Monday, August 5, 2013

New York Times Article on College Women's "Hook-Ups"

The New York Times ran a lengthy article on college women's sexual "hook-ups," a few weeks ago, based on interviews with several dozen female students at the University of Pennsylvania. A key theme of the article is that young women, or at least those at this Ivy League institution, are so single-mindedly devoted to acquiring the skills and credentials for a high-powered career that they show little apparent interest in full-fledged romantic relationships. Instead, they confine their romantic/sexual activity to less time-consuming hook-ups. One student is quoted as saying, “If I’m sober, I’m working.”

The article's author also interviews several researchers of hooking-up. One is Elizabeth Armstrong, a University of Michigan sociology professor. The Times article summarizes one of Armstrong's major arguments thusly:

Increasingly, [Armstrong] said, many privileged young people see college as a unique life stage in which they don’t — and shouldn’t — have obligations other than their own self-development.

This observation is, of course, very much in line with one of Jeff Arnett's five facets of Emerging Adulthood, namely that it is a time of self-focus (see Chapter 1 of Arnett's [2004] textbook, which is free online). According to Arnett, "To say that emerging adulthood is a self-focused time is not meant pejoratively... The goal of their self-focusing is self-sufficiency, learning to stand alone as a self-sufficient person, but they do not see self-sufficiency as a permanent state. Rather, they view it as a necessary step before committing themselves to enduring relationships with others, in love and work" (pp. 13-14).

In research I conducted with Arnett and my Texas Tech colleague Malinda Colwell, we developed a measure of the five Emerging Adulthood facets. The self-focus subscale asks respondents the extent to which this time of their life can be characterized by phrases such as "personal freedom," "responsibility for yourself," "self-sufficiency," and "focusing on yourself." We also have a subscale called other-focus, which is not part of the primary concept of Emerging Adulthood, but instead represents a counterpoint to self-focus. Items on the other-focus subscale include "settling down," "responsibility for others," and "commitment to others."

We have found in some of our studies that self-focus tends to be highest in 18-23 year-olds, a little lower in 24-29 year-olds, and lower still among respondents in their 30s and beyond. In contrast, other-focus tends to be lowest in 18-23 year-olds, and incrementally higher in the 24-29 and 30-39 age groups. Other-focus appears to decline somewhat among people in their 40s and 50s, perhaps because some of them may live in "empty nest" households.

Toward the end of the Times article, the author alludes to an alternative perspective, one that urges young people to be open to early marriage and focuses on "the support that young couples could provide each other as they faced the challenges of early adulthood."

Statistically, early marriage is associated with increased probability of divorce. However, according to the 2011 book Premarital Sex in America, by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, "Most sociological evaluations of early marriage note that the link between age-at-marriage and divorce is strongest among those who marry as teenagers (in other words, before age 20). Marriages that begin at age 20, 21, or 22 are not nearly so likely to end in divorce as most Americans presume" (p. 180).

Later marriages are probably best for some people, whereas earlier marriages are probably best for others. One might say that, for any individual, wisdom is knowing which option will lead to the greatest stability, growth, and fulfillment.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

National Survey of Parents of Emerging Adults

Jeff Arnett and his collaborators have followed up their survey of emerging adults, which was released earlier this year, with a new poll of parents of emerging adults. Release of the poll coincides with publication of Arnett's new book, When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?

USA Today ran an article last week on the new poll of parents, focusing on how positively most parents report their relationships with their emerging-adult children to be. I was one of the emerging-adulthood researchers interviewed for the article. In addition to the "helicopter parent" aspect about which I was quoted, another area that interested me is how parents view the elongated path to adulthood characteristic of recent generations. According to the article:

When asked about the general trend of young people taking longer to reach adulthood, the parents are less positive than they are about their own kids: 44% say it is both positive and negative, 43% say it is negative, and 13% say it is positive.

I'm not surprised to learn that a large proportion of parents (44%) see the delayed transition to adulthood as a mixed bag. I am surprised, however, that unmitigated negative views are so much more common than purely positive ones. One reason for my surprise is that, to some extent, some parents may be encouraging their children to go slow when it comes to certain adult transitions, making it seem contradictory for them also to frown upon it.

In their 2011 book, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker cite parental discouragement of their children marrying early as one reason, among others, for the latter's delayed entry into marriage (pp 188-189). Other research shows that increasing percentages of parents over the years have endorsed the view that a college education is "very important." Presumably these parents are encouraging their children to seek advanced learning, which also tends to delay marriage and childbearing.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Academic Journal "Emerging Adulthood" Debuts

The journal Emerging Adulthood, published by Sage, has just released its first issue. In honor of the occasion, all articles in this edition are free in full text. Click here for the Table of Contents of the inaugural issue.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Arnett, Clark University Release National Survey of Emerging Adults (18-29 Year-Olds)

Jeff Arnett and Clark University have released a national survey of 18-29 year-olds (link to report). The survey of approximately 1,000 respondents, conducted in April 2012, is described in the report as being "generally representative" of Americans at large in the target age range. Only 100 of the participants were interviewed via traditional landline telephone calls, with the rest roughly split between cell-phone and Internet participation. Mode of contact is important because landline use is quickly decreasing, especially among younger people; however, how the researchers arrived at the above proportions of landline, cell, and Internet interviews was not described.

The report provides data on responses to single items (e.g., "This time of my life is fun and exciting"), rather than multiple-item scales. Arnett characterizes participants' life outlooks as reflecting "mixed emotions." Notably, negative/pessimistic statements had the greatest endorsement among the youngest respondents (18-21 years old), with progressively less endorsement among 22-25 and 26-29 year-olds.

Another section of the survey asked questions that have long been a staple of Arnett's research, namely whether individuals considered themselves to have reached adulthood (yes, no, or yes in some ways and no in others) and what criteria they identify for reaching adulthood. Other areas examined include relations with parents, education, employment, and close relationships.

One miscellaneous finding I found interesting was the endorsement by 35% of respondents that, “If I could have my way, I would never become an adult.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NCFMR Reports on "Young Adults in the Parental Home"

The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University has issued a report entitled "Young Adults in the Parental Home, 1940-2010" (link). The report uses U.S. Census data, primarily, to plot living-at-home percentages by gender, age (18-24 vs. 25-34), and marital status. In general, young adults living in their parents' house was quite common in 1940, declined until 1960, and then showed very gradual increases over the next 50 years.

Interestingly, the percentages of single male and female 18-24 year-olds living in their parents' home as of the most recent data (54% and 50%, respectively) are lower than in 1980, although there was a slight uptick from 2000-2010. For 18-24 year-old married adults, in contrast, there has been a dramatic rise in co-residence with parents from 1980 (6% of men, 5% of women) to 2010 (21% and 20%, respectively).

Sunday, November 11, 2012

U.S. Youth Voters Surprise Pundits By Nearly Duplicating 2008 Showing

One of the key factors apparently responsible for the re-election of U.S. president Barack Obama last Tuesday is the youth vote, both in the number of young people who turned out to vote and in their strong preference for Obama.

Two measures of a group's electoral participation are its share of the electorate, the fraction of all voters who belonged to the focal group; and turnout, the percentage of eligible members of the group who voted (formulas to calculate each of these figures are available here).

According to the research group CIRCLE, which studies youth civic engagement, an estimated 50% of eligible 18-29 year-olds voted in the 2012 election. This figure is only slightly shy of the 52% turnout of this age group in 2008.

Further, 18-29 year-olds comprised 19% of the 2012 electorate, according to exit polls reported by CNN.com. In 2008, the 18-29 group made up 18% of voters.

CIRCLE director Peter Levine was quoted as follows: “Confounding almost all predictions, the youth vote held up in 2012 and yet again was the deciding factor in determining which candidate was elected President of the United States.”

In the closing weeks of the 2012 campaign, several observers suggested that many young Obama voters from 2008 were now becoming "disillusioned" with the President, and would either switch to voting for the Republican Mitt Romney or skip voting altogether (here, here, and here).

Instead, voters age 18-29 gave Obama a strong majority over Romney last Tuesday, 60% to 37%. This year's pro-Obama margin among the young was not quite as extreme as his 66%-32% rout of Republican John McCain in 2008, but was still decisive.

In fact, CIRCLE contends that the 18-29 year-old vote was crucial to Obama's victories last Tuesday in the crucial swing states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

A full analysis of why young people turned out to vote and cast their ballots so heavily for Obama is, of course, beyond the scope of this blog posting. I do have a few thoughts, though. First, considering that the difficulty of first establishing oneself in today's tough job market falls heavily on the young, it really does seem remarkable that this group supported the president in such large numbers. Counteracting the economic issues, it may have been young voters' social tolerance that led them (largely) to stick with Obama. For example, young adults appear to be quite accepting and supportive of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. In addition, the Obama campaign's apparent sophistication with database consolidation and social media likely helped with outreach to young voters.

UPDATE 11/12/2012: The Huffington Post has a nice article on the youth vote, featuring interviews with a political scientist and youth organizers from various political perspectives.

UPDATE 11/28/2012: The Pew Research Center provides an in-depth analysis of exit-poll data and some of its own findings on young voters.

UPDATE 5/16/2013: Based on the U.S. Census Bureau's recently released report on last November's Current Population Survey, it appears that 18-29 year-olds may have comprised more like 15% of the 2012 electorate than the 19% described above. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Studying Emerging Adulthood within an Erikson-Stage Framework

I recently came across a May 2012 doctoral dissertation by Alicia Victoria Patterson at the University of Texas, Arlington (link). In her dissertation, the newly minted Dr. Patterson coined a new Eriksonian-type dilemma (also known as a conflict, dialectic, or crisis) for Emerging Adulthood, titled Incarnation vs. Impudence. If I can offer my own, down-to-earth paraphrase, the dilemma is that of seriously planning and working toward a responsible adult life vs. living frivolously. Patterson cogently articulates the meaning of the dilemma on pages 40-41 of her dissertation:

During this crisis, emerging adults may assume responsibility for handling adult-level problems and make concrete, realistic plans for the future, or they alternately find themselves baffled and operating in child-like ways. In this latter situation, they are immature adults with unrealistic, grandiose dreams and an inability to take action toward purposeful accomplishments. I propose that to successfully resolve the crisis of emerging adulthood, young people must accept the obligations of the “real world,” understand that actions have real and sometimes serious consequences, begin making tangible and realistic goals, and demonstrate effort to achieve those goals. If emerging adults are unable to [do so], they are in a state of impudence... When they confront adulthood constructively, they achieve incarnation.    

This theme of seriousness vs. frivolity has also been addressed by other scholars and professionals, such as Jeff Arnett and Janet Taylor (seen here on the Today Show discussing whether individuals in the Emerging Adulthood age range use the time productively) and Michael Kimmel (in his book Guyland, reviewed here). However, Patterson's approach in giving Emerging Adulthood its own dilemma/crisis akin to established Eriksonian ones such as Trust vs. Mistrust or Integrity vs. Despair is unique, to my knowledge.

Patterson also created her own questionnaire measure to assess Incarnation vs. Impudence, called the PEEAS (Patterson’s Eriksonian Emerging Adulthood Survey). The PEEAS consists of six subscales (Incarnation, Impudence, Experimental Sexuality, Ideological Experimentation, Temporal and Spatial Social and Intimate Relationships, and Interdependence/Self-sufficiency and Dependence/Helplessness), along with an overall score for resolution of the stage-specific crisis. To help establish the validity of the PEEAS, Patterson administered many other measures related to Emerging Adulthood and identity, including the IDEA that I developed along with Arnett and Malinda Colwell.

Patterson found significant correlations between the PEEAS and other constructs, although some of the planned analyses were hindered by missing data on some of the measures. She also compared the PEEAS scores by age groups of respondents (18 year-olds, 19-25, and 26-plus) and whether respondents had "boomeranged" back to live with their parents after living away from home.

All in all, Patterson's dissertation represents a thoughtful and detailed contribution to the study of Emerging Adulthood, which I recommend to scholars in this area.