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Citation Information

Type Journal Article - Journal of Social History
Title Three eras of young adult home leaving in twentieth-century America
Author(s)
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2002
Page numbers 533-576
URL http://www.utexas.edu/cola/prc/_files/pdf/workingpapers/00-01-01.pdf
Abstract
This article divides the history of coming of age in the U.S. in the twentieth century into three
distinct time periods: one that ran from 1880 until World War II, one that started in the 1940s and
continued until the 1960s, and a third that began by 1970 and was clearly still in evidence in 1990.
The story is based on data that recorded whether young people were living with one or both of their
parents at the time of each of the decennial censuses of the U.S., from 1880 through 1990.2
We
focus on the ages at which young men and women left home based on census data, and we interpret
those levels and trends in terms of the broad social conditions in which they lived. In doing so we
see that during the twentieth century, the process by which young people passed from dependence
to independence underwent major changes.
The news here is in the history of home-leaving ages up until the time of the second world war.
Virtually all earlier studies assert that the age of home-leaving was declining from as early as it
could be measured until 1970. Our results say otherwise. From 1880 until 1940 for males and 1950
for females, the age at leaving home did not decline, it rose (see Figure 1). The decline came later.
Led by men in 1940, the generation of the Second World War experienced a sharp decline in the
age at which they left home, one that continued for everyone until 1960 and for white men and
women until 1970. Beginning with 1970, the age of home-leaving rose again, reaching relatively
high levels by 1990. These patterns hold generally for white and black Americans, and for males
and females, but we will show later that there are significant differences between these four groups.

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