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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review: Lost in Transition

Among the many books that have come out in recent years on young adulthood, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, with Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson and Patricia Snell Herzog) is quite unique. It is a book with attitude, holding up 18-23 year-olds' views and behaviors (drawn from qualitative interviews in the National Study of Youth and Religion) to the authors' prescriptive standards. The authors declare early on:

...not only do we in this book not try to hide our ideas about what is good, we unapologetically state them in black and white for all to inspect. We think it can only help social science and American society more broadly to be more straightforward about its beliefs about the good in human life... (p. 8).

Smith and colleagues proceed to articulate what they expect from young adults -- and the larger adult society setting examples for them -- in several life domains (pp. 8-10):

We think it is good for people to be able to think coherently about moral beliefs and problems, and to explain why they believe whatever they do believe...

We also think it is good for people to understand and embrace values and purposes in life that transcend the mass-consumerist acquisition of material belongings...

We think it is good to avoid a lifestyle of routine intoxication...

We think that sex is an immensely powerful part of human life -- with immense power for benefit or destruction -- and so we believe that it is good for sex always to be treated with immense respect and care of a magnitude commensurate to its power...

... we think it is good for people to care about the larger social, cultural, institutional, and political world around them...

The first chapter after the introductory one is on young people's moral reasoning. Here, the authors are troubled by many respondents' individualized sense of morality (i.e., not wanting to pass judgment on others, but instead leaving it to them to decide morality for themselves, barring extreme acts such as murder). Smith et al. argue that there is a "bad" form of judging, including "condemning, castigating, disparaging, or executing," which is to be avoided, and a "good" form, including "to assess, discern, ... weigh, evaluate, and critique" (p. 24). The latter can be done constructively, the authors argue, and its absence in the respondents' answers is indeed disturbing.

I agree with the authors' claim that the above distinction is lost among most young people (if not most people, in general). One reason for a restrained sense of judgment, I think, may be a reaction to claims of immorality young people have heard in the past. For example, some people (skewing toward older adults) consider private sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex to be immoral, whereas others, skewing younger, do not. Some members of the latter group, bewildered at how private, consensual, adult behavior can be labeled as immoral by some, may thus become reluctant (overly so, Smith et al. might well argue) to condemn others as immoral.

I found the chapter on morality to be a bit lengthy (51 pages) and nitpicky. However, as the reader proceeds through the later chapters, it becomes clear how the initial discussion of morality forms an important foundation for other topics. For example, in the chapter on civic and political involvement, Smith et al. link respondents' lack of engagement in societal issues back to their weak foundation in moral reasoning. After all, if one cannot formulate a sense of what is good for society, one cannot work toward that end.


Despite my quibbles in some areas, I found Lost in Transition to be a valuable contribution. I used several of the arguments and statistics from the book in my Development in Young Adulthood course this past summer, and will again in the future.

The national survey on which the book is based began by interviewing 13-17 year-olds, then followed up when, as noted above, participants were 18-23. The 18-23 age range would probably be considered by many researchers to represent "early" Emerging Adulthood. Thus, I hope the authors continue to survey these participants into their late 20s and early 30s, and report the findings in future articles and books.


Lastly, some readers may be interested in pursuing the question of what makes for a good life -- which in many ways is at the core of Lost in Transition. If so, one of my professors from my graduate-school days at the University of Michigan, Chris Peterson, has been writing a lot on this topic lately (here and here).   

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wall Street Journal Article on EA

Yesterday's online Wall Street Journal ran a general overview article on Emerging Adulthood, focusing on brain development and mental health. Leading EA researchers Jeff Arnett and Jennifer Tanner, adolescence scholar Laurence Steinberg, and neuroscientist Jay Giedd are among those interviewed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Emerging Adulthood in Iran

Has Emerging Adulthood taken hold in Iran? The New York Times reports on one trend that's consistent with a prolonged transition to adulthood, namely the growing number of single women in their mid-20s and even 30s in the country. As is the case elsewhere, a strong correlate (if not causal factor) of Iranian women's extended singlehood is their involvement in higher education. According to the article:

There are no official statistics on the number of women living by themselves in big cities in Iran. But university professors, real estate agents, families and many young women all say that a phenomenon extremely rare just 10 years ago is becoming commonplace, propelled by a continuous wave of female students entering universities and a staggering rise in divorces.

Elsewhere in the article, it says that women comprise approximately 60 percent of university enrollments.

Another quote from the article with overtones of Emerging Adulthood is the following (the red highlighting is mine):

Big city life, with its opportunities and freedoms, has created new ambitions, [a single woman] said, and allowed her and her friends to lead lives completely different from their parents’.

Friday, April 20, 2012

EA and Religion

A newly released national survey of roughly 2,000 respondents age 18-24 finds that "One in four young adults choose 'unaffiliated' when asked about their religion," the Washington Post reports. The article also notes that "...most within this unaffiliated group — 55 percent — identified with a religious group when they were younger."

The larger report, including methodology, is available here. Though the focus of the survey was religion (having been sponsored by two religion research institutes), it also delves into areas such as relations with parents, social media use, politics/voting, and economic and social issues.

It is interesting to speculate on why many young adults have abandoned their earlier religious affiliations. Christianity is the numerically dominant religious identification in America, so attitudes toward it presumably would say a lot about attitudes toward organized religion in the U.S. more generally. According to the larger report of the recent survey, many young people see negative qualities (as well as positive ones) in contemporary American Christianity:

Almost two-thirds (64%) of Millenials say that "anti-gay" describes present-day Christianity somewhat or very well. Over 6-in-10 (62%) also believe that present-day Christianity is "judgmental," while 58% agree that "hypocritical (saying one thing, doing another)" describes present-day Christianity well (p. 31).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

College Students' Academic Performance and Success in the Transition to Adulthood

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article reports on a study of the relationship between students' cognitive-academic performance during college and their success in the transition to post-college life. The main findings, as summarized by the Chronicle, are as follows:

Graduates who scored in the bottom 20 percent on a test of critical thinking fared far more poorly on measures of employment and lifestyle when compared with those who scored in the top 20 percent. The test was the Collegiate Learning Assessment, or CLA, which was developed by the Council for Aid to Education.

The students scoring in the bottom quintile were three times more likely than those in the top quintile to be unemployed (9.6 percent compared with 3.1 percent), twice as likely to be living at home with parents (35 percent compared with 18 percent), and significantly more likely to have amassed credit-card debt (51 percent compared with 37 percent).

These findings do seem pretty compelling, especially the differences in unemployment rates. One caution, however, is that whenever the top and bottom 20% on some measure (in this case, the CLA) are compared on later attainments, we learn nothing about the 60% in the middle. The technical report of the study presents comparisons between three groups: top 20% on the CLA, middle 60%, and bottom 20%. (I would have preferred to see all five of the quintiles compared; i.e., the highest, second-highest, middle, second-lowest, and lowest 20%).

As seen in the technical report, on some outcomes the middle 60% on the CLA fared similarly to the top 20% (e.g., on likelihood of living at home after college and of being married or cohabiting), whereas on other measures the middle 60% more closely resembled the bottom 20% (e.g., on credit-card debt). (See Figures 3 and 6 of the technical report.)

I've written previously about the CLA and critical thinking, in another outlet, for readers seeking additional background.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Presidential Candidate Ron Paul Garners Younger Voters' Support

With the Iowa Caucuses taking place tonight to kick-off the Republican presidential nomination fight, TIME Magazine has an article on how one of the candidates, Ron Paul, seems to be doing well with younger voters. As much (or more) a Libertarian as a Republican, Paul conveys his views with statements such as the following one quoted in the TIME article:

“What you want to do with your life, what your religious beliefs are, what your intellectual pursuits are, what your private habits are — that’s part of freedom.”

This one brief quote is amazingly rich in Emerging Adulthood themes. As Jeffrey Arnett details here, three aspects of EA are identity exploration, possibilities, and self-focus.  Religious beliefs, intellectual pursuits, etc., are of course part of identity exploration and development. What one wants to do with one's life suggests (to me at least) the idea of open possibilities -- if one wants to pursue advanced education, travel, work in a certain profession, start a family, etc., one potentially can do so. And ultimately, as Paul implies, all these decisions are up to the individual, similar to Arnett's notion of self-focus.

LATE-NIGHT UPDATE:  Paul indeed dominated the Republican voting among younger participants, according to a poll of randomly selected caucus attendees.  Paul took an estimated 48% of the 17-29 year-old vote, with the next highest percentage from that age group (23%) going to Rick Santorum. When the poll results were broken out further into 17-24 and 25-29 year-old subgroups, Paul did comparably well in each, garnering 50% and 45% of the vote, respectively. (As an aside, it initially seemed odd to me that 17-year-olds were listed in the results; I looked into the matter and, as I suspected, 17-year-olds can participate as long as they will be 18 by the November general election.)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Young-Adult Women, Education, and the Labor Force

The New York Times recently had an article about how young women were increasingly opting to obtain additional education rather than join the labor force. One of the charts accompanying the story showed that among 16-24 year-old females, the percentage in school has exceeded that in the labor force during the last few years.