When Reality Sinks In: The Shifting Perceptions of Adulthood

Janel E. Benson, University of Pennsylvania
Frank Furstenberg, University of Pennsylvania

Using data from the Philadelphia Educational Longitudinal Study (PELS), this paper seeks to explore both the subjective and objective determinants of self-defined adulthood and the relationship between these indicators overtime. Preliminary results suggest that substantial change has occurred over the two-years since this group of adolescents has left high school and moved on to other stages of their lives. Over this period, the proportion of respondents who believe having children, getting married, and moving out on one's own are important to becoming an adult have decreased, while the proportion reporting securing full-time work is important has increased. These findings suggest that with increased life experience the notions of what it means to be an adult shifts from idealized toward more realistic. At the same time, we find a significant increase in the percent of young adults both crossing demographic transitions and taking on individual household and financial responsibilities.

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Presented in Session 36: Transitions from Adolescence to Adulthood