Macro social changes

There is a new sociological stage of life in American culture known as "emerging adults". They are 18-29 years old and are in a type of suspended animation between youth and adulthood. According to the book, Souls in Transition: The religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults, four macro social changes have combined to create this new phase in the American life course:

  1. The dramatic growth of higher education: in the second half of last century there has been a dramatic rise in the number of high school graduates going on to college and university. As a result, a huge proportion of American youth are extending their formal schooling well into their twenties.
  2. The delay of marriage: over the last decades the median age of first marriage for women rose from 20.3 to 25.9. For men during that same time the median age rose from 22.9 to 27.5. As a result, many youth today face almost a decade between high school graduation and marriage to spend time exploring all the options available to them with unprecedented freedom.
  3. The changes in the American and global economy: this has undermined stable, lifelong careers and replaced them instead with careers with lower security, more frequent job changes, and an ongoing need for new training and education. It is not unheard of now to have seven or more careers in a lifetime.
  4. The willingness of parents to extend financial support: aware of the resources it often takes to succeed, parents spend on their children an average of $38,340 per child in total material assitance between ages 18 and 34. These resources help subsidize an extended freedom in emerging adulthood.

These changes have created a stage accompanied by transience, confusion, anxiety, self-obsession, melodrama, conflict, disappointment, and sometimes emotional devastation. Though time will tell, I think the character and challenges of this recently developing, in-between stage of life signifies something big and serious.

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Jeff Vankooten is a speaker and author focusing on the power of resilience to effectively engage the challenges of change. He helps leaders, businesses, and organizations develop the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly unpredictable business environment.
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