising ages of marriage and parenthood, marriage ages were also relatively high early in the 20th century and throughout the 19th century. What is different now is that young people are freer than they were in the past to use the intervening years, between the end of secondary school and entry into marriage and parenthood, to explore a wide range of different possible future paths. Young people of the past were constricted in a variety of ways, from gender roles to economics, which prevented them from using their late teens and twenties for exploration. In contrast, today’s emerging adults have unprecedented freedom.
Not all of them have an equal portion of it, to be certain. Some live in conditions of deprivation that make any chance of exploring life options severely limited, at best. However, as a group, they have more freedom for exploration than young people in times past.

There are five main features [of emerging adulthood]:

1. It is the age of identity explorations, of trying out various possibilities, especially in love and work.
2. It is the age of instability.
3. It is the most self-focused age of life.
4. It is the age of feeling in-between, in transition, neither adolescent
nor adult.
5. It is the age of possibilities, when hopes flourish, when people
have an unparalleled opportunity to transform their lives.

You can read the whole of chapter 1 in its entirety. I guess some of these isn't really new. Certainly I can identify in general with what's being said here (although hopefully I'm fighting against the tendency to be self-centred!). But anyway, if you're at a similar stage in life, what are your thoughts?

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