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Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It's Good for Everyone Paperback – Dec 28 2010

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“There are three huge strengths that set this book apart from anything else available on the transition to adulthood. First, it is written in a lively and jargon-free style by two rare social scientists who are familiar with the English language. Second, its scope is stunning, including challenges to becoming an adult created by dramatic changes in education, relations between young adults and parents, marriage and its precursors, civic life, and the world of work. Third, the tone is relentlessly upbeat about the advantages these changes are opening up for young people. This book proves that it is possible to write an interesting book about a big social problem that reflects research knowledge while nonetheless being accessible to the American public.” –Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families

“Based on interviews with 500 young adults and extensive research, this outstanding book offers a fresh and compelling view of why it is taking this generation longer to make career and family decisions. The message here is about the value of “slowing down,” and it makes sense not just for young adults, but also for their parents and educators, who are “fast tracking children” into a lengthy period of being nearly, but not quite, adults.  Learn about today’s young adults, why they are making the life choices they are, and why we should feel good about it.” –Barbara Schneider, author of the Ambitious Generation, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University

"Not Quite Adults is perhaps the most important contribution to date about the strange new life of America's twentysomethings.  Settersten and Ray are able to combine a deep grasp of the research with common sense advice for "not quite adults" and their parents. The slower path to adulthood is here to stay; thanks to the authors, we are now much wiser about what that means for all of us.” –Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys and contributing editor City Journal
"In a world that is confused by 20-somethings, Not Quite Adults offers insight that will help us understand this generation. Hopeful and challenging, this book is a must read for parents and policy makers alike." –Jane Isay, author of Walking on Eggshells.

"One of the most important functions of social science research is to raise the quality of public debate by challenging myth, conjecture, and sensationalism with empirical realities. This book does just that by presenting an integrated social map of young adulthood in 21st Century America that is grounded in a diverse body of research."   –James Garbarino, PhD,  Loyola University Chicago, author of Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience
"Amid all the outcry over young people stuck in adultolescence and failing to launch comes this sensible portrait of a generation of almost-adults.  Based on empirical research, and not hand-wringing punditry, Settersten and Ray reveal a new stage of development that slows the clock, but does not stop it, making slower, but steady progress to more durable relationships and stable social networks." –Michael Kimmel, Professor of Sociology, SUNY Stony Brook, author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men
 “The rulebook has changed; the good ol’ days of a universally accepted school-work-family-retirement fast track are gone. Despite mainstream media’s attempt to portray 20-somethings as a group of lazy, no-good slackers, Not Quite Adults uncovers the real story – how a slower, more calculated transition into adulthood often makes more sense and leads to a better future for us all.” –Sean Aiken, author of The One-Week Job Project
“Aside from enjoying a panoramic perspective on one generation, readers will be able to glean tips on everything from dating to parenting from this admirably lucid and fair-minded study that, in describing what is happening, reveals what is working.” –Publishers Weekly 
A provocative look at how a changing reality is transforming the transition to adulthood for a generation of Americans, and the implications of this transformation in today’s competitive world." –Kirkus

About the Author

RICHARD SETTERSTEN, PH.D., is Hallie Ford Endowed Chair and professor of Human Development and Family Sciences, and director of the Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families, at Oregon State University. He is also a member of the MacArthur Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. A graduate of Northwestern University, Settersten has held fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin, the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern, and the Spencer Foundation in Chicago. He is the author or editor of many scientific articles and several books, including On the Frontier of Adulthood. Besides MacArthur, his research has been supported by divisions of the National Institutes of Health. Visit his website at

BARBARA E. RAY, as owner of Hiredpen, Inc., helps researchers and nonprofit organizations convey their work to broader audiences. She was the communications director for the MacArthur Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, and has held positions as senior writer at the DHHS-funded Joint Center for Poverty Research, and as a managing editor at the University of Chicago Press journals division. For two years while living in the western Pacific, she was a travel writer and culture reporter. Most recently, she is the executive editor of the website Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning for the MacArthur Foundation. She blogs at She is still not quite adult.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
In defense of the Helicopter parent--it's taking longer to grow up March 8 2011
By ngonzalez. Certified Family Life Educator - Published on
Format: Paperback
I recently read this book by family scholar Richard Settersten, coauthored with Barbara Rey, titled Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Something are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why it's Good for Everyone. "I couldn't put it down" is such a hackneyed term that even high school essayists won't use it. But in my case, it's true. I haven't plowed through a book this fast since the Da Vinci Code.

Not Quite Adults explains the phenomenon of the lengthening duration from high school graduation and attaining what has been the experience of transitioning to adulthood of the past few decades. Young adults are meeting the sociological markers of leaving home, finishing school, finding work, getting married and having kids in a more lengthy and often reordered way.

The book had so much meaning for me, for a three reasons. First, the content was co-authored by a first rate scholar. (I work in the field.) Settersten is Professor and the Hallie Ford Endowed Chair in the Human Development and Family Sciences Department at Oregon State University. Moreover, I could identify with every word because I am the mom of a transitioning adult. It affirmed what I am noticing intuitively--that the time elapsing from adolescence to adulthood, as it was defined back in my day, has stretched and that today's young adults need a head start, including supportive parents, to make the leap.

Finally, it confirmed a trend that I began to see increasingly in my previous 15 year career as an academic adviser at a major university. I worked a lot with older students, returning to college in their late 20s or 30s. Typically, they had bailed out after a year or two of college due to lack of funds, or some life circumstance of some kind (such as having a child) or because of some overall confusion or lack of direction. They didn't have a safety net and, by the look of their transcripts, they hadn't found an adviser who gave them a game plan. By the time they arrived at my desk, most of them needed well over 60 semester credits and hundreds and hundreds of dollars in tuition. I saw a steady stream of prospective students in my career who had no savings and were sometimes living hand to mouth. They could just not scrape up the money to start over. Furthermore, they recognized the precarious situation they were in and were reluctant to pursue student loans even though it would be the best investment long term. The authors describe the concepts of "good debt" and "bad debt." A car depreciates the minute you drive it off the lot. A college education just keeps paying dividends throughout a lifetime.

The authors are especially interested in understanding some of the differences between "swimmers" and "treaders." Swimmers get off to the right start. They have a leg up due to booster parents or a fortuitous combination of mentoring and funding. They are able to attain higher education, then a job, and then pursue homeownership and family formation once they are financially established. Treaders get sidelined due to cumulative disadvantage and, in the absence of the right kind of encouragement and support, they are constantly playing catch-up and can't get a foothold on life's ladder.

Get ready for some mythbusting backed by bulletproof scholarly data. The media is rife with judgmental conventional wisdom that what we have here is a "failure to launch." The authors stress the modern truth: " ... what's different today is that the stakes on all fronts are much higher. Poor judgments and small mistakes on the road to adulthood are all substantially more perilous than they were just a decade ago. In an increasingly winner-takes-all society, there is little room for missteps. With missteps, the opportunity to succeed--the bedrock of America--fades. The result: a world that opens up widely to some while narrowing for others, with a shrinking middle in between."

Finally, for parents like me, this book removes the shame that society is attempting to foist on us... that we are crippling our young adults by not tossing them out of nest to "sink" or "swim." There are horror stories of over-involvement--such as enmeshed parents calling professors or employers to intercede for their children--but there has never been more need for a mentoring parent in a couple generations.

Our son, if we have anything to say about it, is going to get a full ride through a Bachelor's degree and, after he completes his degree, he is welcome to live with Dad and I, to come and go as he pleases, until he has his first job and can sock away a little cash. My favorite quote from the entire book is this: "Involved parents, and even the helicopter parents of media fame, aren't so bad after all--especially in contrast with parents who give no support at all. It's far worse to have uninvolved parents than it is to have super-involved ones. Rather than a sign of weakness, involved parents provide young people with advantages, including advice, funds, a roof and a bed, and connections."

This is where the book prods those in my field into what we can should be doing, --namely to start a dialog about launching the young adult in the form of family life education. What does being a healthy springboard for our children look like? And what is the point of over-doing? Right now I'm muddling through with the guideline of teaching him to fish. We need parent education for a new developmental stage--and fast. The rules have changed, and this trend is here to say.

This book is a fantastic read about a critical change in our society. It's in paperback and is therefore quite affordable. I couldn't recommend it more.
15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Overbearing Feb. 8 2011
By Robert Hamilton - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this book after reading a review in the Economist, and was intrigued by the premise. I fit into this age group and situation, and was interested to see what their research revealed. This reads more as a guide for 20-somethings than a means for gaining any real meaning into the plight of this section of Americans. In fact, I'll summarize the theme of this book for you in one sentence: Go to college, *graduate*, or your life is screwed. Despite admitting at various times throughout this work that college may not be for everyone, the authors repeatedly hammer home that your life will be a catastrophe if you don't pursue and succeed at getting an education, regardless of your financial and/or home situations. This is contradictory to such statements within the text as, "Not going to college should not mean failure. No student should hate themselves because they repeatedly try but fail."

I suppose if you're not a member of this age group and want some cursory knowledge into 20-somethings, this is worth a read. If you're in this age group, this book will either make you feel like an accomplished god (with a college degree) or a total waste of humanity (who tried and failed).
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Not Convinced Aug. 17 2012
By ajs34 - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Being a younger adult myself, I was interested in reading a scholarly piece on the common failure to launch phenomenon I've seen among my friends and contemporaries. I agree with the authors, at least on my limited, anecdotal experiences, that this is a trend, but I was not convinced that it is a good one. Or, at least that it has aspects to it that are beneficial to society at large. They do a good job of marshaling arguments in support of their position, but my feet on the ground perspective of the slackers who mooch off mom and dad while at the same time exhibiting no discernible plan or desire to live on their own has tainted my view sufficiently that I was a hard sell to begin with. For that reason, in the interest of fairness, you may want to take my review of with a grain of salt.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Must Read March 7 2011
By Diane Papalia, PhD - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Not Quite Adults is a groundbreaker! Wide in scope and lively in style, it challenges the stereotype that today's 20-somethings are a generation of entitled slackers who refuse to grow up. Rather, the authors show how the times are a-changin'--- and how these changes have radically impacted the transition to adulthood today, providing insights into why the slower path to growing up is beneficial to all. As a developmental psychologist---and the mother of a 24 year old---I love this book. It should be required reading for anyone interested in what is happening to 20-somethings in America today.
16 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Author is completely out of touch with reality! March 3 2011
By Michael Kim - Published on
Format: Paperback
>>Ray suggests that GenY is so frugal that they might take their fear of debt too far, and avoid even good investments such as college, home purchases, and small business start-up costs. "Many young people, especially those from lesser means, see the price tag [of college tuition] and think, 'Oh my god, I can't possibly take that on.' They could be shortchanging themselves,' says Barbara Ray, since college is an investment that pays off."<<

How out of touch is this author?

1) Home purchases? Has Barbara Ray been living under a rock the past five years? Missed this little thing called the real estate bubble? How could anyone possibly say that Gen Y is "afraid of debt" after we have all been severely punished by reckless borrowing? Talk about a lesson not learned.

2) College? How you seen the ridiculous tuition hikes that this nation is suffering through? It has gotten so ridiculous that NYU students (considered to be one of the most expensive universities in the US) are protesting! I just finished reading a report about how ivy-educated lawyers can't get a job that pays more than $15 an hour, while holding six-figure debt loads. I agree that higher education is essential in the growth of a person (financially and emotionally), but in this world of predatory for-profit education tricking today's youth, and law schools pumping rosters for extra tuition, navigating the higher education waters have become so much more difficult.

3) Small business start up costs? Have you tried to get a SBA loan recently? It is nearly impossible. What the author fails to address is how TARP funds got pushed into bank treasury accounts and never found their way to stimulus lending. I am a firm believer in entrepreneurship driving growth, but Ray's ridiculous assumptions are outrageous.

This is just another author taking a vague generational classification and creating assumptions that cannot be justified by any sort of reality. I can't take anything in the book seriously.