Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Review: Urban Tribes

I recently finished reading Ethan Watters's 2003 book Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family? I had known about the book for several years and, in retrospect, I wished I had read it earlier, as I found it extremely relevant to the study of Emerging Adulthood. The book grew out of a 2001 New York Times magazine piece by Watters, and the voluminous e-mails he received in response to the article (and other media appearances) from fellow tribe-practitioners around the world.

Urban Tribes are groups of friends, each member of which is usually single or in a dating relationship (in fact, a major theme Watters explores in the book is whether tribe membership helps or hinders one's prospects of getting married or establishing similar long-term relationships). There is great variation in group size, although 50 seemed like a typical number. Agewise, the twenties through forties would commonly define the range of tribe members. A term Watters uses that describes many tribe participants in a manner akin to Emerging Adulthood is Post-College/Pre-Family.

Emerging Adulthood-relevant passages just jump off the page. Young adults without spouses and children face an "excess of freedom" (p. 9) and "a remarkable amount of personal autonomy to make up our lives as we went along" (p. 27). Many live in a "world of confused roles, time lines, and expectations" (p. 9). Some had a feeling of having "delayed becoming an adult" (p. 21) and that it was "Perhaps... time to move on and become a real adult" (p. 23).

The activities tribes engage in can be quite whimsical, such as re-enacting senior proms or taking "elaborate costumed Halloween trips to Vegas" (p. 37). On the other hand, tribe members also did things that represented deep levels of commitment and caring for each other. As Watters describes:

"My group of friends also came together to tackle group projects such as painting a living room, critiquing someone's rough cut of a documentary, or caring for someone who had fallen ill. We moved each other's furniture, talked each other through breakups, and attended each other's parents' funerals. Those who had money loaned it to those who didn't. Everything we owned, from books to tools to furniture to cars, was shared, or loaned or given away on an ongoing basis..." (p. 37). It is these latter acts that led Watters to hypothesize that much of what goes on in tribes of friends might have the significance of what family members do for each other (see discussion on pp. 38-39).

Another key issue is the longevity of tribes. Although people come and go, the core members of some groups sometimes stay together for 15-20 years or longer. The closest example of an Urban Tribe that I could personally relate to was the collection of friends one of my Texas Tech faculty colleagues established as a single, new assistant professor upon her arrival to Lubbock. She and several of her friends and neighbors -- a ballet instructor, a research associate, and several faculty members -- would, among other activities, gather at her house for periodic parties. At one, people had to wear nametags on which their names were preceded by self-descriptive adjectives starting with the same letter (e.g., I was "Affable, Analytic Alan"). After I finished reading Urban Tribes, I asked my colleague if she considered her group to be such a tribe. She replied that, in addition to the parties, her group hung out at a local coffee house and so, to some extent, could be considered a tribe. However, many of the members moved away from Lubbock after a year or two, so the long-term continuity wasn't there.

One last thing I wanted to mention is that Watters reviews several areas of academic research and how they might relate to the phenomenon of Urban Tribes, such as network theory, social identity, and civic engagement (i.e., "Bowling Alone"). These connections would presumably increase the interest level of the book for social scientists, but absolutely no academic training in sociology or other related fields is required to enjoy the book.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Seeking Young People's Stories About the Great Recession

Barbara Ray and colleagues are seeking young people's stories about transitioning to adulthood during the Great Recession of the past couple of years, for a book/documentary project. This project, studying whom the authors refer to as "Generation R," can be accessed by clicking here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Psychology Today Blog Column

Starting today, I will be a regular blogger for Psychology Today, writing a column entitled "On the Campus: Emerging Adulthood and Adolescent Life." My first column addresses the question of whether college attendance increases students' drinking compared to if they never set foot on a university campus. I'll still post here, on the Emerging Adulthood blog, pertaining to matters outside of college and academia. But for issues in higher education, I invite you to visit my writings for Psychology Today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Young Voters in 2010 Midterm Elections

After the 2008 U.S. presidential election, I wrote about the role of young voters in Barack Obama's win and cited expert opinion at the time on whether the present cohort of young voters would continue to turn out in future elections and whether they would remain as heavily inclined toward the Democratic party as they were in '08.

Leading into this upcoming November's midterm elections for the U.S. House and Senate, state governorships, and other offices, Republicans have been projected to make major gains. It's not so much that Democrat-leaning voters are being won over to Republican ideas; rather, polling seems to suggest an "enthusiasm gap" that may propel a greater share of GOP-leaning citizens into the voting booth than of Democratic supporters. However, the Democrats may be catching up in motivation, to some degree.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released earlier today, with the headline "Battle for Congress tightens between parties," suggests that certain segments of the traditional Democratic coalition are started to get more excited about voting -- but young adults are not among them.

The NBC/WSJ pollsters attribute the tightening to increased enthusiasm for the upcoming midterms by African Americans (who saw a six-point gain in high interest) and Hispanics (who saw an 11-point gain).

But young voters, who helped fuel Obama’s presidential victory in 2008, are now sitting on the sidelines. Just 35 percent of those ages 18-34 are enthusiastic about the election in November, versus 65 percent of seniors who say that.

In an apparent attempt to reinvigorate the youth vote, Obama spoke today at a large rally at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and apparently will appear on other campuses in the coming weeks (see here and here).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Texas Tech Grad Explores EA in Australia

Today in my Development in Young Adulthood course at Texas Tech University, we had a guest speaker from Australia via Skype. The speaker, Amanda, completed her undergraduate degree at Texas Tech in 2005 and had been in one of my classes back then. Just a few months ago, she fulfilled a long-term dream by moving to Australia. I thought -- and Amanda agreed -- that her desire to explore the world before settling down exemplified emerging adulthood, so she was a fitting guest to have in class. (She had to be available at 3:00 a.m. her time to fit my class time, for which I and the students are very appreciative.)

Amanda is blogging about her journey, which some readers may find of interest. She mentioned during her appearance in my class that as she approached the end of high school, she probably would have been the front-runner to be voted by the senior class as most likely to marry early and start a family. However, during college, a desire to explore that had been with her since childhood came to the fore and she decided traveling the world was for her in the immediate future. Hence, at that point she entered the realm of emerging adulthood.

I was pleased at the number of students in my class who asked questions and at the variety of questions. The students asked about everything from how it is arriving to a new culture, to work opportunities, to what the dating scene in Melbourne is like! One topic we pursued in some depth is concept of a hostel, a form of lodging for young travelers (and others) that some students in the class may not have been very familiar with.

Amanda's timeframe for the next two years or so is to travel to additional countries throughout the world and then work her way back to the U.S. At that point, she thinks, she will be ready to settle down and start a family. About half of her college friends, she estimates, married and started families early, whereas the other half, like her, are taking more time to move into these roles.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

EA and Youth Aimlessness and Indecisiveness in Classic Literature

I was quoted in this Toronto Star article about emerging adulthood that came out over the weekend. In addition to providing a basic introduction to EA for readers, the article probed how the theme of aimlessness and indecisiveness during the transition to adulthood has been a mainstay of classic literature, introduced long before social scientists wrote of EA and related concepts. I virtually never read fiction. However, one genre of literature has long fascinated me, the Beat Generation (or Beatniks). Thus, I was able to comment for the reporter on seeming parallels between EA and Beatnik authors. I would recommend Steven Watson's book, The Birth of the Beat Generation, as an historical account.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Major NY Times Piece on EA

Today's New York Times Sunday Magazine includes a huge article pertaining to emerging adulthood entitled, "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" For those who've already read extensively about young-adult development, the article probably won't offer much that is new, except perhaps for the details of Jeff Arnett's personal life growing up through the emerging-adulthood years. If you're new to the area of emerging adulthood, however, the article should provide a good introduction.

The article spends a good bit of time evaluating whether emerging adulthood qualifies as an official developmental stage of the lifespan. Like Arnett, I'm not so concerned about this. As a leading scholar said at a conference I attended in recent years, regardless of whether emerging adulthood is a stage, it does successfully describe what a large number of young people are going through.

Numerous areas are covered in the piece, from brain development, to public policies to aid young people toward full-fledged adulthood, to a profile of a unique (and expensive) mental-health treatment facility for young adults having difficulties, to a topic my students and I are starting to conduct research on, "helicopter parents."

My fellow transition-to-adulthood blogger Barbara Ray offers a provocative review of the article here. Ray critiques Arnett's conceptualization of emerging adulthood as being too focused on individuals' psychological "interior," too preoccupied with "how young adults perceive themselves as agents (or in this case as nonagents), and how they psychologically grapple with their identity and who they are/want to be," and concerned little, if at all, with social structural factors (e.g., the job market) that can greatly affect the life opportunities of young people.

The technical term for the studying the actor's subjective experience is phenomenology. It is the approach that I (along with Arnett and my Texas Tech colleague Malinda Colwell) used in designing the Inventory of the Dimensions of Emerging Adulthood (IDEA), a questionnaire to gauge how closely an individual's experiences match with the central themes of emerging adulthood. In creating a phenomenological measure, it was never my intent (and presumably not of my co-authors) to discourage or exclude structural factors from inquiry into young-adult development. We have compared college-attending youth and age-matched non-attenders on our questionnaire, for example, in an attempt to take into account more macro-level aspects of society (as it turned out, the two exhibited largely similar profiles on the IDEA).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Northwestern J-School Covers Emerging Adulthood

Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, as part of a national network known as News 21, has put together an online series that "examines the issues confronting the generation of young adults as they confront their futures in a diverse America. Issues include identity, lifestyle, career, community, social responsibility, dating/marriage and others." As seen in the following screen capture, the series appears to focus on approximately 20 metropolitan areas, about which the reader can obtain various demographic statistics. Shown below the map are some of the stories the school's writers have put together.

These stories range from the semi-humorous ("30 [Things to Do] Before 30") to more serious topics such as interfaith marriage. The project's focus on urban America (and on Chicago, in particular, given Northwestern's location) obviously doesn't represent the full diversity of the transition to adulthood. However, the variety of topics and of media (e.g., print, video) should appeal to readers interested in emerging adulthood.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Dating for a Decade"

USA Today has an article on how long many young-adult couples stay together before marrying. The article asks rhetorically if the new relationship pattern is "dating for a decade."

In some cases, the protracted pre-marital phase seems to stem from partners' having to live in different cities, for educational or occupational reasons. Only when the two partners are settled in the same location do they finally say their "I do's."

Physical separation isn't the only reason for delayed marriage, however. Among the ideas proffered by experts in the article are couples' desire to make sure their relationships can handle strains over the long haul, individuals' keeping their options open if a more attractive potential partner comes along, and the realization that couples don't have to marry young if they don't plan to have children (or only have a small number of them).

(Thanks to Sothy Eng for bringing the article to my attention.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Good Basic Intro to EA in New York Times

The New York Times ran an article a few days ago entitled "Long Road to Adulthood Is Growing Even Longer" (link). Those of you familiar with the central ideas of emerging-adulthood research will probably find the article to be pretty rudimentary, as exemplified in the following overview statement:

People between 20 and 34 are taking longer to finish their educations, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children and become financially independent...

For those new to emerging adulthood, however, the Times piece provides a good introduction.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Millenials' Economic Problems

National Journal has begun a multi-part series of articles on economic problems facing the Millennial generation. Extensive polling data are presented with some of the articles, including from the "Heartland Monitor" survey sponsored by Allstate and National Journal. The articles define the Millennials as being born from 1981-2002, but the polling focuses on 18-29 year-olds. As noted in one of the articles:

Just one-sixth of the Millennials surveyed say they are earning enough to live comfortably. Nearly 60 percent of them are weighed down by student loans or other debts. A significant number -- whether living on their own or not -- report that they still rely on financial help from their parents. And about one-fourth of older Millennials, those ages 25 to 29, said they are still or once again living with their parents -- often after losing jobs they thought pointed them toward independence...

...Their generation is renowned for placing a high priority on personal expression, making a difference in society, and accumulating fulfilling experiences. Those instincts still resonate through the poll -- in the substantial number of young adults who report volunteering their time, for example, or who express interest in public service careers in education, government, or with nonprofit organizations. But across a wide range of economic choices, the survey finds that the ferocity of the recession has left this generation with a powerful craving for certainty. Millennials would much rather stockpile savings in a bank or pay down debt than invest in the stock market. What's even more striking is that they clearly prefer stability with one employer to the opportunity to frequently change jobs.

Such talk of today's turmoil leading to a quest for stability parallels what Jeff Arnett wrote about developments in the middle of the 20th century, in his 2004 book Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from Late Teens through the Twenties (p. 6):

Young people of the 1950s were eager to enter adulthood and “settle down.” Perhaps because they grew up during the upheavals of the Great Depression and World War II, achieving the stability of marriage, home, and children seemed like a great accomplishment to them.

Whether the economic crisis of 2008 and beyond will lead Millennials to marry at younger ages than has been characteristic of emerging adults in recent decades remains to be seen. I don't think it's too likely, however, as people often want to achieve some degree of financial stability before marrying.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

EA Articles in "The Future of Children" Journal

The Future of Children is a collaborative program between the Brookings Institution (a Washington, DC "think tank") and Princeton University, focusing on child development. Along with publishing a free online journal, the Future of Children group also puts on conferences. A recent topic addressed by the program is The Transition to Adulthood, the subject of both a journal issue and a conference this past Tuesday hosted by Brookings. On the conference webpage, one can find a transcript of the proceedings, as well as an audiotape.

One of the first articles in the issue, "What's Going on with Young People Today? The Long and Twisting Path to Adulthood" (by Richard Settersten and Barbara Ray) provides a thorough, yet relatively concise, overview of the transition to adulthood in American society. As these authors note, "Becoming an adult has traditionally been understood as comprising five core transitions — leaving home, completing school, entering the workforce, getting married, and having children" (p. 20). Historical and statistical perspectives on these transitions are discussed. Other articles in the issue focus on particular domains (e.g. higher education, labor market, civic engagement, and the military), with additional articles devoted to special populations such as immigrants, high-school drop-outs, and other vulnerable groups.

Many of the articles include discussion of government policies that might help members of particular subgroups make successful transitions to adulthood. As someone who teaches courses on both Development in Young Adulthood and Family Law and Public Policy, I applaud scholars associated with The Future of Children for attempting to integrate public policy with young-adult development. With a DC-area organization as prominent as Brookings getting involved, perhaps we will see significant policy developments coming out of Capitol Hill. As I wrote about in 2007, Democrats in the U.S. House have had a "30 Something" working group to address issues affecting young adults; legislative proposals for emerging adults (primarily individuals in their 20s) can now be informed by the journal and conference proceedings organized by The Future of Children.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Health Care Laws Allows Children to Stay on Families' Insurance Plans Until Age 26

One component of the newly enacted health care reform legislation allows children to stay on their parents' health-insurance plans up to age 26. I just found an article entitled "New Healthcare Legislation and Young Adults" that provides a very thorough overview of what the new law may mean for families with emerging-adult children. The following paragraph is rich with information:

One provision of reform that went into effect immediately after passage was the continuation of coverage under a parent's plan for any young adults under 26 who were not offered coverage by an employer. However, this may not be as good as it sounds. It appears that instead of being included in the employee/child rate or the family rate, they will be charged at the rate for an adult individual. This could add considerably to the cost of a parent's plan, especially if they have more than one needy child in that category, and it seems doubtful employers would fund the entire cost. Relatively healthy young people may find private insurance purchased on the open market a better deal or still the best they can afford.

Another article (from before the ultimate resolution of the legislation whereby the U.S. House passed the Senate version) provides further background, including an assessment of how young adults' health-insurance coverage appeared to be affected by earlier bills at the state level. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is quoted to the effect that the new rule on retaining young-adult children on parents' policies:

"is an addition of several years of protection—peace of mind—while a young person goes about finding a job, starting a career and starting a family."

The backdrop for the new provision, of course, is that the median ages of starting jobs/careers and starting a family have gone up in recent decades.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Writer Reflects on Becoming a Parent and Social Life

James Glave, writing for Parenting magazine, shares his story of what the transition to parenthood did to his social life with the guys. Here's an illustrative excerpt:

[Men] tend to connect by doing something active, such as a hike or a round of golf, typically arranged the night before.

We all know what happens next. When baby makes three, the abrupt lifestyle change spells an end to these spontaneous expeditions. Forget about spending Saturday afternoon with Mike and Dave at the climbing gym -- unless you want to unleash the wrath of your exhausted wife. You need to be physically present, grabbing the burp cloth, emptying that Diaper Genie, and covering for your beloved while she sneaks out for a desperately needed salt glow treatment, whatever that is.

Gone is what Glave calls the "dudescape." After a few years, however, he and some friends came up with a way to reinvent the male-bonding experience.

... we created our own, limited version of the dudescape. Call it the "dadscape."

I have fewer guy friends now than I used to, and we're not yet booking road-trip weekends together. Instead, we'll head out for a brisk hike around the lake. It's all stuff in the neighborhood; we're still within cell-phone "recall" range.

The article didn't mention Glave's age, but his story would seem applicable to many emerging-adult males.