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SGY130 - Youth and Society
Assignment 02

Choose either transitions, emerging adulthood or the narrative approach to examine how young people’s lives are affected by their class.

The theory of Emerging Adulthood presented by Arnett (2000), suggests a new concept of development between the late teens through the twenties, focusing on ages between 18 and 25 years, which is characterised by a prolonged stage of identity exploration. Arnett (2000, p. 469) affirms that “emerging adulthood exists only in cultures that allow young people a prolonged period of independent role exploration during the late teens and twenties”. To that note, the transition to adulthood seems to be increasingly prolonged as a result of social and economic changes, with a high number of young people staying in education longer, marrying later and having children later in life than ever before (Arnett, 2004).

In industrialised societies the period from the late teens through the twenties is a period of overwhelming changes, where youth generally gain a level of education that will serve as the basis for their incomes and future professional achievements later on in life (Heinz & Marshall, 2003). However, late research has identified that emerging adulthood is dependent on cultural and social class (Heinz & Marshall, 2003) and thus is not a universal stage. Also, cross-cultural studies suggest that social class, ethnicity and gender appear to have a significant impact on young people’s lives in industrialised societies (Birgham, 2012), as new independence and choices are only available to those possessing an income or, for that matter, parents who can provide financial support for young people during the emerging adulthood phase (Furlong & Cartmel, 1997, Hendry & Kloep, 2010). In terms of social class, the theory of emerging adulthood seems to be built-in on the assumption that most emerging adults will come from a ‘middle class’ section of the society; however, Birgham (2012) argues that families with low socioeconomic status were more likely to perceive themselves as having reached adulthood and less likely to be described as true “emerging adults” than their higher socioeconomic counterparts. This is not to say that emerging adulthood does not take place within the lower socioeconomic classes, but that it may indeed form a shorter life phase than it does for the middle and upper classes (Bigham, 2012; Furstenberg 2008; Galambos & Martinez 2007; Swartz 2008).

As it seems that social class has a great influence on young people’s ability to experience emerging adulthood, one might question ‘how much difference does social class background and its influence on educational and professional opportunities make emerging adulthood a positive or negative experience?’ (Hendry & Kloep, 2007). One could argue that higher economic conditions make it possible for young people to delay stability in their professional and personal lives well into their late 20s, as their families and societies around them are not in desperate need of their labour, allowing young people to gain a higher education (Padilla-Walker; Nelson & Carroll, 2011).

Subsequent literature following Arnett’s introduction to the theory of emerging adulthood, has uncovered possible flaws in Arnett’s claims for a new stage in the developmental process, by demonstrating, through the views of young people themselves that there are significant variations from the ‘standard emerging adult’ transition in the modern Western world (Hendry et al. 2007). Also, in developing countries emerging adulthood is experienced by a minority of the population, mainly the urban middle and upper classes with access to money (Hendry et al. 2007). On the same note, other studies undertaken in Asia also point to the fact that the emerging adulthood phase only applies to a relatively small proportion of young people, especially in China, as much of China’s population at...
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