Volume 34 - Article 16 | Pages 451–466  

Transition to adulthood in China in 1982−2005: A structural view

By Felicia Tian


Background: The transition to adulthood has increasingly been postponed, shuffled, and individualized in the United States and Western Europe. Less is known about changes in the transition to adulthood in non-Western countries, especially whether they follow a similar pattern of change. Moreover, the existing literature uses diverse indicators to measure the transition to adulthood, which makes the cross-national comparison even more difficult.

Objective: This article takes a structural view to examine changes in the transition to adulthood in China, which has the largest youth population in the world and which has experienced rapid social change since reform in the 1980s.

Methods: The analysis uses data from 1982, 1990, and 2000 censuses and a 2005 mini-census. It treats participants aged 18−30 as synthetic cohorts and examines changes in three structural features of the transition to adulthood: timing, sequencing, and heterogeneity.

Results: Though school completion and entry into the labor force have been notably delayed, only minor delays have occurred in marriage and parenthood. Some individualization occurs in urban residents, but the pathway remains relatively structured and follows a very ordered sequence.

Conclusions: These findings suggest stability in the transition to adulthood amidst rapid social change in China during these twenty years.

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