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SOC357 Shanahan Pathways to Adulthood in Changing Societies.docx

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Bonnie Erickson

Shanahan Pathways to Adulthood in Changing Societies: Variability and Mechanisms in Life Course Perspective Historical Patterns in the Transition to Adulthood - The timing and sequencing of transition markers have changed through historical time, simultaneously reflecting long-term trends and short-term fluctuations between cohorts, as well as variability within cohorts - The modernization of societies is often considered the underlying process driving long- term trends that differentiate successive cohorts, but short-term economic changes and discrete historical events have complicated these trends. In turn, differences within cohorts reflect inequalities due to race, gender, and socioeconomic status Long-term patterns in transition markers: the modernity argument evaluated - modernization has promoted both standardization and variability in the transition to adulthood - . Empirical evidence suggests that the transition to adulthood has indeed both standardized and diversified, although these trends reflect many historical developments. It may be that the transition to adulthood has become especially diversified since the 1960s Standardization of the Life Course - The state increased the number of rights that an individual could claim on a universalistic, standardized basis through the twentieth century, but at the same time it restricted the individual's right to organize many aspects of life (for example, with respect to education and entry into and exit from the labor market) - Consistent with these arguments, several strands of evidence suggest that the transition to adulthood has standardized. Examining the prevalence of different female life course patterns (for example, spinster vs widowed mother) among cohorts of women born between 1830 and 1920, Uhlenberg (1969) observed a convergence on the "typical" female life course pattern, involving survival to age 20, marriage, having children, and surviving with husband until age 55. Among women born in 1830, -21% experienced this "typical" pattern in contrast to ~57% of women born in 1920. He also observed a narrowing of the age range in which women typically married and had children. The primary factor promoting standardization of the life course was improvement in mortality rates brought about by the management of contagious and infectious diseases such as smallpox - Theoreticians have emphasized the critical role of "modernity" in explaining this long- term pattern, but, more precisely, compression of the transition markers from about 1830 to 1920 primarily reflected improvements in health, whereas standardization since roughly 1905 has reflected the expansion of the educational system Individualization of the Life Course - Many theorists also maintain that as people were freed from the traditional constraints of family and locale, they were able to exercise more agency in the construction of their biographies - Consistent with these arguments, Modell and his colleagues (1976) observed that, between 1880 and 1970, the familial and nonfamilial transition markers increasingly overlapped, creating more diverse sequence patterns - Hogan (1981) provided empirical evidence for variability in the sequencing of markers among cohorts born between 1907 and 1946. The percentage of men experiencing an "intermediate nonnormative" order of transition markers (beginning work before school completion, or marriage before beginning work but after school completion) increased from ~20% in the cohorts born between 1907 and 1912 to -30% for men born in 1951. The prevalence of "extreme non- normative" ordering (marriage before school completion) increased from <10% among cohorts born between 1907 and 1911 to >20% for cohorts born between 1924 and 1947 The New Individualization - Although no such study has been conducted, some evidence suggests that the transition to adulthood has indeed become more variable since the 1960s - Also, new pathways have emerged, and greater variability in the sequencing of markers is observed (Buchmann 1989). This basic impression has been supported by much research that documents loose couplings among marriage, parenthood, and home leaving (Goldscheider & Goldscheider 1993), as well as the increased - likelihood of returning to higher education after leaving school, transferring from a community college to a university, and mixing employment with schooling and parenthood (Bingham & Giele 1998, Morris et al 1998). Modell's (1989) detailed analysis of courtship and marriage shows that the school-work-marriage sequence of earlier times became less prevalent between 1920 and 1975, as did the marriage- coitus sequence (see also Rindfuss 1991, Rindfuss & Parnell 1989). Activities constituting family formation become further complicated by cohabitation beginning in the 1980s. These strands of evidence suggest that the life course may have experienced heightened individualization since the late 1960s, especially in the emergence of new pathways into adult roles Short-term intercohort trends: the economy and discrete historical events Economic change and the timing of markers - . For example, delays in parenthood have been observed since the 1960s; between 1966 and 1976, first births to women > 30 years of age increased ~33%, but the number of women in that age group increased only 6%. Likewise Rindfuss and his colleagues (1996) showed substantial percentage increases in births among women > 30 and percentage decreases among women <25, between 1973 and 1988. These trends are thought to reflect in part economic opportunities: women's work has shifted to career- oriented, white-collar jobs, especially the professions (Mare 1995), which are perceived to penalize workers for time spent out of the labor force and to foster preferences for nonfamilial responsibilities and rewards - Yet, as Rindfuss and his colleagues (1988) noted in their study of first births, prospective mothers tended to evaluate their life chances and formulate plans according to their past experiences and to their projections of opportunity in the future. This intuitively appealing position suggests the importance of young adults' interpretations of their economic circumstances, past, present, and future Mass Mobilization and Knifing-Off Experiences - In addition to economic fluctuations, discrete historical events, especially wars, have altered the transition to adulthood. In World War II, military service often created a "social moratorium," a postponement of the acquisition of adult roles and responsibilities (Elder 1986, 1987). Indeed, younger entrants were significantly more likely than older entrants to enter the war before they acquired full-time jobs, married, or completed their education. Service in the military at an early age maximized the discontinuity between youth and adulthood, redirected the life course throu
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