What Does Not Matter Marriage Age Finishing School Getting a

Just as interesting as what matters to emerging adults in defining adulthood is what does not matter to them. We have already seen that marriage now matters little as a marker of adulthood, despite its traditional importance as the ultimate marker. Through most of American history, until late in the twentieth century, getting married meant reaching full adulthood.

Marriage no longer has this meaning in American society. It is meaningful in other important ways, of course, but its status as a marker of adult status has passed. In the many studies I and others have conducted on what people of various ages believe defines the transition to adulthood, marriage consistently ranks near rock-bottom (Arnett 1994, 1997,; 1998, 2001, 2003; Mayseless & Scharf, 2003; Nelson & Badger, 2004). In interviews, when people are given a chance to state their views about what is important to them personally as markers of their progress toward adulthood, marriage is almost never mentioned—even by people who are married.

What explains the demise of marriage as a marker of adulthood? Perhaps most important is that marriage is a much less dramatic transition than it used to be even 40 or 50 years ago. By the time they marry, the majority of today's emerging adults have already known each other for several years, had a regular sexual relationship, and lived in the same household. Being married may feel different to them psychologically than cohabiting did, but in fact not much changes in their daily lives. For example, one 24-year-old woman married 4 months ago, but says it had nothing to do with making her feel more like an adult: "We had been together for four years and I just felt like it was a continuation of our relationship. I mean, we lived together anyway, so I don't think it's changed much." Compare this to the situation historically—when getting married usually involved leaving your parents' household for the first time, having a sexual relationship for the first time, and living for the first time with someone outside your immediate family—and it is easy to see why marriage would have had greater significance as a transition to adulthood in the past than it does now.

As Table 19.1 shows, emerging adults have the same lack of regard for other traditional markers of adulthood, such as turning age 18, finishing school, and holding a full-time job.

Turning age 18 marks the attainment of a wide range of legal rights and responsibilities in American society. At age 18, a person becomes able to vote and to sign legally-binding contracts. Becoming 18 has also meant becoming subject to the military draft during major wars, and even now young men are obligated to register with the Selective Service Program when they turn 18. Eighteen year-olds are also tried as adults when accused of criminal activity (although some states try younger teens as adults as well).

All of this makes it seem that turning 18 must be a momentous occasion in the lives of young people, but emerging adults do not see it as having anything to do with reaching adulthood. In the interviews they never mentioned turning 18 as a milestone of adulthood, and on the questionnaires few of them indicated turning 18 (or 21) as important. They are focused on their personal passage to adulthood, as defined by their progression toward self-sufficiency, and the idea that simply reaching a certain age makes them adults would strike them as nonsense. The entrance into emerging adulthood usually takes place at age 18 because that is the age which people typically graduate from high school and leave home (Goldscheider & Goldscheider, 1994), but for most people full adulthood is a long way off at that point.

Finishing school is another transition that has been traditionally regarded as an important marker of adult status (Hogan & Astone, 1986), but for today's emerging adults it does not have this significance. Graduating from high school means little, because a high school degree alone has little value in the workplace, and the great majority of high school graduates expect to go on to college. Even graduating from college holds little significance today as a marker of adulthood. Perhaps this is because so many college graduates expect to obtain further education at some point, and they do not see their movement toward adulthood as delayed for this reason.

Sometimes in interviews emerging adults mention college graduation as an important step toward adulthood, not because the graduation itself has this significance but because graduating means new responsibilities and a major step toward self-sufficiency. For example, a 22-year-old recent college graduate said that he started to feel like an adult "probably when I graduated, because all of a sudden I felt like I had responsibility and I had to pay bills." A 27-year-old man who graduated 3 years earlier recalled a similar experience, "When I graduated from college and I was responsible for myself, I think that's when I reached it. Once you graduate from college and you get out on your own, that's when you realize that there's nobody else to fall back on but yourself."

Obtaining a full-time job also lacks significance as a marker of adulthood for today's emerging adults. Perhaps this is because so many young people today begin working twenty or more hours a week while still in high school, and college students usually work as well, so that moving into a full-time job is a gradual process rather than an abrupt and momentous transition. In 1940 less than 5% of high school students were employed, but this figure ballooned in the 1970s and 1980s, and by now over 80% of high school seniors have held at least one part-time job (Barling & Kelloway, 1999) With working part-time so prevalent beginning in adolescence, the transition to full-time work no longer marks a major change in the lives of emerging adults. Some sociologists continue to argue for the importance of role transitions in young people's conceptions of adulthood. In 2003 a national study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) claimed that "finish education" was perceived as the top criterion for adulthood (Associated Press, 2003). However, the study did not allow people to state their own view of what was most important for adulthood, but gave them a narrow range of choices that included only role transitions (e.g., in addition to finish education, there was marriage, parenthood, and obtaining a full-time job). In contrast to the NORC findings, numerous studies have been conducted on this topic, in many parts of the United States, using a variety of different methods (interviews as well as questionnaires), and finish education has never been any where near the top criteria (Arnett 1994; 1997; 1998; 2001; 2003; Mayseless & Scharf, 2003; Nelson, 2003), so there is good reason to question whether the NORC findings are valid. They are an artifact of the restrictive method of offering respondents only a narrow range of possible choices.

Finding Your Confidence

Finding Your Confidence

Confidence is necessary to achieve success in life. Some effective confidence tips must be followed if you genuinely want to gain accomplishment in your work. So how do you build your confidence that will work for you in any situation? Initially, make an effort to spend time with confident people. Their vigor and strength is so stirring that you will surely feel yourself more powerful just by listening to their talk. To build confidence it is vital that you are in the midst of self-assuring people.

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