The discovery that the transition to adulthood is increasingly complicated and extended has prompted many social scientists to see it as a distinct phase in the life course. But while scholars have learned a great deal about the objective dimensions of this new "young" or "emerging" adulthood, we know very little about how it is understood and experienced by young people themselves. This paper begins to fill that gap, drawing on a new battery of intensive interviews with selected participants in the University of Minnesota's Youth Development Study (YDS). Focusing on respondents' subjective conceptions of adulthood, understandings of conventional milestones, and visions of aging and success, we suggest that young people today see themselves entering a new phase of life - a dynamic, constantly unfolding package of social roles and personal qualities. This "new adulthood" is seen as an alternative to and improvement on the static, stoic, and stagnant adulthood of their parents' generation, although whether it is seen as a new and distinct phase in the life course remains open to question. These findings not only capture the expressed understandings of adulthood emerging among those in their late twenties, but also allow us to reflect on recent economic and cultural transformations in the postindustrial United States.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This chapter is part of the Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood and Public Policy's qualitative initiative funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Grant No. 00-65719-HCD) and headed by Frank Furstenberg at the University of Pennsylvania ( http://www.pop.upenn.edu/transad ). We thank the members of the Network and the qualitative research group, especially: Mary Waters, Ruben Rumbaut, Jennifer Holdaway, Maria Kafalas, Patrick Carr, and Rick Settersten. We thank Jeylan Mortimer, P.I. of the Youth Development Study and co-investigator of the Minnesota site of the Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (“Work Experience and Mental Health: A Panel Study of Youth,” MH 42843) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD44138), and the NIMH-NRSA Training Grant “Mental Health and Adjustment in the Life Course.” As noted in the text, some of the ideas that are the focus of this chapter were originally sketched out and used to frame a site paper co-authored with Jeylan Mortimer who graciously allowed us to develop and extend these ideas for present purposes. We also wish to thank Ross Macmillan, Lorie Schabo Grabowski, Pamela Aronson, and Melissa Weiner for helpful comments and other assistance.