Cross National Similarities and Differences

The idea of studying how young people think about what it means to become an adult is fairly new, and as previously noted, until recently studies on this topic have been limited mostly to White Americans representing the American majority culture. However, several papers have come out recently that provide insights into how people in a variety of different cultures think about what it means to be an adult and consider their responses in the context of the distinctive characteristics of their culture. In addition to the new data described on American ethnic groups, these studies have examined conceptions of adulthood among Israelis (Mayseless & Scharf, 2003), Argentines (Facio & Micocci, 2003), and American Mormons (Nelson, 2003). Both cultural similarities and cultural differences have been found.

The cultural distinctiveness of conceptions of adulthood is one of the notable themes of studies conducted in different cultures. Two-thirds of the young Israelis in the Mayseless & Scharf (2003) study viewed completing their required term of military service as an important part of becoming an adult. For young Argentines (Facio & Micocci, 2003), the economic upheavals that have taken place in recent years in their country make the prospect of entering the adult world more daunting than it might be in places with greater economic stability. Facio and Micocci (2003) suggest that these upheavals explain in part the tendency of Argentinian emerging adults to emphasize family capacities (e.g., being able to support a spouse and children financially) as criteria for adulthood, because they value family as a source of stability in a way that the working world is not. Among the Mormons described by Nelson (2003), the roles and rites of passage unique to their religion—such as attending the Temple or completing mission service—have considerable meaning to them as markers of adult status.

As for similarities, one common theme across several studies has been that criteria for adulthood reflecting collectivistic values were found to be more important than in previous studies of White Americans. In the Facio and Micocci (2003) study of Argentine emerging adults, criteria reflecting communal, collectivistic values (such as care and consideration for others) were nearly equal in prominence to the individualistic criteria. In the Mayseless and Scharf (2003) study, Israelis endorsed communal value items (e.g., avoid drunk driving) much more widely than did Americans. Together, these findings highlight the unusually high individualism of American Whites and the tendency even in other cultures that are Western and industrialized to balance individualism with a stronger measure of collectivism.

Nevertheless, a great deal of similarity has been found across cultures in conceptions of adulthood in regard to the cultures studied thus far. In Israel, in Argentina, in every American ethnic group, and among Mormons, the most widely-supported criteria for adulthood were those that reflected values of independence and individualism, just as in previous studies of American middle-class Whites (Arnett, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003). Accepting responsibility for one's self, deciding on one's own beliefs and values, and becoming financially independent tend to be at the top in every study.

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