"Lives overpromised" : the transition to adulthood and the 'quarter-life crisis' : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University
In recent years there has been a lot of speculation and (often negative) stereotyping about 'Generation Y'. Many witty labels have emerged to describe the generation from an outside perspective, but few have explored the perspective of these young people as they enter the 'real world' and embark upon their 'adult' lives. Whilst the generation has had limited attention from the academic world, the concept of a 'quarter-life crisis' has emerged through the popular media, proposed by journalists Robbins and Wilner (2001). Although such a concept may be readily dismissed as media hype, or a fabrication of spoiled, whining 'Gen Y'ers, there is much evidence to suggest that the transition to adulthood today is much more complex and turbulent than that experienced by previous generations. Through six focus group discussions involving 26 members of Generation Y going through the 'quarter-life' (or 'emerging adulthood') stage, this study sought to explore how the transition to adulthood is experienced by young people in New Zealand, including the highs and lows, challenges and pitfalls; whether these years represented a time of personal 'crisis'; and how they felt about their future looking forward. Participants' stories suggested that many felt ill-prepared for the demands and decisions of the 'real world', which sat at odds with what they had been conditioned to expect. While not all of the participants experienced this phase as a 'crisis' in the true sense of the word, many found themselves disappointed with how life in the 'real world' was turning out, unsettled by the disintegration of their initial plans and dreams, and overwhelmed by the complexity of this life stage. Nonetheless, they clung to hopes that the "good life" and the "happily ever after" that they had long-expected would eventually materialise - that fate would intervene and deliver the destiny they felt they deserved. The findings highlight the mismatch between how young people are prepared for the transition to adulthood and how they experience it. The implications of this situation and recommendations for addressing it are discussed.