How (Complete) Adulthood Doesn’t Ever Happen

An Editorial Response to How Adulthood Happens  by David Brooks in the New York Times (published June 12, 2015).

Find my marked up version here.

Claim: “The people who endure this rite of passage have often attended colleges where they were not taught how to work hard.”

Evidence: “As Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa write in their book “Aspiring Adults Adrift,” the average student at a four-year college studies alone just over one hour per day.”

Factualness: Most Likely True. The source that the author cites is most likely credible. This book was published by the University of Chicago Press, and the two authors are professors in the Department of Sociology at New York University and associate professor of sociology and education at the University of Virginia, respectively. Although I was not able to track the book down itself, I did come across a number of book reviews by other Ph.Ds and academics in the field that reviewed this book and remarked that it was a “solid” book. If the quote was not taken out of context, then it is definitely believable.

Claim: “Meanwhile, colleges have become socially rich, stocked with student centers, student organizations, expensive gyms, concerts and activities.”

Evidence: “As Arum’s and Roksa’s research demonstrates, academic life is of secondary or tertiary importance to most students.”

Factualness: Most Likely True. The author cites the same source again. The evidence is solid, assuming the author hasn’t taken the quote out of context.

Claim: “These twenty-somethings live in a world of radical freedom, flux and insecurity.”

Evidence: “Surveys show they are very pessimistic about the state of the country, but amazingly optimistic about their own eventual destiny. According to the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, 86 percent agree with the statement, ‘I am confident that eventually I will get what I want out of life.’”

Factualness: Partially True. A poll conducted by The Horatio Alger Association and The University of Chicago in 2013 say that “60 percent of high school students are hopeful about the country’s future, vs. 53 percent in 2008.” Although this poll is a couple years old, the perspective of youth probably has not changed that much since June 215 when the article was written since the Us economy and unemployment, political stability etc. have improved in the time period (note that the article was published before the beginning of the election cycle). The quote based on the Clark University Poll can be verified on the Clark University Website.

Claim: “In the meantime, many spend the first few years out of college aspiring but adrift.”

Evidence: “They are largely unattached to religious institutions. Two-thirds report that they are not politically engaged. Half the students in Arum’s and Roksa’s recent study reported that they lacked clear goals or a sense of direction two years after graduation.”

Factualness: Mostly True. The poll conducted by the Alger Association in 2013 says that only 1/3 don’t care who wins the presidential elections. Although this is a slightly different demographic than what the article’s author is talking about, it suggests that young people in general are somewhat interested. However, data from the National Center for Educational Statistics does show that a smaller percentage of people 20-24 are employed than in the past (possibly due to an increase in college matriculation).

Claim: “Yet they are not sure they want to rush into adulthood.”

Evidence: “As Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and Elizabeth Fishel write in “Getting to 30,” ‘The value of youth has risen, and the desirability of adulthood has dropped accordingly. Today’s young people expect to reach adulthood eventually, and they expect to enjoy their adult lives, but most are in no hurry to get there.’”

Factualness: True. Although the author of this piece does not cite his evidence, Jeffrey Arnett is well regarded as an expert on this topic (we’ve read his work several times in class). Additionally, I think there is substantial evidence to show this point, including but not limited to the higher age of marriage and the later age at which kids move out of their parents’ homes.

Claim: “One way they cope is by moving back home.”

Evidence: “A third of the graduates in the Arum and Roksa sample were living at home, levels roughly double the share of grads living at home in the 1960s. Three-quarters of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not living at home received financial assistance from their parents. American parents provide an average of $38,000 in assistance to their young adult children.”

Factualness: Partially True, Misleading. Again, assuming the first quote was not taken out of context, it can be deemed factual. The second fact, however, is a bit misleading, since many 18-25 year olds are in college, the expenses of which are often contributed to (if not covered) by parents. In the same light, the third fact is probably roughly equivalent to the amount parents contribute to their kids’ education.

Claim: “The first big ordeal is finding a job.”

Evidence: “They want meaningful work with social impact. They want to bring their whole selves to work, and ignore the distinctions between professional and intimate life that were in the heads of earlier generations…. Fifty-three percent of college graduates in the Arum and Roksa sample who were in the labor force were unemployed, underemployed or making less that $30,000 a year.”

Factualness: Partially True. The first claim is debatable; enrollment in the humanities disciplines is at an all time low because people are often attracted to the pay of STEM majors. The second claim has a good amount of evidence to support it: technology companies, like Google and Facebook, often attempt to break the divide between work life and personal life. The last fact, however, is misleading. Oftentimes, it takes grads as long as 6 months before they can find a job. Additionally, many entry-level jobs pay very little (even, for example, residency for medical school grads).

Claim: “By age 30, the vast majority are through it. The sheer hardness of the “Odyssey Years” teaches people to hustle. The trials and errors of the decade carve contours onto their hearts, so they learn what they love and what they don’t. They develop their own internal criteria to make their own decisions.”

Evidence: None

Factualness: Untrue. My take is this is very, very tenuous. First of all, by 30, many people still haven’t gotten married (average age for men is 28—America’s Youth) and many haven’t settled down in a career. Also, I don’t think people learn what they love and what they don’t. Take for example the fact that people change jobs around 11 times in their lives (Rejuvinile) or that most people get divorced. This will be probably the central idea behind my editorial.

Thus, although the small claims in this piece are well substantiated, I feel that the synthesis of all of them in the end is fairly weak. The author seems to characterize youth very accurately, but then at the end, says that it is just a phase without substantiating this idea. My response will focus on how, even into their 30s, today’s youth are still just as dependent on their families and institutions. I will attempt to use the factual claims above and reframe them to support my argument. Additionally, I will use statistics on the percentage of people going back to school, getting divorced etc. to substantiate my claims.

My current “arsenal”:

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1 Response to How (Complete) Adulthood Doesn’t Ever Happen

  1. Saksham Gandhi says:

    I worked on this article as well and agree with much of what you mentioned in your fact-check, especially regarding some of Brooks’s unfounded claims (including 30 as the arbitrarily chosen age for truly becoming an adult.) For the other portions, however, I was rather unsure about the validity of some of the assertions made. I was uncomfortable with how Brooks was using data from the book ‘Aspiring Adults Adrift’ as a crutch to support his argument throughout his piece. While I wasn’t able to get my hands on the book either, I did find a review of the book written by Dr. Tim W Merill (Randolph-Macon College). In the review, Merill pointed out one very crucial point, that the group of college graduates surveyed graduated in 2009, after the recession. Much of the shocking economic data presented by Brooks may have resulted from this, not the ‘flaws’ he asserts the current generation has. This makes many of his claims questionable. (Here’s the review: ) Perhaps this might change your perspective on some of the assertions made in this piece.

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