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Chapter 10:
Constructing an Adult Life
Emerging Adulthood: A New Developed World Life Stage
Lasts from 18 through the late 20s, devoted to constructing an adult life
Function is exploration, trying out options before committing to adult roles.
Why so long to get there?
Life expectancy gains: Now that we routinely live to our 70s or 80s, we have the luxury of putting off adult commitments to an older age.
More intense educational requirements: Most of us go to college finance college—it can take til and—with so many of us working to our mid 20s to get an undergraduate degree.
Cultural norms stressing “finding ourselves”: We believe that we need to try out the possibilities so we can be SURE of what we want before we settle down..

A Time of Huge Variability
Between individuals: We reach the markers of adulthood—leaving home, being self supporting, finding a mate, and having children--at very different ages.
Between cultures: In non-western societies people may not go through this life stage.
Depending on socioeconomic status: Affluent emerging adults can enjoy exploring the world; if you are working full time to finance school your emerging years can be an exhausting time.
PLUS: U.S. emerging adults often move backward and forward on the way to constructing an adult life (see next slide).
In the UNITED STATES the Path to Constructing an Adult Life Can Be Erratic

But emerging adulthood differs in interesting ways in different nations.
Emerging in Italy: A Difficult Time
The Italians put a premium on hiring men (and women) with families, so its hard for young people to get a good job.
There are strong norms against cohabitating and against unwed mothers.
So many Italian young people live in the nest during their 20s.
Reaching full adulthood – and having the financial ability to leave home- often does not happen until the 30s.
Emerging in Sweden: A time of True Exploration
Nest leaving routinely occurs at age 18.
College is financed by the government.
Employers make an effort to hire the young.
In Sweden, the 20s are often a time to explore, travel, and enjoy life.
Plus, in Sweden there is no stigma about cohabiting or having children before being married. So living together outside of marriage is common.
Nest Leaving: Some Other U.S. Facts
Traditionally our norm is to leave the house at 18, but today many 20-somethings must return to the nest periodically on the way to constructing an adult life.
Parents and children accept these re-entries but can sometimes get anxious about this off time event.
Nest leaving is not a collectivist value; so ethnic minority emerging adults and their parents are more likely to live together.
Statistically speaking, young men tend to stay in the nest longer and feel more comfortable about living with parents.
Exploring the Social Clock
We pace our progress through adulthood through shared age norms of where we need to be in life at a given age.
Are we on-time (on schedule) or off-time (either too early or too late) for what we- and society- expect at our age?

Being off-time in the late direction can cause physical and mental stress.
The social clock norms vary depending on the culture and time in which we live.
Do you agree with the mid-1990s social clock norms on the next page?
Do you agree with these social clock norms?
Emerging Adulthood: Finding Identity
Erik Erikson’s stage: Identity vs. Identity Confusion
Happens in adolescence and/or emerging adulthood
This is when we need to decide who to be as an adult--- or, in Erikson’s words, construct an IDENTITY .
Constructing an Identity
Eric Erikson’s Identity versus Role Confusion

We need a period of moratorium to find the right adult path.

Identity confusion - the sense that there is nothing I want to do– creates tremendous anxiety.

Marcia’s Approach to Identity Development
James Marcia suggests four categories within which either a crisis or commitment occurs:
Crisis: a period of identity development in which an adolescent consciously chooses between various alternatives and makes decisions
Commitment: a psychological investment in a course of action or an ideology
Marcia’s Categories of Adolescent Identity
1) IDENTITY ACHIEVEMENT - where adolescents consider and explore various alternatives and then make a commitment.

2) IDENTITY FORECLOSURE - adolescents do not do adequate personal exploration but make a commitment (usually following others' directives). They adopt an identity without self-exploration or thought.

Marcia’s Categories of Adolescent Identity
3) MORATORIUM - adolescents explore but do not commit to an option, and that may create anxiety and conflict. An identity is usually defined later, after a struggle. This is seen as a healthy search for an adult self.

4) IDENTITY DIFFUSION - adolescents neither explore nor commit to various options. They may seem to be drifting aimlessly without goals, and may have trouble to committing to relationships also.

Critiques of Marcia’s Theory

Do we ever permanently reach achievement? Aren’t our identities evolving as we travel through life?

Can’t we be in different identity statuses in specific facets of our life?

Isn’t searching for our individual identity a culturally bound idea? In much of the world, people don’t have the luxury of choosing a life path.

Culture and Identity
Bicultural Identities: In today’s world, young people may identify with their traditional culture and also with the western global society--- a classic situation for young people in the developing world and among developed world immigrant emerging adults.

Career: An Important Aspect of Identity

Choosing a fulfilling career ranks as a number one issue in constructing an adult identity.
Most teens expect to go to college AND have lofty expectations about their future careers.

Constructing a Career: Findings from Studies of Childhood and the Teenage Years
One important key to predicting being in diffusion or making a smooth career transition is whether a teen is a worker (enjoys being productive) or a player (only liking leisure).
However, many high school players do become workers when they find a satisfying career.
Studies also show that personality changes the most in this stage of life, and the trait of conscientiousness tends to increase dramatically.

Finding Flow
Flow= feeling of being totally absorbed in an activity, at the peak of your powers
Time flies by unnoticed.
You are extremely intrinsically motivated.
Occurs when there is just the right person-environment fit—an activity is highly challenging and yet matches your abilities.
The activities where we experience flow are a good tip off to potential careers.
Bottom line: Use your “flow states” to alert you to the fields you might enjoy.

The Non -College Career Path
Although 2/3 of US high school students enter college, only about 1 in 4 graduate.
People who go directly from high school to work often enter the secondary labor market, jobs with few benefits and low pay. (Jobs in the primary labor market, which offer good salaries and benefits, often require some type of degree or certification.)
The key to constructing a satisfying non-college career is to undertake a moratorium search and find a job that gives you flow.
The School to Work Transition
Problems with the U.S. approach
Today, we encourage everyone to go to college. This sets many non-academically inclined kids up for failure.
Today, we do little to help people make the transition from school to work. We leave them to find jobs on their own.
Some interesting alternatives:
The German plan: Instead of going to college, young people enter an apprentice program that guarantees a job in that field.
The Japanese plan: Instead of there being a separation between what happens at school and work, employers develop relationships with schools and hire students that the faculty recommends.

Career Search Tips
Don’t go right to college, especially if academics is not your thing. Develop a track record at work; and then perhaps go back later.
Search for a job where you feel a sense of flow.
Conduct an active moratorium career search by reaching out to people for advice and exploring potential careers.
Understand that it may take a number of years—and trial jobs- before you find your ideal career identity.
Getting the Most from College

Immerse yourself in the college scene. Try to live on campus or close to school; join organizations; if possible, avoid working long hours.
Connect your classes to potential careers. Set up internships or research experiences with faculty.
Make connections with professors. Reach out to at least one professor and be sure to see your advisor every semester. (If that advisor seems distant, ask a favorite professor to be your advisor.)
Use these moratorium years to get to know people of different religions and ethnicities.
Predicting College Success: A Flow Chart
Relationships in Emerging Adulthood
Erikson’s stage for young adults:

Erikson believed that the major task of young adulthood was finding one’s life partner and establishing a mutual loving relationship.
For Erikson, this could only come AFTER achieving identity.
may not be true for women (?)
Finding Love
For most of history parents selected our mates. Within the past 25 years, the landscape of love is changing in these interesting ways:
We now have virtual dating—meeting your mate on the internet.
We have much more cross-ethnic and interracial dating.
Same-sex relationships are much more acceptable.
People often cohabit (or live together) before getting married.
Cohabitation is on the rise.
Cohabitation: A Fact Sheet

People cohabit at every age but the prime cohabitation zone is between the ages of 18 and 25 .
Correlational studies show couples who cohabit before marriage are more likely to divorce— but this does NOT mean that living together causes divorce.
Could be a personality factor involved in both cohabiting and divorce
Religious people may be less likely to do either
People cohabit for different reasons; some as a way station on the pathway to being wed; some without any thought of marrying.
Murstein’s Structured Three-Phase Mate Selection Theory

1) Stimulus Phase
We approach people who visually appear to fit us: “I think this person looks like we might mesh.”
2) Value-Comparison Phase
Then as we date we try to figure out whether we match up according to values and interests.
3) Role Phase
Now we have decided that this is the one, and discuss our plans for our shared life.

BOTTOM LINE: We match up by homogamy or similarity
More About Homogamy
We tend to gravitate to similar others:
Through a passive process– Example: “At that expensive private college your family can afford, you are likely to meet other upper middle class kids who share your lifestyle.”
Through an active process– As you choose to get involved in saving the whales or working for the College
Republicans, you meet “like-minded people.”
Also your social network fosters homogamy: If your family and friends like your mate, your relationship is more likely to develop and progress.


People in more enduring, happy relationships see their loved ones through rose-colored glasses (thinking they are unrealistically perfect).
Event-driven relationships (erratic relationships characterized by dramatic shifts in feelings, and by REPEATEDLY breaking up and getting back together) are more fragile and less likely to endure.

The Impact of Personality: Adult Attachment Styles
Basic premise: Just as with children, we can categorize adults into distinctive attachment styles:
Preoccupied/ ambivalent (insecure)
Clingy; needy; suffocating; jealous; needs reassurance
Avoidant/dismissive (insecure)
Withholding; aloof; distant; unresponsive
Securely attached
Joyfully able to reach out in love
Responsive to a mate’s signals
Securely Attached Adults
Securely attached adults have the most successful relationships.

They give their partner space to differentiate, yet are firmly committed.
They take delight in their partner.
Do Attachment Styles Shift? Sometimes

Self-fulfilling prophecies help keep attachment styles stable.
Clingy people tend to be rejected more often.
Avoidant people tend to remain isolated.
A secure individual lives in an atmosphere of love.
Still, attachment styles can and do change.
Being in a loving relationship can make us secure.
After experiencing a traumatic love affair we can temporarily become insecure.

Evaluating your own relationship