Friday, August 14, 2015

Economic Improvements for Young Adults Not Translating into Living On One's Own

The Pew Research Center issued a late-July report entitled "More Millennials Living With Family Despite Improved Job Market" (link).

The report notes that, "unemployment among 18- to 34-year-olds peaked at 12.4% in 2010. As of the first third of 2015, unemployment among young adults in this age group was 7.7%, nearly 40% below the peak."

Yet, living independently, which Pew defines as "heading one's own household or living in a household headed by a spouse, unmarried partner or other non-relative," has not risen in tandem with the improving news on the jobs front. In fact, living independently has declined somewhat. In 2007, just before the Great Recession, 71% of 18-34 year-olds lived independently, whereas only 67% currently do. (Analyses exclude 18-24 year-old full-time college students.)

Living in one's parents' home has increased from 22% of 18-34 year-olds in 2007 to 26% in 2015.

Another interesting finding, characterized in the report as a "silver lining," is that college enrollment rose during the Great Recession. The report notes that, "College-educated young adults have been quicker to regain the ground they lost in terms of job-holding and wages. But this hasn’t led them to venture out on their own and establish their own households."

If the economy continues to improve, it is possible that large numbers of young adults who have been living with family will finally move out and live independently. Alternatively, there may be no "great move-out." In that event, expanded household size (also known as "accordion families") may be a long-term phenomenon.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book Review: Twenty-Something: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?

I'm pleased to review the book Twenty-Something: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? by the mother-daughter journalist pair of Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig (respectively). I'm pretty sure I received my 2013 paperback version of the book as a complimentary copy from the publisher, given my teaching and research in this area, and I let the book sit for a long time (I'm chronically way behind on books I'm planning to read). I'm glad I got around to Twenty-Something, though.

Some readers of this blog may recall the splashy 2010 New York Times Magazine article on the transition to adulthood, featuring extensive interviews with Jeff Arnett and other researchers (link here). I did not initially make the connection, but Robin was also the author of that Times piece. Twenty-Something represents her attempt, with Samantha brought on board, to provide a book-length treatment of what she had started researching for the Times. Samantha, as a mid-late twenty-something during the book's writing, provides an insider's perspective.

Examples are all around us of young people taking their time to get married and establish a career, moving back home with their parents, and, in some cases, just floundering in general. There also seems to be a fairly widespread belief that such delays and other elements of today's young-adult life are totally new, uncharted territory. Some things, such as social media and Internet dating, unquestionably are new, but that doesn't mean everything is.

What sets this book apart from others on emerging adulthood is its systematic questioning of whether today's extended journey to adulthood is really as unprecedented as it's sometimes made out to be. Other than some authors pointing out that the post-World War II era in the U.S. was notable for its unusually young ages of first marriage,* thus accentuating today's marriage delay, there does not seem to be much critical examination of how new today's emerging-adult lifestyle really is.

Across the domains of education, careers, marriage, childbearing, health-risk behaviors, friendship, and parent-adult child relations, Henig and Henig compare today's young adults (specifically Millennials, who they define as being born between 1980-1990) to the Baby Boomer generation at the same ages. Each domain-specific chapter features a section marshaling arguments for "Now is New," another section making the case for "Same as it Ever Was," and a concluding section in which the authors declare a winner. Not to give away too much, but each side wins some of the time.

In drawing their conclusions, the authors draw both from published academic research and their own snowball survey of Robin's and Sam's friends and associates. The authors' collaborative writing style is also interesting. One of the two (usually Robin) took the lead in writing a given chapter, with the other inserting her own comments (set apart in italics). On the whole, Twenty-Something is informative and entertaining, and I highly recommend it.


*Amato, P. R. (2011). Transitions and sequences: Early family formation among women in emerging adulthood. In F. D. Fincham & M. Cui (Eds.), Romantic relationships in emerging adulthood (pp. 27–43). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: Aspiring Adults Adrift

Educational sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa have followed up their 2011 book Academically Adrift (which I review here) with Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates (2014). The new book, based on follow-up data from the same cohort studied in the earlier book, expands beyond the earlier book's inquiry into students' cognitive gains during college to investigate students' progress two years after graduation in domains such as employment, graduate education, romantic relationships, and living independently.

Some may question the entire premise of Aspiring Adults Adrift on the grounds that two years is too short a time frame to expect college graduates to have made major strides in traditional adult roles. Considering the state of the U.S. economy around the time of the students' 2009 graduation, difficulties establishing oneself in the workforce and other domains would indeed not be surprising.

In addition to providing basic descriptive information (e.g., percentages of graduates who are employed full-time, part-time, and not at all, two years out of college, and what kinds of salary they are making), Arum and Roksa test for correlation between academic aspects of the students' college experiences and their post-college success in the real world. College variables include students' performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA; a major part of Academically Adrift), institutional selectivity, and field of study.

Many of the statistical relationships between college variables and post-college success seemed rather modest. For example, with high and low CLA performance defined as one standard deviation above and below the mean, respectively, roughly 15% of low CLA scorers ended up in unskilled occupations, compared to 10% of high scorers.

Beyond the empiricism, Arum and Roksa have some larger points to make about U.S. higher education. Social aspects of college -- not just the party scene, but putting a high priority on meeting and getting along with fellow students from diverse backgrounds --  appear to be gaining in importance. Academic standards have so declined, the authors argue, that students see mere completion of all assigned work in a class as something noteworthy.

Aspiring Adults Adrift is not without interesting themes. However, for reasons noted above, I would recommend it only for readers with a specialized interest in college-student development.

Friday, December 26, 2014

New York Times: "Is it Smart to Delay Adulthood?"

The New York Times features a "Room for Debate" forum, featuring several expert columnists, on the question "Is it Smart to Delay Adulthood?"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Steinberg: "The Case for Delayed Adulthood"

Today's New York Times features an article by Temple University professor Laurence Steinberg entitled "The Case for Delayed Adulthood" (link). The article focuses on brain development in the context of life experiences, arguing that the longer one can be exposed to novel and challenging situations during the adolescent and emerging-adult years, the better off one will be.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Texas Tech University's "Before I Graduate" Chalkboard

Universities are buzzing with excitement, as the new academic year is about to begin. Texas Tech University (where I'm on the faculty) is no exception. Whether to capture the hopes and dreams of today's youth, or just for fun, or for whatever reason, the university invites students to write what they hope to accomplish "before I graduate," on a large chalkboard in the student union. Thinking that students' aspirations may (or may not) tell us something about emerging adulthood (EA), I took a photograph of the board yesterday. (You may click on the following image to enlarge it.)

Some of the statements reflect academic self-betterment ("I want to learn 3 languages"), whereas others are more whimsical ("Marry Kingsbury," in reference to Texas Tech's heart-throb football coach). One person writes, "I want to be a billionaire," unlikely in general, but especially before graduation!

Jeff Arnett writes in one of his books that EA "tends to be an age of high hopes and great expectations, in part because few of [these individuals'] dreams have been tested in the fires of real life" (p. 16).

Given that the bulk of emerging-adulthood research is on college students (presumably because they're such a readily available source of research participants), it is important to note that EA includes non-college youth, as well. In fact, this latter group has been labeled as the "Forgotten Half," for researchers' and policymakers' relative inattention to it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: The Accordion Family

Katherine Newman's book The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition probes a number of contemporary issues ranging from family dynamics to national economic and immigration policies. The term "accordion family" refers to the idea of households stretching, like an accordion, as grown children live in their family domiciles longer than they have in previous generations. The severe economic downturn of recent years and the continuing lack of jobs for young adults in many countries has likely exacerbated the trend.

Though accordion families seem to be a constant across developed countries (except for Nordic countries such as Denmark and Sweden, which provide government benefits for young adults to secure their own housing), parents in different nations appear to have greatly divergent attitudes toward grown children living so long at home. Japanese parents are horrified, Italian and Spanish parents are more comfortable, and U.S. parents accept the situation as long as their children are attempting to better themselves educationally and occupationally.

Roughly the first half of the book establishes these national differences in depth, with extensive use of excerpts from interviews conducted by Newman's international team of researchers in the different nations. I personally found this part of the book a little dense and tedious, driving home the basic points repeatedly.

Fortunately, I did not give up on the book halfway through. The second half applies a more analytic outlook, examining several key issues in family studies:

*Even though many parents and grown children enjoy each other's companionship and the increasingly egalitarian interactions that take place, what are potential disadvantages of grown children remaining home?

*Will some parents find that the expenses of maintaining an accordion family threaten their retirement savings?

*Do accordion-family dynamics differ depending on whether the grown child is male or female? One of my favorite quotes in the book is the following: "While boomerang women are just as capable of sloth as their brothers or boyfriends, there does seem to be a gender problem afoot here. Young men seem far more likely to drag their feet when it comes to striking out on their own, and they seem less inclined to worry that they are putting their parents, especially their mothers, to a lot of trouble..." (p. 142).

*Is there an inherent trade-off between economic independence and social-affectional bonds? In other words, do the government policies that allow children in Nordic countries to move out of the family home at a young age (potentially a good thing) have the unintended consequence of making members of the different generations more socially distant from each other? Or conversely, does the banding together of accordion families in response to economic difficulties (potentially a stressful experience) promote emotional closeness?

*Whether grown children's boomerang lifestyle is a cause, consequence, or correlate of delayed marriage and childbearing, low birthrates threaten the future tax base for countries' old-age pension plans (e.g., Social Security in the U.S.). As Newman discusses, the nations featured in the book vary widely in their openness to immigration, which (intentionally or not) allows high-immigration countries to maintain their population size. Native-born residents' attitudes toward the immigrants sometimes create a new source of friction, however.

*When boomerang parents' own parents begin to require extensive caregiving, will the challenges of "sandwich generation" status intensify? (What would the field of family studies be like without all these cute nicknames?)

I think it's clear that governments and families in many countries face important long-term decisions and Newman does an excellent job of framing them. I will be interested to see if future authors extend the analysis beyond the narrow band of economically advanced countries examined in The Accordion Family to a broader array of nations.