The Absence of Gender Specific Criteria

In contrast to the strict demarcation of gender expectations in the preparation for the transition to adulthood in traditional cultures—with provide/protect/procreate as requirements for males, and care for children/run a household as requirements for females—it is striking how little the views of the emerging adults described here were linked to gender. The questionnaire items specific to gender, and the interview question on woman/girl and man/boy distinctions, were intended to explore this issue, and were based directly on the work of anthropologists, as summarized by Gilmore (1990) and Schlegel & Barry (1991). The results indicate that for young Americans gender has little relevance to the transition to adulthood. Learning to provide for and protect a family, care for children, and run a household were all viewed as quite important criteria in the transition to adulthood (Table 19.1), but for males and females equally, not as gender-linked criteria.

Also, for all 38 items on the questionnaire, males and females were highly similar in their responses.4 Furthermore, even though one of the interview questions asked specifically about distinctions between males and females in the transition to adulthood (woman-girl, man-boy), most participants stated that there was no important distinction between the genders in this respect. Their responses to this part of the question were also coded, and the results indicated that 72% held the view that adult status is defined no differently for males and females, 21% believed there were gender differences in the most important criteria for adulthood, and the remaining 6% were unsure. This is a stark contrast to the gender-distinct pattern in traditional cultures and historically in the West, and perhaps reflects the fact that today's emerging adults have grown up in a time and a culture in which gender role distinctions are relatively nebulous, in comparison to many other places and times.

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