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  • Authors

    Richard Settersten, Ph.D.

    Rick Settersten, Ph.D. is Hallie Ford Endowed Chair and professor of Human Development and Family Sciences, and ... Full Bio »

    Barbara E. Ray

    Barbara E. Ray, is a writer and editor living in Chicago. As owner of Hiredpen, Inc., she ... Full Bio »

Surprising Findings

Young people in the U.S. have “sharply diverging destinies.”

One group—the “swimmers”—has the resources to take a slower path to adulthood. The other, much larger group—the “treaders”—does not, particularly in the wake of a recession that has undermined middle- and working-class families. The consequences can be devastating.

Young people are not selfish and apolitical.

Their vision of political involvement is simply not a one-size-fits-all approach based on a collective goal. Their politics are highly individualized-and also very connected to digital media.

Peers serve as the nuclear families of twenty-somethings.

As marriage is delayed, friends are playing a bigger part for a longer time. Where once young people made critical life decisions with the help of their spouses, today they are more often consulting their friends. Friends are an important source of contacts for jobs, networking, and introductions.

Marriage isn’t dead; it’s just delayed.

In most cases, this delay is not a sign of immaturity, but is instead an indication that young people are taking marriage seriously. Today’s young adults are often opting to ‘get all of their ducks in a row’ before committing to marriage and family.

Some college debt can be a good thing for 20-somethings.

The average undergraduate college debt today is the equivalent of a car loan, and yet the return on a college degree has rarely been greater. Choosing not to take on college debt can be one of the costliest decisions a young person can make.

Helicopter parents aren’t so bad after all …

... within reason. Involved parents provide their children with important advantages, including mentoring and economic support, giving them an edge in today's tough economy. Without this support, young people are more likely to make mistakes and damage their future prospects.

A college degree still pays.

While most young people aspire to college, many are unprepared for it or have unrealistic, half-baked plans. In a knowledge economy, nothing is more damaging than foregoing higher education or failing at it.

A slower transition to adulthood is often just the ticket in today’s tough economy.

Young adults who finish college and delay marriage and child-rearing get a much better start in life than those who leave the nest too early, settling for low-paying jobs and having children at a young age.

Few young adults who live at home are “mooching” off of their parents.

More often, they are using the time at home to gain necessary credentials and to save money for a more secure future. Launching too fast can cause serious setbacks down the road, so living at home during or even right after college can be a smart strategy for getting ahead.

Job-hopping is not a sign of recklessness or questionable loyalty.

In this downsized and globalized economy, job-hopping is a smart professional strategy for the well-credentialed. It is job-shopping.

The Book

Hopeful and challenging, and offering insight that will help us understand this generation,” Not Quite Adults may change everything about the conversations we have about and with teenagers and twenty-somethings. Learn the real reasons why so many young people are choosing slower paths to adulthood, and the unexpected truth—that it’s good for all of us. There are serious alarms, however, in that not everyone is doing it, or doing well at it.

The media has been flooded with negative headlines about 20-somethings, from their sense of entitlement to their immaturity to their dependence on their parents’ purse strings. The message is that these young people need to shape up and grow up—that they should take a fast track to adulthood just like their parents did. Now, drawing on almost a decade of cutting-edge scientific research sponsored by the MacArthur foundation, including analyses of over two dozen national data sets and 500 interviews with young people, Richard Settersten, Ph.D., and Barbara Ray shatter these widespread stereotypes. Settersten and Ray bring us a more nuanced understanding of this generation, and of the unique challenges they are facing as they come of age.

Not Quite Adults gets to the heart of how and why the course to adulthood has become so complicated, what these changes mean for families and for our country, and what we should do about it. Rather than playing the blame game by pointing fingers at helicopter parents or entitled teenagers, the authors show how cultural and economic forces have radically transformed the “traditional” path to adulthood, creating a very different set of challenges as well as opportunities for today’s young adults.

Filled with timely information and illuminating case histories, Not Quite Adults is a fascinating and enlightening look at an often misunderstood generation. It is a must-read for parents, teachers, psychologists, sociologists, and anyone interested in today’s youth culture.

Not Quite Adults was published by Random House on December 28, 2010 and is available in bookstores everywhere.

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