Book Review: Not Quite Adults

Not Quite Adults

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I had the opportunity to read Settersten and Ray’s (2010) book entitled Not Quite Adults, which offers compelling insights into today’s adolescent transition into adulthood. The book draws on almost a decade worth of research and seeks to understand the effects of prolonged adolescence, arguing that there are advantages in delaying adulthood. Settersten and Ray (2010) point to several key influences on today’s adolescents which can be broadly summarized in the following categories: fiscal limitations/opportunities and relationships.

Overview of Book Content

Settersten and Ray (2010) likened the pursuit of a college education to an arms race, explaining that parents with monetary resources have the ability to provide high quality education for their children. Therefore, parents who are not actively involved in finding an excellent college for their children are risking their children’s future because if they do not get into the right school, their chance to catch up later is slight at best.

Settersten and Ray (2010) also helpfully corrected the common misconception that students are strapped to a lifelong burden of school debt. They pointed out that the debt young people acquire is usually not from school but rather, not investing in school (Settersten & Ray, 2010, p. 31). The difficulty in obtaining a well-paying job is magnified without a college education, correlating to an inability build up one’s savings.

The second significant influence for prolonging adolescence can best be understood through relationships, particularly marriage. Young people are getting married much later than they used to and, since they are getting married later, Settersten and Ray (2010) noted that their dependence and commitment to peers have replaced familial relationships.

The benefits of delaying marriage, explained Settersten and Ray (2010), are that individuals have the ability to gain work experience and become more established early in life. However, Settersten and Ray (2010) also recognized the difficulties that can come from delaying marriage too long, namely the difficulty in merging two distinct lives into one and having fewer children to grow the next generation.

Evaluation of Not Quite Adults

The research and advice on fiscal stewardship was excellent, there is a clear explanation, backed by research, for the importance of investing in a college education, saving money, and not being afraid of debt from wise investments (e.g. college).

There is very little acknowledgment regarding young people being responsible for the consequences of their choices and the learning that can happen as a result. Clydesdale (2007) concluded that parents should help their children think through decisions but strongly cautions making decisions for them. Teens who feel pressured by their parents to make decisions can often end up doing something they are not particularly well suited for. I believe that learning how to manage the pressures and decisions of daily life is a critical skill and more useful in the long run than coasting on the decisions and provisions of one’s parents.

In contrast to Settersten and Ray’s (2010) approval of “helicopter parents,” Twenge and Campbell (2009) explained that parents have “lost sight of the idea that it is OK for kids to fail once in a while” (p. 295). The tendency to compete in the arms race of education, said Twenge and Campbell (2009), could cause young people to sacrifice their love and care for others on the altar of individual achievement.

Overly involved parents cannot only be worrisome for students but also for school administrators. Research by Cullaty (2011) indicated that overly involved parents inhibit students from developing their own autonomy and ability to function as responsible adults (p. 425). Additionally, Magolda (as cited in Evans et al., 2010) explained that a key tenet of developing self-authorship is to be cognizant of outside influences (e.g. parents) yet not slave to them.

I believe Settersten and Ray (2010) recognized a significant flaw in the U.S Government’s role in education by explaining the lack of support the government provides for young people. However, instead of recommending new practices or policies, they urge young people to pursue “interdependent” relationships to compensate for the lack of governmental support. I agree with Goldthorpe (as cited by Haveman and Smeeding, 2006, p. 127), who argued for the implementation of a more merit-based higher education system, thus stifling the educational arms race by removing advantages based on income level and allowing greater social mobility. This would also motivate students to take responsibility for working hard at school to get into good colleges instead of counting on the financial power of their parents.


I appreciate the data presented by Settersten and Ray (2010), but I felt that most of the book merely explained how young people are prolonging adolescence and presented the reasons for why that is not worrisome. I fear that this book’s endorsement of interdependence without independence is dangerously flawed. I believe that independence is a prerequisite for authentic interdependence and must not be minimized. Evans et al. (2010), in reference to Magolda’s phases of self-authorship helpfully pointed out that “as people become more confident and clear about who they are, they are able to relate to others in a more honest and open manner” (p. 187). I agree with Settersten and Ray (2010) that the vast majority of young people today are not quite adults, but I am left convinced that this is not a good thing for everyone.

Chris SternBy Chris Stern
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Clydesdale, T. (2007). The first year out: Understanding American teens after high school. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Cullaty, B. (2011). The role of parental involvement in the autonomy development of traditional-age college students. Journal of College Student Development, 52(4), 425-439.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice, 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-  Bass.

Haveman, R. & Smeeding, T. (2006). The role of higher education in social mobility. The Future of Children,, 16(2), 125-150.

Settersten, R. & Ray, B. E. (2010). Not quite adults: Why 20-somethings are choosing a slower path to adulthood, and why it’s good for everyone. New York: Bantam Books.

Twenge, J & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Free Press.

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