Date of Award

1-1-2012

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Irena Stepanikova

Abstract

Recent economic and cultural shifts have yielded an ambivalent developmental phase in the life course known as, “emerging adulthood.” This phase is a period for exploring one's identity before accepting adult responsibilities and there has been a marked postponement of those responsibilities. Economic forces are pushing today's youth to pursue a college education and changing sexual mores have permitted planning for parenthood, thus delaying entry into the work force as well as childbearing. To contribute to the understanding of emerging adulthood, I explore the social dimensions of age identity among both undergraduate and graduate students in a public university. Rather than approaching age as the number of years one has lived, I conceptualize age as a social construction imbued with responsibilities, norms, and rites of passage. These milestones include: 1) completing one's education, 2) workforce entry, 3) leaving the parental home, 4) marriage, and 5) parenthood.

To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the social dimensions of age during emerging adulthood, I employ a mixed methods approach. Applying quantitative methods facilitates statistical testing of a model of social age. Using robust regression, I model social age as a function of the number of challenges one has faced. I find support for this hypothesis, but this relationship is no longer significant in a model that also controls for other aspects of age identity. I also hypothesize that respondents in chronologically older subsamples will have more variability in their accomplishments of the adulthood markers than respondents in younger subsamples. Standard deviations provide support for this hypothesis .

Qualitative data, collected as open-ended survey responses, illustrate what interests and activities characterize respondents' personal age (that is, how old one feels) as well as the criteria by which personal age is judged (also known as other-perceived age). I find that, overall, upperclassmen and graduate students have more in common with each other than they do with freshmen in terms of their personal age and in how they believe others judge their age. For example, upperclassmen and graduate students tend to cite the markers of adulthood more often than freshmen in terms of defining their personal age. In addition, freshmen tend to cite character traits as criteria for other-perceived age while the two older subsamples tend to cite behaviors. The study has implications for the parents and institutions that socialize and orient youths toward young adulthood in this transitional phase.

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