growing up is harder to do
frank f. furstenberg, jr., sheela kennedy, vonnie c. mcloyd,
rubén g. rumbaut and richard a. settersten, jr.
Contexts, Vol. 3, Issue 3, pp. 33-41, ISSN 1536-5042 electronic ISSN 153-6052© 2004 by the American Sociological Association. All rights reserved. Send requests
for permission to reprint to: Rights and Permissions, University of California Press, Journals Division, 2000 Center Street, Suite 303, Berkeley, CA 94704-1223.
In the past several decades, a new life stage has emerged: early adulthood. No longer adolescents, but not yet ready to
assume the full responsibilities of an adult, many young people are caught between needing to learn advanced job skills
and depending on their family to support them during the transition.
In the years after World War II, Americans typically
assumed the full responsibilities of adulthood by their late
teens or early 20s. Most young men had completed school
and were working full-time, and most young women were
married and raising children. People who grew up in this era
of growing affluence—many of today’s grandparents—were
economically self-sufficient and able to care for others by the
time they had weathered adolescence. Today, adulthood no
longer begins when adolescence ends. Ask someone in their
early 20s whether they consider themselves to be an adult,
and you might get a laugh, a quizzical look, a shrug of the
shoulders, or a response like that of a 24-year-old Californian:
“Maybe next year. When I’m 25.”
Social scientists are beginning to recognize a new phase of
life: early adulthood. Some features of this stage resemble
coming of age during the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
In 1954, this father and mother (the mother’s brother-in-law is on the left) were in their
early 20s, married, living in their own home and supported by the father’s income. By
the time the mother was 24, they had had two more children. Their daughter, 2-years-old
at the time of this photo, married when she was 26 and had her first child when she was
33, a second when she was 37.
Photo courtesy of Lynne Hollingsworth