Becoming an Adult in America: What Does It Mean and How It Has Changed in the Past 20 Years?


Using a life course perspective, I examine changes that occurred in the past two decades in the process of becoming an adult by comparing two cohorts of U.S. adolescents, one born in the 1960s and the other born in the early 1980s. The study uses data from the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth. I use hierarchical latent class models that examine pathways to adulthood for the two cohorts in a holistic fashion, taking into account the relationships between various roles teenagers and young adults occupy simultaneously, as well as how they unfold over the life course. I test two hypotheses. First, the transition to adulthood has changed so that it is less predictable, less collectively determined, less stable, less orderly, and more individualized. I find no support for this hypothesis, as the life course in the later cohort has become less diverse, more orderly and more concentrated in to fewer life pathways compared to the earlier cohort. Second, "emerging adulthood" hypothesis refers to the appearance of a new intermediate life stage in people's lives between that of adolescence and that of adulthood. My results strongly support the emerging adulthood hypothesis indicating that those in their early to mid twenties today (the later cohort) are much less likely at every age than the members of the earlier cohort to occupy adult roles. Females in both cohorts are more likely than males to follow pathways involving family formation, while males are more likely than females to follow pathways of successful employment. Whites have increased their advantage compared to blacks and Hispanics in terms of the likelihood of following pathways of independence from parents and successful employment. Hispanics have gotten closer to blacks between the two cohorts by increasing their likelihood of following the single parenthood pathway. Finally, the dissertation shows that the pathways affect mental health (depression). In the earlier cohort, having a family (spouse and children) was essential to mental health. In contrast, in the later cohort, mental health is not dependent anymore on family transitions, if the rest of life course is successful.
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2011)


Minca, Elisabeta, "Becoming an Adult in America: What Does It Mean and How It Has Changed in the Past 20 Years?" (2011). Sociology Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.