Heterogeneity in the Transition to Adulthood: The Cases of Australia, Canada, and the United States

Hétérogénéité dans le passage à l'âge adulte : cas de l'Australie, du Canada et des Etats-Unis


The prolongation and diversification of the transition to adulthood is known to have occurred in all advanced industrialized countries, although to different extents and following different patterns. A number of comparative studies have explored single-events such as leaving the parental home or making the transition to a first birth, but few have examined the transitions to adulthood more holistically by examining multiple events. We do so in this article for Australia, Canada, and the United States. We find that youth in the United States experience a more uniform and shorter transition to adulthood than their peers in Australia or Canada, even though this transition is increasingly prolonged in all three countries. The earlier transition in the United States is mostly due to the concentration of education in traditional school ages, an earlier entry into employment, and to a lesser extent, an earlier and more coordinated transition into marriage and household headship. We argue that the transition to adulthood differs quantitatively and qualitatively since entry into marriage reflects the more traditional values of the United States.


Transition to adulthood Adolescence Cross-national comparisons Life course Social institutions 


Le passage à l’âge adulte s’est prolongé et diversifié dans tous les pays industrialisés, quoique à des degrés différents et de manière différente. Un certain nombre d’études se sont penchées sur des événements ponctuels tels que le départ du domicile parental ou la naissance du premier enfant, mais les analyses du passage à l’âge adulte sur la base d’événements multiples sont rares. Dans cet article, nous examinons le phénomène de cette façon globale en Australie, au Canada, et aux Etats-Unis. Il apparaît que les jeunes aux Etats-Unis ont un passage à l’âge adulte plus uniforme et plus court que les jeunes en Australie et au Canada, bien que la tendance soit à l’allongement dans les 3 pays. La relative avance du passage à l’âge adulte aux Etats-Unis est due en grande partie à la concentration de l’éducation aux âges scolaires traditionnels, à une entrée plus précoce dans le monde du travail, et, à un moindre degré, à une plus grande précocité et coordination du départ du domicile parental et du mariage. Nous soutenons l’idée que ces modalités de passage à l’âge adulte sont différentes sur un plan quantitatif et qualitatif, sachant que l’entrée dans le mariage reflète les valeurs plus traditionnelles des Etats-Unis.


Passage à l’âge adulte Adolescence Comparaisons entre pays Biographie Institutions sociales 



We want to thank members of the IUSSP Scientific Panel for their feedback on the earlier version of this article. We also want to thank Ross Macmillan and the anonymous reviewer of this journal for their comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Fussell
    • 1
  • Anne H. Gauthier
    • 2
  • Ann Evans
    • 3
  1. 1.Sociology DepartmentWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  3. 3.Australian Demographic and Social Research InstituteThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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