The goal of this book is to offer insight into a new developmental stage of life called “emerging adulthood.” He argues that four things contributed to the rise of emerging adulthood.
1. Dramatic growth in higher education.
2. Delay in marriage
3. “Changes in American and global economy that undermine stable, lifelong careers and replace them instead with careers with lower security, more frequent job changes, and an ongoing need for new training and education” (5).
Sorry, I couldn’t really condense that into a neat and tidy phrase.
4. Increased economic support from parents.
Isn’t it interesting to think about how all of these influence one another. Why do parents offer support? Because of the demand for education mean their kids aren't working. Why is there an educational demand? Because long term, stable careers beginning at age eighteen hardly exist anymore. So, why postpone marriage? Because family is unaffordable.
But it also cycles in other ways. Smith says,
“The features marking this stage of an intense identity exploration, instability, a focus on self, feeling in limbo or in transition or in between, and a sense of possibilities, opportunity, and unparalleled hope. These are, of course, accompanied … by large doses of transience, confusion, anxiety, self-obsession, melodrama, conflict, disappointment, and sometimes emotional devastation” (6).
This isn’t just a vicious cycle tyrannizing 18-23 year olds. They are seeking out this new life stage. At this point Smith reminds us of something important.
“Life stages are not naturally given as immutable phases of existence … they are cultural constructions that interact with biology and material production, and are profoundly shaped by the social and institutional conditions that generate and sustain them” (6).
For example, “tweens” as a life stage didn’t really exist when I was a kid. At least not the way it does today. I don’t remember having any heroes to whom I could look up to between childhood and being a teenager. No one market clothes or music specifically to me between the ages of 7 to 13. I do remember watching Boy Meets World as a highschooler, wondering why I was strangely fascinated. Perhaps I was feeling the early rumblings of emerging adulthood in the form of me trying to make sense of my childhood.
I also remember watching Dawson’s Creek and wondering why I didn’t speak with such eloquence. I just know I wanted to. Now, I think it’s interesting that I loved watching Scrubs, a show in which the whole story is about a young doctor coming to terms with growing up, taking responsibility, getting over his abandonment issues, learning how to do things on his own, but still being cool and edgy and well versed in old TV sitcoms (because quoting shows/movies is characteristic of emerging adults).
In any case, I am beginning to think that perhaps Arrested Development’s death was a bit premature. But then that's the question, is emerging adulthood an arrested development?
Bring back the Bluths!