Structuring the Transition to Adulthood: An Entropy Analysis of the Early Life Course in the United States, 1880 to 2000

Elizabeth Fussell, Tulane University

Social institutions and norms structuring the transition to adulthood have changed significantly over the course of the 20th century in the United States. However, life course methodologies have not quantified these changes or evaluated differences in the structure of the transition to adulthood between gender, race, and nativity groups. I present a new method – the entropy analysis of status combinations of synthetic cohorts - which uses indicators of school attendance, employment, household relationships, marriage, and parenthood from the 1880 through 2000 U.S. censuses to identify three distinct historical periods of the transition to adulthood. These periods are characterized by distinct age boundaries and levels of differentiation within age-segments of the young adult life course. The results support the argument that the life course has become more standardized, but that more recently it has become more complex as these institutions have been restructured and social norms have relaxed.

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Presented in Session 7: Demography and Life Course Studies