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10.2: When Does Adulthood Begin?

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    According to Rankin and Kenyon (2008), historically the process of becoming an adult was more clearly marked by rites of passage. For many individuals, marriage and becoming a parent were considered entry into adulthood. However, these role transitions are no longer considered as the important markers of adulthood (Arnett, 2001). Economic and social changes have resulted in increase in young adults attending college (Rankin & Kenyon, 2008) and a delay in marriage and having children (Arnett & Taber, 1994; Laursen & Jensen-Campbell, 1999) Consequently, current research has found financial independence and accepting responsibility for oneself to be the most important markers of adulthood in Western culture across age (Arnett, 2001) and ethnic groups (Arnett, 2004).

    Screen Shot 2019-01-16 at 6.18.54 PM.png
    Figure 7.4. Source.

    In looking at college students’ perceptions of adulthood, Rankin and Kenyon (2008) found that some students still view rites of passage as important markers. College students who had placed more importance on role transition markers, such as parenthood and marriage, belonged to a fraternity/sorority, were traditionally aged (18–25), belonged to an ethnic minority, were of a traditional marital status; i.e., not cohabitating, or belonged to a religious organization, particularly for men. These findings supported the view that people holding collectivist or more traditional values place more importance on role transitions as markers of adulthood. In contrast, older college students and those cohabitating did not value role transitions as markers of adulthood as strongly.

    Young Adult Living Arrangements

    In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults 18 to 34 were more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household (Fry, 2016). The current trend is that young Americans are not choosing to settle down romantically before age 35. Since 1880, living with a romantic partner was the most common living arrangement among young adults. In 1960, 62% of America’s 18- to 34-year-olds were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, while only 20% were living with their parents.

    By 2014, 31.6% of early adults were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, while 32.1% were living in the home of their parent(s). Another 14% of early adults lived alone, were a single parent, or lived with one or more roommates. The remaining 22% lived in the home of another family member (such as a grandparent, in-law, or sibling), a non-relative, or in group quarters (e.g., college dormitories). Comparing ethnic groups, 36% of black and Hispanic early adults lived at home, while 30% of white young adults lived at home.

    Screen Shot 2019-01-16 at 6.19.54 PM.png
    Figure 7.5.

    As can be seen in Figure 7.5, gender differences in living arrangements are also noted in that young men are living with parents at a higher rate than young women. In 2014, 35% of young me were residing with their parents, while 28% were living with a spouse or partner in their own household. Young women were more likely to be living with a spouse or partner (35%) than living with their parents (29%). Additionally, more young women (16%) than young men (13%) were heading up a household without a spouse or partner, primarily because women are more likely to be single parents living with their children. Lastly, young men (25%) are more likely than young women (19%) to be living in the home of another family member, a non-relative, or in some type of group quarters (Fry, 2016).

    What are some factors that help explain these changes in living arrangements? First, early adults are postponing marriage or choosing not to marry or cohabitate. Lack of employment and lower wages have especially contributed to males residing with their parents. Men who are employed are less likely to live at home. Wages for young men (adjusting for inflation) have been falling since 1970 and correlate with the rise in young men living with their parents. The recent recession and recovery (2007-present) has also contributed to the increase in early adults living at home. College enrollments increased during the recession, which further increased early adults living at home. However, once early adults possess a college degree, they are more likely to establish their own households (Fry, 2016).

    This page titled 10.2: When Does Adulthood Begin? is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.