Would you agree that becoming an adult is best explained using the emerging adulthood approach? What makes you agree or disagree with this statement?
One of the first problems that emerges with Arnett's emerging adulthood theory (2000) is his use of the slight historical shift in the age of first marriages as evidence of some new developmental period from adolescence to adulthood. Many others have brought attention to this shift in a similar vein; however, the figures are not as dramatic as these theorists suggest. First, according to U.S. census information the median age of the first marriage for males in 1890 was 26.0 years old and for females it was 22.0 years old. There is a steady increase in this age for first marriage up through the year 2010 when the median age for men is 28.2 and for women it is 26.1years of age (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2010). This shift is not that remarkable and is better interpreted in terms of changes in society such as mandatory public education (so less people get married before age 18), the availability of a college education to masses, and technology innovations offering more options to young people (Oppenheimer, 1988).
Since when is marriage a sign of adulthood anyway? (See question two below regarding definitions of an "adult"). What Arnett and others overlook is that the number of divorces over these same periods has also risen. In the period between 1950 and 2000 divorce rates have doubled (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2010). If the change in the age to marriage predicts a lengthening maturation process why is there an increase in divorces? What happened? The marriage statistics do not reflect a lengthening maturation or decision-making process. The choice to marry does not signal a transition from adolescence to adulthood, because if society allowed anyone to marry at any age without parental consent, there would be a sudden decrease in the median age of first marriage, which would make Arnett's conclusions inert. This is an artefact of changing societal trends and is not driven by a new developmental stage where people are in the "emerging adult" stage.
Arnett (2000) proposes that the residential habits of people from age 18 up is the demographic variable that defines the emerging adulthood more than any other. In fact, this is not a sign of a period of emerging adulthood as much as it is a sign of American culture and lifestyle that has emerged since the transition from a rural to more urban lifestyle for many Americans. This does not represent the results of a new developmental stage. Exploration is a result of greater societal opportunities; more choices and expanded potentials allow for one to experience more diversity. Subjective reports of young people trying to figure out where they stand in relation to society, changing viewpoints of individuals from one age group to another, etc. do not indicate a stage of "emerging adulthood" because if they did then no one would ever be classified as an adult. The data that Arnett discusses can be adequately explained by the models of Erickson (1968) and James Maricia's (1966) extension of the identity stage as well as Levinson's novice phase (1978). The age ranges proposed by these theorists for the stages can change with the times just as biological milestones have changed over the years (see the below discussion of biological maturity). But the stages themselves remain invariant. Although Arnett acknowledges these previous theoretical constructs he attempts, very poorly, to make a case that emerging adulthood is a new stage in development; however, this concept of emerging adulthood as he describes it can actually be extended to the period from birth until ____. Children have numerous relationships, numerous self-definitions, changes in preferences, numerous role definitions, etc. from early ages until they die. The biggest issue that Arnett's emerging adulthood stage suffers from is a lack of a definition of what adulthood actually is, and what unadulthood is (excuse the term). According to Arnett's view adulthood is a married person with a career, an identity, and a steady residence. Does that mean that we are drafting children or emerging adults who cannot understand their roles to fight wars? Does that mean that the majority of medical residents in hospitals (many of whom have not chosen a medical specialty, are single, and not in stable locals) are not adults? Would we trust our health to "emerging adults?" Without such clear definitions of adulthood, "emerging adulthood" can be any age range a theorist chooses, based on the qualifying data that Arnett (2000) uses.
2. Becoming an adult entirely depends upon the cultural or ethnic context of the young person. Discuss this statement.
How is adulthood defined? Adulthood is defined by the context, culture, or society to which an individual belongs. In nonhuman animals we typically ascertain that a sexually mature animal is an adult animal of its species (Klein, 2000). If one looks up adult in a biologically oriented text, one definition that will inevitably surface of an adult is "sexually" or "physically mature" (Klein, 2000). For example, dogs are considered to be adults when they can reproduce. Animals such as male lions are kicked out of the pride when they become sexually mature. However, few people would assign the role of "adult" to a pregnant 13-year-old girl or her 14-year-old boyfriend. There has been a trend in the United States that has seen the age of puberty in males and especially females actually decline (Euling, Selevan, Pescovitz, & Skakkebaek, 2008). Sexual maturity occurs between the ages of 10-12 for many of these "adults." Using this definition of a person as an adult with all adult rights and privileges would bring havoc to most parents in Western and industrialized nations. As a result many theorists and lay persons designate between being a biological and social adult (Magnusson, Stattin, & Allen, 1985).
There is a legal definition of adulthood as well. This definition has quite a bit of variance depending on what country one is in. Being a legal adult is defined by the activities or rights to which the person can engage or lay claim to (Furlong & Cartmel, 1997). Thus, depending on the society there may be different ages where one is allowed to engage in a legal contract, become autonomous from parents or legal guardians, vote, drink alcohol, get drafted, drive a motor vehicle, gamble, be held accountable for one's actions, etc. There may be a different minimum ages that may be applicable to any number of adult privileges and activities. In some cultures the transition to adulthood depends on the fulfilment of a certain ritual, in others it depends on legal standards. For instance in the United States and many countries legal adulthood depends on the context but is typically fulfilled by age 21, whereas in Scotland this is accomplished at age 16. The Mardu aborigines traditionally required males to complete an elaborate ritual before they were considered adults and this ritual was completed between the ages of 14 and 18 depending on the child (Tonkinson, 1978); however, the increasing encroachment of Western values has led many of these peoples to adopt Western notions and forgo tradition.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that in order to know what something is, one would have to understand what its final cause is (Ackrill, 2010). The final cause of any living thing is its function when it reaches maturation. The forms that the organism transcends in its early development should help it perform such functions when it matures. These functions are relatively fixed in animals, but in humans such functions are defined by the culture or social environment in which the person resides. To understand what adulthood is we need to understand the context within a person lives.…