Young Adulthood as a Factor in Social Change

Michael J. Rosenfeld, Stanford University

This essay compares family change during two periods of social and historical upheaval in the U.S.: the industrial revolution and the post-1960 period. Despite the manifest social and demographic changes that the industrial revolution brought, some aspects of family life remained unchanged. Almost all new families formed in the U.S. before and during the industrial revolution were same-race heterosexual marriages. In the post-1960 period, however, family diversity became the new rule; interracial marriages and extramarital cohabitation have both risen sharply. I suggest that a key to understanding the new family diversity (and the lack of diversity in the past) is the changing nature of young adulthood.

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Presented in Session 70: History of the Life Course and Family Transitions