Interdisciplinary Research on the Transition to Adulthood
August 5, 2004 | Press Release

Grant Funds Will be Used to Identify the Policies and Practices Needed to Facilitate Young People's Transition to Adulthood in the 21st Century

MacArthur has announced a grant of $5.2 million over four years to the University of Pennsylvania in support of the Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, which is examining the new challenges facing young people, ages 18 to 34, as they make the transition to become self-sufficient adults.

"The Network's early research has shown that the move from adolescence to adulthood is longer and more complex today than was the case in the past," said Jonathan F. Fanton, President of MacArthur. "Many young people are living at home longer, delaying marriage, and starting families well into their thirties, creating an additional financial burden on their parents, challenging institutions that were designed for an earlier time, and disadvantaging people with limited financial resources. MacArthur's support is intended to bring new knowledge to bear as society recognizes and adjusts to this important change in the course of young people's lives."

The Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood was established in 2000 with MacArthur support to examine the changing nature of early adulthood. From a developmental perspective, Network researchers are examining the traditional milestones in the journey to adulthood—leaving home, entering or leaving school, finding employment, marriage, and childbearing. They are also exploring how psychological development relates to these social transitions, and how institutions that have typically facilitated the transition—such as schools and workplaces—might adapt to address the needs of young people in the 21st century.

Grant funds will be used for the final stages of research exploring the psychological and social dimensions of development that occur as individuals move from their late teens into their twenties and early thirties. Support will also be used to examine three programs—Opening Doors at select community colleges, the Department of Defense's National Guard ChalleNGe, and Americorps. The examination of community colleges, the military, and volunteer services is intended to contribute to a growing body of research examining the early adulthood years, a period that has been largely overlooked by social and behavioral scientists and policymakers.

"Adults are rarely looked at in developmental terms, yet the early years of adulthood mark the coming together of a number of life's milestones considered essential for the assumption of adult responsibilities," said Frank Furstenberg, Ph.D., Chair of the Network and the Zellerbach Family Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. "Traditionally, early adulthood has been a period when young people acquire the skills they need to get jobs, to start families, and to contribute to their communities. But because of the changing nature of families, the education system, and the work place, the process has become more ambiguous and more complex. This means that early adulthood has become a difficult period for some young people, especially those who are not going to college and lack the structure that school can provide to facilitate their development."

Over the past four years, the Network has conducted interviews and gathered data to map the transition and how it varies for specific populations, especially those with limited access to personal and institutional resources, such as the financial means to go to college, or a family that can provide financial or emotional support and guidance. Network researchers sought to understand how young adults in different economic and social circumstances may experience and negotiate the transition to adulthood, and examined institutions that affect young adults, such as the workplace, schools, the home, civic organizations, and the criminal justice and foster care systems. Their findings indicated that existing institutional supports do not adequately meet the needs of many young adults in today's world. What is emerging from the early research is the understanding in the research community and key social institutions that early adulthood is a distinctive life stage.

"We hope that by studying the psychological development of young people as they become adults and examining the relevance of the institutions that had originally accompanied them during their journey to adulthood, we will be able to shed light on the needs of young people to help them as they prepare for adulthood. This calls for reexamining a number of public policies," said Furstenberg.

The Network is headed by Furstenberg and is one of nine research networks currently supported by the Foundation. The research networks are interdisciplinary in nature, with members drawn from institutions and organizations across the nation. The Research Network on the Transition to Adulthood has 11 members from the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, program evaluation, social work, criminal law and poverty research. A list of members is below.


Frank Furstenberg, Ph.D. (Network Chair), Zellerbach Family Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

Gordon L. Berlin, Ph.D., President, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC)

Mark E. Courtney, Ph.D., Executive Director, the Chapin Hall Center for Children, University of Chicago

Sheldon Danziger, Ph.D., Henry J. Meyer Collegiate Professor of Public Policy and Co-Director of the National Poverty Research Center at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan

Constance Flanagan, Ph.D., Professor, Youth Civic Development, Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, Pennsylvania State University

Vonnie C. McLoyd, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

D. Wayne Osgood, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Sociology, Crime, Law and Justice Program, Pennsylvania State University

Jean E. Rhodes, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts

Cecilia E. Rouse, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Princeton University

Rubén G. Rumbaut, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine

Richard A. Settersten, Jr., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Case Western Reserve University

Mary C. Waters, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, Harvard University

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