Another unquantified, undocumented thumbnail history of youth

Even if some traditional milestones are never reached, one thing is clear: Getting to what we would generally call adulthood is happening later than ever.

via What Is It About 20-Somethings? – NYTimes.com

And then, while writing a long article about this supposedly new "emerging adulthood" stage of life, freelance science reporter Robin Marantz Henig fails to provide any solid evidence beyond a few anecdotes and interviews with a single researcher, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett.

Henig discusses G. Stanley Hall and his 1903 work Adolescence as a sort of intellectual history, to note that Arnett isn't the first to try to assert a new stage of life. She does so without noting the irony: Hall's adolescent age included a substantial part of Arnett's emerging adulthood.

Henig's a talented writer, and I wish she had done more to discuss what evidence exists as opposed to the conclusory quotations she draws from Arnett and a friendly skeptic, Richard Lerner.

But wait: for those five transitions Henig mentions (finishing school, moving away, getting a job, pair-bonding, having kids), there should be a way to test Henig's claim. Unfortunately, like so many others, she sets her benchmark in the immediate post-WW2 years, when early marriage and low childlessness helped define the Baby Boom. I wish I had time to spend this week checking the central tendency measures for those transitions. But I suspect the picture is more complicated than Henig (or Arnett) asserted.

Incidentally, my older child is going through one of those transitions this week, as she starts college in Pennsylvania. I read articles like Henig's, or ones about helicopter parents, and shake my head. My daughter is more than ready to go.

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2 responses to “Another unquantified, undocumented thumbnail history of youth”

  1. Tina Collins

    Hi Sherman! You may want to check out the article I co-authored a few years back – we used census data to make exactly that point, as well as noting the very different experiences of African American young people.

    Stanger-Ross, Jordan, Collins, Christina, & Stern, Mark J. Falling Far from the Tree: Transitions to Adulthood and the Social History of Twentieth-Century America. Social Science History – Volume 29, Number 4, Winter 2005, pp. 625-648.

  2. CCPhysicist

    I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to even suspect that this article might have been written based on a press release intended to promote that specific author’s work. No, journalists have never used (or been used by) press releases. [snark off]

    I’d be hard pressed to imagine that anything in that story would fail to describe my generation … and I am older than you are.