Coming Up ShortWorking-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty

Coming Up ShortWorking-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty

Jennifer M. Silva

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780199931460

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Abstract

Traditional markers of adulthood have become increasingly delayed, disorderly, reversible, or even forgone in the latter half of the twentieth century. This book draws upon 100 interviews with working-class men and women in their twenties to early thirties to investigate the changing meanings and practices of adulthood. Looked at through the eyes of young working-class men and women, the transition to adulthood emerges as a very grim picture, one characterized by economic instability, precarious employment, uncertainty surrounding marriage and family, and deepening inequality. Working-class young people—the majority of whom bounce from one unstable service job to the next, bearing the burden of risks such as illness or education on their own, and racking up credit card debt just to make ends meet—have in large part abandoned the American Dream. Experiences of confusion and betrayal within the labor market, institutions, and the family teach young working-class men and women that they are completely alone, responsible for their own fates and dependent on outside help only at their peril. In the absence of the traditional rites of passage, the majority of respondents told therapeutic coming of age stories, framing their journeys to adulthood as a struggle to triumph over personal demons and reconstruct an emancipated and transformed self. However, there is a darker side to this new adulthood, which threatens to make self-reliance—and severing social ties—the only imaginable path to a life of dignity.