Take one hundred
years. It is an impressive span in time, for a human being. There was wars,
economic breakthroughs, migrations, inventions, revolutions, shifts in the
education style, etc., with all their consequences: new life styles, targets,
habits, expectations, etc. Obviously, one cannot have the same course of life
at the dusk of this period as in the dawn. But where is the biggest difference
in this course? Which are the salient differences in peoples' behaviors? How
much readiness is in our minds and in public authorities minds to "read"
these signs that clearly states that people have new life courses, in which not
only that they do different things, but they do old things at different
The editors and
contributors, many of them members of the MacArthur Research Network on
Transitions to Adulthood and Public Policies, have tried to gather all the
necessary data for a good understanding of the problem. For there is a
problem: early adulthood (or late adolescence) it is a genuine stage in the
life of an individual standing in the threshold of the 21st century.
One can compare
the data cross-national or simply inside the borders of one country. Adulthood
frontier's problem it is not one of the United States, Germany, United Kingdom
or France. It is a problem of all advanced industrialized countries: a problem
of social institutions, such as welfare regimes, labor and housing markets,
religious and educational institutions, and cultural practices, ideologies
values and attitudes, which all shape the individual behavior in the same way
across those countries. There are, of course, national differences, but we can
neglect them -- these differences do not create unique patterns.
to adulthood during the twentieth century is marked by dramatic changes in
education and family formation patterns. Structural and economic shifts drew
people in the cities, and women were drawn in the labor forces, so that the
work and family formation were molded on the new opportunities and habits. Men
and women delayed the marriage and individualized their pathways to adulthood.
Time use patterns show a convergence between men and women, designed by
economic opportunities for young adults and changes in social norms concerning
None of these
aspects remain unrelated to the others. Obviously, certain combinations between
gender, ethnicity, education, etc. are more favorable for a smooth way towards
adulthood than others. It is also obvious that some social policies enhance
particular sets of personal qualities and dispositions to act. The book includes
a set of outlines for the main issues to be addressed through public policies.
For example, the need for improvement in the footing of vulnerable populations
is very well sketched through the summing of the results showing that there are
populations that face insurmountable obstructions after the leave from the
public system. In conjunction with the notice that the economic mobility it is
not so high to help the overcoming of related problems, we have a good to
believe that a government support for redistributive politics is necessary.
This refers to the US government, like the other findings regarding public
policies improvements, but most of them can be applied to Western Europe's
governments as well.
Maybe the main "black
point" for the reader who wants to be struck by a chart that pictures the
whole of the problem can be seen in the lack of an overall synoptically track
of the evolution from the short transition from adolescence to adulthood (as it
was early in the twentieth century) to the span not covered neither by
adolescence, nor by adulthood. But there are two good reasons for this lack.
First, the complexity and amounts of data are hindering such an endeavor.
Second, the picture of the phenomenon is in front of everyone. It is impossible
to think that there is one person who does not see an example illustrating the
behavior described in the book among his friends or colleagues. Surveys'
results are meant to reveal the trends and dimensions of the phenomenon, not
only its existence, which, at least in some of its aspects, is older than the
period taken in consideration.
The book keeps
track of these changes for every important category: childbearing and marriage
(separate and in joint sequence), time use (in education, housework, leisure,
travel, etc.), generation gaps in attitudes, behavior and values (from the 70s
to the 90s). Then follows the changing in conceptions. When do adolescents
become adults? How people make the transition to adulthood? How the different
pathways affect adult outcomes? How many paths we have? How hard it is for each
category to get ahead? Does ethnic and racial diversity counts? How important
is the material assistance from families? These are just few of the question
raised and addressed throughout the book. Simplifying, we can say that the book
- Introducing the problem;
- Stating and comparing the differences, along the most important
- Raising questions about which are the important factors and how
these affect the target;
- Analyzing the policies and practices with regard to the
problem, and stating the trends.
Finally, for the
book is a result of a big sociological endeavor, I have to mention that the
reader will find here not only charts and tables of processed information, but also technical information on
surveys, the forms and the methods used, and generally a large amount of
technical materials. Of course, this is a precondition for demonstrating the
scientific accuracy, but these technical data speak also about the wideness of
these studies and the relevance of the findings.
Yet, the authors
mention that there are reasons to believe that an exhaustive study of the
problem it is not possible. There are challenges and impediments hard to
overcome: a highly accurate study is very expensive, some of the paths to
special populations are closed, gathering a right research team (which has to
be a multidisciplinary one) requires important efforts, etc. But, with large
amounts of data and bundles of perspectives, this book represents a very good
starting point for the economical, political and generally cultural studies on
the western (post-) industrialized countries' citizens. Probably the next step
to be made regarding this subject is that of studying the changes in
mentalities and moralities, as well as the new challenges raised by the
collided interests of lifelong education and social vulnerability of those
squeezed by material duties. But there is, also, a rich set of exits towards
the field of social problems, not to be neglected by any of those who are
Ó 2006 Viorel Zaicu
Ph.D., Bucharest, Romania