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Life Transitions in America



Life Transitions in America

Francesco Duina

ISBN: 978-0-745-67061-4 March 2014 Polity 352 Pages

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We celebrate, talk about, and worry a great deal about transitions in life. Going to college, having a first child, losing a job, and retiring constitute just a few of the pivotal moments in the lives of many. Sociologists and psychologists have devoted considerable attention to life transitions. Yet we know very little about whether there exists a common thread to our understandings of life transitions in general. How do journalists, leading politicians, sport icons, bestselling authors, government agencies, Hallmark cards, popular TV shows, and other “voices” of popular culture talk about transitions in life? Do these voices provide a coherent picture of how we make sense of life transitions?

In this book, Francesco Duina shows how the dominant American discourse articulates two basic approaches to transitions in life. The first approach depicts transitions as exciting, individualistic opportunities for new beginnings: the past is cast aside, the future is wide open, and the self has the opportunity to recreate itself anew. The second paints transitions as having to do with continuity, our connections to others, and the life-cycle, with an emphasis on acceptance and adaptation. Though contrasting, the two approaches ultimately complement each other. Their analysis reveals a great deal about American culture and society, and will be of great interest to students of the life course and the sociology of culture.

Figures and Tables vi

Acknowledgments vii

I Introduction

1. Discourse and Transitions in Life 3

II Eight Transitions

2. Starting College 23

3. Getting Married 41

4. The First Child 62

5. Losing a Job 85

6. Surviving a Life-Threatening Disease 106

7. Divorce 125

8. Parents’ Death 143

9. Retirement 160

III Conclusion

10. Transitions in America 181

Appendix: Data Sources Overview 194

Notes 205

References 230

Index 255

''Sociological insight comes from personal circumstance. Duina is at once Italian and American, and neither completely. In trying to understand himself he has given us a great book on the nature of American culture--rigorous, empirically driven and able to explain the extraordinary capacity of Americans to reinvent themselves.''
John A. Hall, McGill University

''Life Transitions in America is a thoughtful, beautifully written and carefully researched treatment of eight major transitions from adolescence through the end of life. Each transition is treated in a separate chapter in which Duina combines sociological and psychological research, his own theoretical framing, and expert opinion to understand how American culture sees this change. The result is a pleasure to read, thought provoking, and ultimately satisfying.''
Linda Waite, University of Chicago

''This is an exciting project, part of a larger return in sociology to telling big stories about individuals and society. This sorely needed book asks weighty questions about why and how we focus on, define, and respond to major life transitions. Duina analyzes a rich range of data sources, from popular culture to surveys, to better understand the social shaping of life's milestones.''
Kelly Joyce, Drexel University