“Adulthood” — it’s a scary thought for most University students. Whether it’s finding a job after graduation, living away from parents or the even more daunting prospect of starting a family and career, students are postponing adulthood for later.
Most Americans believe adulthood now begins at 26, according to a survey released earlier this year by the University of Chicago. With a competitive job market and a recent economic downturn, it is becoming more common for college graduates to live with their parents after they finish their college education.
Frank Furstenberg Jr., chairman of the MacArthur Network, the research group that designed the Chicago study, said students travel a unique path to adulthood.
“People with a high school education or some college may have earlier expectations for adulthood. In Italy, people stay with their families until their 30’s. There is no set time table for adulthood.”
Whatever the reason, University students seem glad for an extended adolescence.
RC freshman Emily Steimly said she is grateful for the time she has before beginning her career.
“I’m not an adult at all. My parents are paying for college. I’m glad I have time here to figure it out cause I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Steimly, 17, said.
What constitutes “adulthood” varies between students. While University students said financial separation from their parents is a key element, many cited psychological separation from parents as an equal, if not more significant sign of adulthood.
Kinesiology junior Katie Krembs said she feels that adulthood carries definite responsibilities.
“It’s having a paying job, paying your own bills. You have to be self-sustaining,” Krembs said.
Other students said the concept of adulthood was a more emotional process that happens over a continuum of time.
“I think it comes down to managing your life in every aspect. You are an adult when you are completely independent from your parents both emotionally and financially,” said Engineering junior Nghiem Nguyen.
Students said that their generation’s trend toward a longer pre-adulthood period is better when compared to earlier decades.
LSA sophomore Kristina Kellett said she is glad for the benefits a later onset of adulthood affords women.
“Decades ago,women became adults fairly quickly. Women just had children earlier … they were thrust into that role. It’s nicer to have an elongated childhood that’s not really a childhood,” Kellett said.
History Prof. Maris Vinovskis said that the concept of adulthood is a complex topic and a clear definition is hard to delineate.
“Being an adult is a very nebulous thing. It varies from person to person, experience to experience. Things get very confusing with today’s youth. People are doing things that society would consider as not adult, like living with their parents. However, they may simultaneously be doing things society would consider very adult, like having a job and making their own money,” Vinovskis said.
Regardless of any larger social patterns, the idea foremost in student fears is the possibility of moving back with their parents after graduation. Students feel that not only was living with their parents after college unacceptable, but that even if they were making their own money and emotionally mature, they would be avoiding adulthood by resuming living with their family.
LSA junior Ryan Thompson said living with his parents after graduation is not a possibility.
“I’m not an adult in every fashion, but I wouldn’t live back with my parents,” Thompson said, who is planning on attending law school after graduation.
Furstenberg stressed that the trend of American youth to continue living with their parents can often be a necessity in today’s economic climate.
“While a movement to live back with parents isn’t a natural desire, the pressing reality is that is not as easy to make that transition (to adulthood) as it once was,” Furstenberg said.
Nguyen said he sees it as a last resort.
“It’s nothing something I want to do. I’d rather find anything that live back with my parents,” Nguyen said.
Krembs said she would avoid the situation at all costs. “I’d move in with my sister before I’d move in with my parents. You leave home for a reason.”