Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Book "Guyland" Looks at Young Males' Development

I recently finished reading the book Guyland, by sociologist Michael Kimmel (hat tip to Janis Henderson, my Teaching Assistant, for bringing the book to my attention). The subheading of the book's title signifies the developmental nature of the subject matter: "The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men/Understanding the Critical Years Between 16 and 26."

Kimmel charges Jeff Arnett's and others' writings on emerging adulthood with saying "nary a word about gender" (p. 41), setting the stage for Kimmel to articulate his own theory of the male experience. Guyland does not apply to all young men, however. Quoting from the above-linked website for the book:

Kimmel’s study shows that the guys who live in “Guyland” are mostly white, middle-class, totally confused and cannot commit to their relationships, work or lives. Although they seem baffled by the riddles of manhood and responsibility, they submit to the “Guy Code,” where locker-room behaviors, sexual conquests, bullying, violence and assuming a cocky jock pose can rule over the sacrifice and conformity of marriage and family. Obsessed with never wanting to grow up, this demographic, which is 22 million strong, craves video games, sports and depersonalized sexual relationships.

The heart of the Guy Code seems to be rank-and-file young males' strong desire to win the approval and avoid the scorn of the "cool" guys. For that reason, guys in the crowd will remain silent at what are often cruel and violent acts perpetrated by the leaders of the group (e.g., fraternity hazing, group sexual assaults).

Through this lens of social approval, other stereotypically male behaviors such as sports fanaticism and binge-drinking, can be seen as efforts for guys to impress other guys. According to Kimmel, this lens can also explain at least some guys' relationship (or non-relationship) choices. Regarding sexual "hookups," Kimmel writes:'s a bit more complicated than simple pleasure-seeking on the part of guys, because as it turns out pleasure isn't the first item on the hookup agenda... If sex were the goal, a guy would have a much better chance of having more (and better) sex if he had a steady girlfriend. Instead, guys hook up to prove something to other guys (p. 206).

In the latter parts of the book, Kimmel also explores the implications of Guyland for the psychosocial development of young women who come into contact with this male subculture.

In the end, Kimmel expresses the hope that developing young men can avoid the darker impulses of Guyland and become ethical, humane, and responsible men. Throughout the book, Kimmel shares positive examples of men who stood up to others who wanted to commit antisocial acts (or who at least owned up to their actions and expressed remorse after the fact).

Guyland, Kimmel reminds us at the end, is both a life stage and a symbolic place, only the latter of which he feels needs to be trimmed back or abolished: "There are positive reasons for delaying marriage, exploring different career paths, playing the field, traveling, hanging out, exploring oneself and who one wants to be, and become, in this lifetime... ...our task, as a society, is to decouple the stage of life from that social space..." (pp. 287-288).

On the whole, I found the book well-researched and documented; however, there are a few areas I would quibble with. Kimmel claims that, among other behavioral difficulties, "...boys are more prone to depression..." (p. 54). This claim is contrary to research showing that, in the words of Nolen-Hoeksema and Girgus, "There are no gender differences in depression rates in prepubescent children, but, after the age of 15, girls and women are about twice as likely to be depressed as boys and men." For a more recent examination of gender differences in the development of depression, see this abstract from Janet Shibley Hyde and colleagues.

Kimmel's writing is lively, and the ideas are thought-provoking. I would recommend Guyland to anyone interested in emerging adulthood or gender-role development.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Youth Vote in the 2008 Election

Now that Election 2008 has been completed and analysts have had several days to watch exit-poll and other data roll in, some impressions of the youth vote (18-29) are starting to crystallize. First, some basic data, from the organization CIRCLE...

Noting that, "...youth voter turnout is the percentage of eligible 18-29 year olds who voted," CIRCLE estimates that around 52 or 53 percent of eligible 18-29 year olds voted this year. This figure continues the upward trend from 1996 (37%), 2000 (41%), and 2004 (48%).

[The 48% youth participation rate in 2004 can (roughly) be broken down further, by multiplying the following two figures from here: "In 2004, 81.6% of registered 18-29 year olds voted in the Presidential elections. Only 60% of 18-29 year olds were registered to vote in that election."]

However, again according to CIRCLE:

Young people (ages 18-29) represented 18 percent of the voters in Tuesday’s election, according to the National Exit Polls (NEP) conducted by Edison/Mitofsky. This is one point higher than in 1996, 2000 and 2004, when young voters represented 17 percent of voters in each presidential election, according to the NEP.

What this means is that, concurrent with youth voters' ever-increasing participation in recent elections (relative to their same-age counterparts in previous years), there has also been rising voter participation in older age groups. Thus, 18-29 year olds have not increased their share of the overall electorate much, from 17% in the past to 18% this year.

Purely in terms of turnout, it seems fair to say that youth voters participated somewhere in between the visions of the most optimistic and most skeptical observers.

The biggest story of this year's youth vote, therefore, would appear to be the unusually lopsided distribution of candidate preference: Obama 66%, McCain 32%. The full electoral implications of this margin are developed in this document:

In 2008, 18% of the electorate was comprised of 18-29 year-olds. That figure, when multiplied by the 34 percent differential in Obama voting equals 6.1 points, or a majority of Obama's popular vote margin. Had the Democratic 18-29 year-old vote stayed the same as 2004's margin, Obama would have won by about 1 to 2 points, and would not have won 73 electoral votes from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, or Indiana.

I am based at Texas Tech Univesity in the deeply "red" (Republican) state of Texas. I was amazed, therefore, to see exit-poll data showing that Obama carried the 18-29 vote in the Lone Star State, with 54%. All of the age groups of older Texans went for McCain, most dramatically the 66% of 65-and-older voters who went for the Arizona senator.

As social scientists, we aim not only to document trends, but also to understand why things turned out as they did. As detailed here, "Generation We" writer Eric Greenberg commissioned a major study of the so-called "Millenial" generation (born from 1978-2000).

Among the attitudes and values found to characterize the Millenials, their self-reported openness to innovations and new ideas appears to map onto some of the themes of emerging adulthood, such as trying out new things and learning to think for oneself.

Millennials pride themselves not only on their recognition that the status quo has failed but also on their refusal to be constrained by past conventions. Of all the attributes on which they were asked to compare themselves to earlier generations of Americans, they identified their willingness to "embrace innovation and new ideas" as the variable that most differentiates them from older Americans...

Young persons' "refusal to be constrained by past conventions" was apparent beyond the presidential election. On California's Proposition 8, exit polls revealed 18-29 year olds to be the only age group in which a majority took the pro-same-sex marriage position (61% for "No"). In mirror image, the oldest voters (65 and older) came down 61% in opposition to same-sex marriage (voting "Yes" on the measure).

The source of older voters' conservatism in the 2008 election cannot be determined solely by exit polls from last Tuesday, with longitudinal studies being necessary. Were today's older voters more liberal at earlier points in their lives and then become more conservative with age (known as an aging effect)? Or perhaps was there something about becoming an adult in the years roughly from 1945-1960 that would make today's older voters more conservative (known as a cohort effect)? (See here for an illustration of these effects.)

If the 18-29 year-old voters of today retain their liberal values throughout their adult life spans -- and this is a big if -- then the Democratic Party will be in good shape for a long time. Quoting again from the article about Greenberg's research:

Born between 1978 and 2000, the Millennials currently include 95 million young people up to 30 years of age -- the biggest, most diverse, and best-educated age cohort in the history of the nation. In 2016, they will be 100 million strong and positioned to dominate the American political scene for 30-40 years.

UPDATE: Over at, Kristen Soltis has written an interesting piece entitled "The GOP Faces Long-Term Challenge With Young and Independents." Below, I reproduce two paragraphs that I feel are particularly relevant to the study of emerging adulthood (along with Soltis's bibliographic references):

Scholars have noted that early adulthood plays a key role in the creation of political generations. In 1974, Beck described that young voters are primarily responsible for the birth of electoral realignment.(1) Billingsley and Tucker (1987) follow this analysis with the claim that political generations are often defined by political events occurring during young adulthood. (2) Indeed, the generation of voters in the 18-29 age group for the 2008 election were made up of those whose young adult political life would likely have included the events of September 11th as well as the expansion of political news availability via cable news and the Internet - not to mention the entire Bush Administration. The long term impact on the GOP of this swing will be felt for years to come i[f] young voters are not appealed to with a positive, modern agenda that speaks to their concerns - the environment, energy, the economy, education, and entitlement reform. (Perhaps there's something with the letter "e"?)


The Republican Party has two major challenges that jump from these numbers that must be tackled. First, the GOP must win back the youth vote. There's little reason to believe that this year was an aberration - that young voters came out for Obama but will fade away and become apathetic in years to come. However, barring major life events, young voters who leave a pattern of habitual non-voting by voting for the first time will be carried [by] "inertia" to continue voting in future elections. As more and more young voters go to the polls, the norms surrounding voting among that age cohort will change the social costs of voting in a way that provides positive peer reinforcement, contributing to higher turnout. (3) Furthermore, the longer the GOP waits to try to win these voters back, the harder it will be - prior study has already established that as voters age, their partisan identification grows stronger. (4)


1) Beck, Paul. (1974). A socialization theory of partisan realignments. In Richard Niemi and associates (eds.), The Politics of Future Citizens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

2) Billingsley, K., & Tucker, C. (1987). Generations, Status and Party Identification: A Theory of Operant Conditioning. Political Behavior, 9(4), 305-322

3)Plutzer, E. (2002). Becoming a habitual voter: inertia, resources, and growth in young adulthood. American Political Science Review, 96(1), pp 41-56.

4)Claggett, W. (1981). Partisan acquisition versus partisan identity: life-cycle, generation, and period effects, 1952-1976. American Journal of Political Science, 25(2), pp 193-214. and Campbell, A., Converse, P., Miller, W., and Stokes, D. (1960). The American voter. New York; Wiley.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Rock the Vote" Poll of 18-29 Year-Olds

A new "Rock the Vote" poll of 18-29 year-olds has just been released.

Friday, September 5, 2008

How Candidates Obama and Palin Spent Their Youthful Years

Among the things we've learned from the back-to-back Democratic and Republican conventions over the past two weeks, plus the related news coverage and blogger comments, is how the two "youngsters" of the campaign, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, 47, and GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, 44, spent at least parts of their emerging-adulthood years.

According to the Wikipedia page on Obama:

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama worked as a community organizer and practiced as a civil rights attorney before serving in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004.

Community involvement, as well as other types of volunteerism, are the kinds of things an emerging adult might do en route to solidifying one's identity and world views. But it was precisely Obama's community work that Palin ridiculed during her convention speech, in contrasting her own background with his:

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer except that you have actual responsibilities."

In response, a participant at the left-leaning blog Daily Kos provided a pictorial tribute to community organizers throughout history.

One of the hallmarks of emerging adulthood is, of course, exploration amidst a sea of options. Palin, apparently, did more exploring than most as a college student, transferring between institutions five times.

Obama and Palin, each in their own ways, have made it to the political big leagues, though, and the rest is up to the voters.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Parents Who Follow their Young-Adult Children to College

Thursday's (August 21) New York Times had an article entitled "Following the Kids to College." The article reports on what seems to be the latest phenomenon in college students' relationships to their parents -- namely, having out-of-state parents buy a home in the town of their children's college. I was interviewed a few months ago by the Times writer, and only learned today that the article had been published. The writer did a good job, in my view, of talking to a variety of experts and obtaining different perspectives. A brief quote of mine was used, featuring what perhaps could be a new contribution to the lexicon.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Change the Drinking Age?

Earlier this week, a major policy debate was touched off by a public letter from over 100 college and university presidents, advocating a "rethinking" of the quasi-national 21-year-old drinking age in the U.S. As noted in this article, "Technically, laws governing drinking age are left up to each state. However, all states adopted 21 as the minimum drinking age after Congress mandated in the mid 80's that any state that allowed drinking under 21 would lose ten percent of federal highway money."

Writing under the title, the Amethyst Initiative, the presidents take what could be called a "harm reduction" approach. Such a perspective argues that, as much as one might want people to refrain from a potentially dangerous behavior, people are going to do it anyway. Therefore, such behavior should be legalized to bring it out into the open and prevent the worst of the harms associated with the behavior. As the presidents' letter notes, "A culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge-drinking' — often conducted off-campus — has developed."

Indeed, according to the Harvard School of Public Health's College Alcohol Study surveys from the 1990s and early 2000s, students younger than 21 drink at a similarly high level to their older-than-21 counterparts. More anecdotally, the Alexandra Robbins book Pledged talks about the extensive drinking -- and efforts to conceal that drinking from the university community -- among sorority members.

As an academic researcher of college drinking, I immediately sought to round up as much evidence bearing on the controversy as possible within a narrow time frame, study it, and present it on this blog, in an effort to further the debate.

Opposition is mounting quickly to the presidents' initiative, however. In fact, a story in yesterday's New York Times reports that two of the original participants have withdrawn their signatures (although some additional presidents have added theirs).

The Times article included quotes from opponents of the presidents' letter, including the following:

“Why would you take the one thing that has been tried in the last 30 years that has been shown to be most successful and throw that out the window and say, ‘I have a better idea?’ ” said Alexander C. Wagenaar, an epidemiologist at the College of Medicine at the University of Florida.

Wagenaar's views are stated in more depth on pages 78-80 of the book Dying to Drink: Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses, by Henry Wechsler and Bernice Wuethrich. Via an interview format, Wagenaar claims that, "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the [Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21] saved more than twenty thousand lives since the 1970s." He discusses some examples of inverse (negative) correlations, where in the 1970s, a state's lowering of the drinking age was associated with increases in teen alcohol fatalities, and vice-versa. Wagenaar characterizes the research as "incontrovertible evidence that the policy has had a significant effect on drinking rates and deaths."

Other scholars take a different view, however. In a 1999 article, Ruth Engs cites the idea of the "forbidden fruit," where the illegality of some act increases its attractiveness. She acknowledges the reduction over time in drinking-and-driving related problems, but questions how much of it can be attributed directly to the federal legislation that encouraged a uniform 21-year-old drinking age. Further, she cites statistics purporting to show that other indicia of problematic college-student drinking actually rose after passage of the legislation. Foreshadowing the Amethyst presidents' statement quoted above, Engs contends that:

This increase in abusive drinking behavior is due to "underground drinking" outside of adult supervision in student rooms and apartments where same-age individuals come together in the 1990s collegiate reincarnation of the speakeasy.

David Hanson's website also presents a lot of information on drinking-age policies (it was here that I learned of Engs's writings).

The debate over the legal drinking age is very likely to continue. By following the links included in the present write-up, as well as doing your own research, readers of this blog can contribute to the debate.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Social Responsibility as Way for Companies to Entice New College Grads to Work for Them

This past weekend a CNN/Money Magazine article came out, reporting on companies' efforts to attract new college graduates (also known as Millenials or Generation Y) by demonstrating commitments to community service and environmental awareness. The article notes that:

For this generation, a company's community involvement often needs to be more than just talk, experts said. Nearly four in five Millennials say they want to work for a company that cares about how it affects or contributes to society, according to a 2006 Cone survey. Some 68% said they would refuse to work for an employer that is not socially responsible.

The research firm alluded to in the quoted paragraph is Cone, Inc., some of whose research reports are available here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

More Cultural References on EA

Jeff Arnett has just sent me some EA-related references in the media:

Here's a good pop culture quote for your website, from 27 year-old former tennis star Anna Kournikova, in [a July] issue of Sports Illustrated (link):

"Here's one thing I don't get. Why are people afraid of getting older? You feel wiser. You feel more mature. You feel like you know yourself better. You would trade that for softer skin? Not me!"

Also, have you heard the megahit song by Fergie, "Big Girls Don't Cry"? It includes this lyric:

The path that I'm walking
I must go alone
I must take my baby steps 'til I'm full grown...

I hope you know, I hope you know
That this has nothing to do with you
It's personal, myself and I
We've got some figuring out to do
And I'm gonna miss you like a child misses their blanket
But I've gotta get a move on with my life
It's time to be a big girl now
And big girls don't cry.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Early Marriage for Collegians?

An article from this past May in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Daily Cardinal discusses the pros and cons of students' getting married during (or shortly after completing) their college education, as opposed to waiting longer.

Whereas much of the article talks about stress and relationship skills (e.g., communication), the part that appears to fit most directly with Emerging Adulthood theory involves the sense of self-focus. The Daily Cardinal article quotes Darald Hanusa, who is described as a "senior lecturer in the school of social work" at UW, as follows:

“[Many students are] still in a very … ‘me’ focus versus ‘us’ focus,” Hanusa said. “Those relationships aren’t going to do well but those people are probably going to have difficulty in any relationship, no matter how long they wait.”

The online column "Lifehacker" (scroll down to section FOUR when the new page comes up) quotes Jeffrey Arnett discussing his 2004 book, Emerging Adulthood: The winding road from late teens through the twenties, and the self-focused aspect of EA in particular:

"In my book, I call emerging adulthood a 'self-focused' age," says Arnett. "Not selfish, but self-focused. They now have the freedom to focus on their own development, more so than when they were younger, and had adults telling them what to do, or when they become older, and have a spouse, and kids, and long-term job to tend to."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Book "The Price of Independence" Tackles Econcomic Issues Facing Young Adults

Continuing with a recent theme I've developed on this blog, the economic situation facing young adults today in the U.S., I wanted to mention the recent book The Price of Independence: The Economics of Early Adulthood. Princeton University posted an interview with Cecilia Rouse, a co-editor of the book. In addressing trends of young adults living with their parents or with other, non-marital roommates, Rouse's answer encompasses more than just economic features:

When the [book's] authors looked at the different potential economic factors — debt, housing costs, the economy, etc. — they found that these factors do play some role in some of these changing trends... But you could also argue that in all of these countries, including the U.S., there have been big changes in the social norms.

I encourage everyone to read the full interview, which is available at the above link. Another good source for studies of the economics of young adults is the "Demos" research organization (list of articles by this group).

Happy Fourth of July everyone, and enjoy the fireworks!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Money-Management Advice for New College Grads

Personal finance writer Kathy Kristof offers advice to new college graduates on managing their money in the coming years. A key piece of her advice is conveyed in the following passages:

There are a handful of money moves you can make now that will virtually ensure your financial security -- and possibly create great wealth -- later in life. The younger you are, the greater the opportunities and the easier the wealth strategies are to execute. But if you start out spending too much, too fast, your ability to set yourself up for long-term wealth diminishes and eventually evaporates. That makes the first months and years after graduation pivotal to lifetime financial security...

The key, experts say, is a simple one: Live like a poor college student for a couple more years. While you're doing that, you can pay off your debt, start a savings plan and embrace healthy habits that will serve you well for life.

Given that many new college graduates will be eager to accelerate their transition to full-fledged adulthood, and perhaps see acquisition of material goods as a way to do so, Kristof's advice is particularly important.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood to Form

The people who've put on the biennial Emerging Adulthood conferences (Jeff Arnett, Jennifer Tanner, and others) have moved forward in crystallizing their informal working group into a formal organization, namely the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood. As part of this growth, there's been a major revamping of the group's website. The website states that a 2009 conference will be held, but details are not yet available.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Politico" News Site Introduces Section for Young Adults

Election news website The Politico has a component entitled Campus Politico to cover issues related to young voters. The word "campus" strongly implies a focus on college-student voters, but coverage is also being given to non-college youth. A new article, for example, reports that individuals under age 30 with at least some college have voted in some of the major presidential primary elections this season at a far higher rate than their similar-age counterparts who never attended college.

Such a result is hardly surprising. In his book Bowling Alone, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam notes that greater amounts of education are associated with greater civic engagement (p. 18). Still, greater attention to young voters -- especially those not attending college -- is worthwhile.

Friday, February 29, 2008

National Council on Family Relations Explores Transition to Adulthood

Welcome to visitors who have arrived at this site via the NCFR Report's Family Focus on the Transition to Adulthood! The Family Focus section includes eight articles on the transition to adulthood, including one by me and my colleagues. As I read the other articles, I may share some reactions on this blog.

I invite you to browse the blog postings that appear sequentially up and down the page, and in the archives. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Narcissism and the Current Youth Generation

Today's New York Times had an interesting article on whether the current generation of young people are more narcissistic than those of previous decades. Two sets of researchers looked into this question and came up with vastly different conclusions. (Thanks to Sylvia Niehuis for sending me the link.)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Young Adults' Views of Love and Relationships

(This posting has been edited, and the link updated, on 7/25/18.)

AOL and pollster John Zogby (best known for his election surveys) teamed up for a national study of 20-69 year-olds' views of love and relationships. A summary of the findings is available.

Of greatest relevance to Emerging Adulthood, of course, are the results for the youngest respondents in the survey. Some age-group differences are discussed in the linked article, but they appear fairly modest in magnitude. For example:

A high percentage (44%) in all generations, including 50% of adults in their 20s – don’t believe that they need to be married to validate the commitment of a long-term relationship.

As I've often expressed in the past, studying the dynamics of young adults' attitudes, decision-making, and relationship establishment in the romantic domain would seem to be a fruitful research area.