Archive for the ‘statistics’ Category
When does a person become an adult? What is adulthood, and why does it matter? How have the answers to these questions changed over time, and what do the changes mean for American society? How should civic institutions respond?
These fascinating questions are the subject of Transition to Adulthood, the latest in a research series called The Future of Children published by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School (my alma mater) and the Brookings Institution. This anthology of 10 essays does not answer all those questions. In fact, it doesn’t seem to recognize that some exist; but, it does provide valuable insight into demographic trends and policy responses.
Why review it here? Because, according to one of the authors,
Becoming an adult has traditionally been understood as comprising five core transitions – leaving home, completing school, entering the workforce, getting married, and having children.
Today… only about half of Americans consider it necessary to marry or have children to be regarded as an adult.
The question begs so hard it practically jumps off the page: should marriage and parenthood still be understood as markers of adulthood by researchers and policy makers? Amazingly, none of the 19 authors in this anthology seem interested in changing their traditional understanding. For example, one lists women’s tendency “to delay marriage and parenthood” as a factor that has “helped to delay and complicate the passage to adulthood.” Even the use of “transition” (singular) in the book’s title suggests the authors’ devotion to the idea of one right way to become an adult, despite the rich diversity of reality which their data describe so well.
Equally amazing, none of the authors unpack the implied moral or normative value of adulthood; no one explains why it matters. Of course, I’d rather live in a country where my fellow adults act like adults, not like children. But my common sense definition of “acting like an adult” has little to do with the “five core transitions.” A book that recommends governmental and civic action towards a goal ought to justify why that goal is good for individuals and society. Instead, the closest it comes to explaining why adulthood matters is to describe the negative
consequences of the extended transition. … [F]irst … the growing burden placed on the middle- and lower-income families who were providing their children with schooling, housing, health insurance and income well beyond the age range of 18 – 21, the traditional age of majority. … [S]econd… the unexpected strain being imposed on key social institutions.
One thing the anthology does very well is highlight the different life patterns experienced by people of different gender, race/ethnicity, economic class and immigration history. For example, it cites one study of children of immigrants who (rather than becoming a long-term burden) provide regular or even total financial support to their parents, and another study finding that children of immigrants “differed in several ways from conventional American norms of departing the parental household and setting up a separate home.”
Another question begged: whose norms are “conventional?” A different essay mentions that “youth and parents from less-advantaged families continue to favor an earlier departure from the home than do those of more advantaged means.” Furthermore, “women are typically younger than men when they leave home because they complete college earlier, form cohabiting unions earlier, and marry about two years earlier, on average, than men.” However, “young mothers who do not enter a union before bearing a child typically remain in the parental home for several years and receive financial support and child care from their parents.”
What Transition to Adulthood does best is provide heaps of fascinating data. Here are just a few highlights about marriage and its alternatives: “About half of high school seniors say that they plan to cohabit as couples before they marry. … By age 34, 7 in 10 have tied the knot. … [T]he percentages of people who have never married, and who are intentionally childless, are higher now than at any other time in American history….”
Given this nation’s obsession with marriage and parenting – and our politicians’ willingness to legislate behavior – I was especially struck by the fact that, while there are many studies of people who are relatively rich or poor, “[r]esearchers know far less about the family formation patterns of young adults who grow up in families with modest resources.” Isn’t that the majority of us? I was also glad to see recognition that “young people who can build stronger and wider connections to adults other than parents (for example, teachers and adult mentors) also end up faring better than those who do not.” (emphasis in original)
With essays on education, labor, the military, civic engagement and “vulnerable populations,” as well as the immigration and family formation sections I’ve highlighted, Transition to Adulthood offers plenty of food for thought. I do hope that its target audience of “policy makers, practitioners and the media” will dig into the rich details and give more thought to what adulthood is, how people get there, and why it matters. Otherwise, we’ll end up with more legal carrots and sticks, more media hype, and less real help to build a society where we all can thrive.
Season’s Greetings from the Alternatives to Marriage Project
May Your New Year be Merry and Bright!
*The Census estimates that, from 2006-2008, in all the homes in the U.S., 27% were occupied by people living alone (15% women and 12% men); 27% by married couples without children; 23% by spouses with children; 5% by unmarried different-sex couples and 1% same-sex couples (with or without kids); and 17% were completely different kinds of friends and families.
I get bi-weekly emails from Gay & Lesbian Leadership SmartBrief. Sometimes I don’t read them right away, so I missed my chance to vote in their latest reader poll. So add one to the results, which show nearly 20% of self-identified leaders are not interested in marriage.
Given what we know about American demographics, it’s likely that a much, much higher percentage of average gay and lesbian people are also not interested in marriage. I’m all for everyone having the right to marry, but I’d be delighted to see more resources flowing towards securing other rights: health care, economic security, housing, etc!
The poll question: Where will you get married? The results:
|In my state, when it’s legal.||63.29%|
|I’m not interested in marriage.||18.68%|
Whether you’re heading back to high school, college or grad school, as a student, teaching assistant or professor, wouldn’t you like to be handed something useful, unique, and completely free? Here’s our gift to you!
Statistics and expert commentary: are you gathering comprehensive data for a research report, or looking for one zinger to win a family argument? Turn to AtMP! As always, our goal is to be the most current, relevant, objective and non-judgmental site for information about unmarried Americans on the web. Check out what’s new in the Facts and Fun section of our website and tell us what you think. Then tell your friends – the public debate about un/marriage will only improve when more people have the facts.
Liven up your campus: inspired by our friends at the National Marriage Boycott, we’ve listed lots of resources and some guidelines to help you start a campus chapter. What else can we do to help you? We’re open to your ideas.
Only duds on campus? Meet like-minded people online: AtMP’s Facebook group has nearly 500 members, as does the social network at National Marriage Boycott. Our email listserve has over 500 members (mostly not the same people). And our virtual book club has nearly 50 members. There’s always someone to talk to!