Struggling to Define Coming of Age

Juárez, Fatima, and Cecilia Gayet. “Transition to Adulthood in Developing Countries.” Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 40, Annual Reviews, July 2014, pp. 521-538. Annual Reviews,

In their article, Juárez and Gayet discuss coming of age in developing countries. They look at typical indicators of adulthood- leaving school, getting a job, getting married, having children- and find many differences from the developed world. People in the countries studied tend to leave school sooner, and marry and have children younger. The way that people in developing countries define adulthood, however, are different than the ways many in the United States define it. For example, getting a job is not seen as a big step toward adulthood.

Juárez and Gayet are professors who have done extensive research in less developed countries. Their article emphasizes the difficulty in including specific checkpoints and ceremonies in the definition of “coming of age” because of the wide range of variation across cultures of what it means to grow up and to become an adult.

The argument made in Juárez and Gayet’s article supports the importance of individuality within the general term “coming of age” but does not discount the possibility of creating a specific definition. Instead, it points to the common ground of defining adulthood that underlies all cultural perspectives.

Waters, Mary C, et al. “Becoming an Adult: Meanings and Markers for Young Americans.” Coming of Age in America: The Transition to Adulthood in the Twenty-First Century. University of California Press, 2011, 169-181. ProQuest ebrary,

Coming of Age In America: The Transition to Adulthood in the Twenty-First Century discusses the significance of age in relation to adulthood. Age markers are significant indications of whether or not someone is an adult, specifically because they are typically associated with events that clearly indicate that someone is coming of age. Many young adults agree that coming of age is a process that builds up, but there are some major turning points that define an adult. Once adulthood is reached, however, there can be cycles that take them further away and then back to being an adult.

Waters, Carr, and Kefalas and Holdaway specialize in social research. Their argument pulls from research of young adults from small town Iowa to New York City, and it is supported with direct quotes from various adults. In addition, they use concepts such as age norms to explain why people feel how they do about coming of age. The book is both academic in nature and easy to read and understand.

The discussion about the significance of age will support the idea that the meaning attached to the number is what makes it important. The cycle back and forth from adulthood suggests that coming of age is an ceaseless process.

Wyn, Johanna. “Conceptualizing Transitions to Adulthood.” New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education. Vol. 2014 Issue 143, Wiley, September 2014, pp. 5-16. EBSCOhost,

In her article, Wyn describes how ideas of adulthood have shifted recently and how that has affected society’s ideas of coming of age, particularly in relation to education. She states that people spend more time in school, causing more dependency on parents, and also causing the spread of the general idea of the inherent value of school. She describes youth as a space which has an ideal trajectory toward adulthood. Institutions underlie the path to the “ideal” adulthood, and those who do not follow that path have to navigate themselves.

Johanna Wyn is a professor and director of a university Youth Research Center. In her article, published in 2014, she provides historical perspective that helps explain the current understanding of coming of age. It is written to educators in order to provide insight on youth and young adults and their views on education as they transition to adulthood.

The effects of longer schooling have delayed processes that are typically associated with adulthood. It is important to note the recent shift in the process of becoming an adult in order to define coming of age, as there is more gray area between youth and adulthood. Looking at how institutions play a role in guiding people’s transition is also useful in understanding what it means to come of age and how they create that meaning.

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1 Response to Struggling to Define Coming of Age

  1. Amrit Bhatia says:

    Hi Anna! I also happened to use one of the same sources in my annotated bibliography, Coming of Age in America… It is interesting to see that you have summarized the book a little differently that I had. I am personally looking into more the variation of people’s going into adulthood experiences rather than the cycles of taking them away from adulthood once they have reached it. That was an interesting point though, of how you understood that coming of age is a ceaseless process, it is definitely something that I might have to look into and consider; however, I have to currently disagree with that statement because I believe that while everyone’s experiences can be different, once they all cross a certain amount of check marks (such as marriage, financially independent, on your own healthcare, etc.) then your process of coming of age will slowly come to an end. That being said, once you have become an adult, you should always be learning new things about adulthood, but you’d be doing so as an adult and not aspiring adult.

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