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furstenbergetal-growingup - feature article frank f...

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summer 2004 contexts 33 growing up is harder to do feature article 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
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contexts summer 2004 34 when youth lingered in a state of semi-autonomy, waiting until they were sufficiently well-off to marry, have children and establish an independent household. However, there are important differences in how young people today define and achieve adulthood from those of both the recent and the more distant past. This new stage is not merely an extension of adoles- cence, as has been maintained in the mass media. Young adults are physically mature and often possess impressive intellectual, social and psychological skills. Nor are young people today reluctant to accept adult responsibilities. Instead, they are busy building up their educational creden-
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