This book explores the causes and consequences of the contradictions in young people’s lives stemming from the affluence–purpose paradox: a lack of purpose-in-life among many of those living in the most affluent societies in human history. This paradox is endemic to identity societies where people experience a choice-contingent life course, and is examined using an interdisciplinary approach—largely with an integration of developmental psychology and sociology, but also using historical, anthropological, economic, and political perspectives.
The transition to adulthood is now commonly a prolonged process, with young people facing a number of psychological challenges and sociological obstacles in their identity formation. Challenges include difficulties in making prudent choices about goals. Obstacles involve cross-pressures in the wider society as well as in educational institutions. Consequently, many youth experience their education as alienating and stressful rather than as an opportunity for personal development. Those without a sense of purpose have more difficulties with their identity formation that can produce symptoms of anxiety and depression. The current student mental health crisis is examined in this context. An additional challenge is an ambiguously defined adulthood. Young people who are confused about appropriate adult roles often value hedonistic activities rooted in narcissism and materialism rather than in more fulfilling long-term goals. Conversely, those who are agentic in their personal development can thrive in adulthood, especially when they combine agency with generativity. This book ends with a series of recommendations for researchers and policy makers to help youth cope with the affluence–purpose paradox.
"Youth Development in Identity Societies is an important wake-up call. The book shines light on the challenges youth in identity societies encounter as they grope their way—often without the benefit of an orienting sense of identity or purpose—into adulthood. Not since Erik Erikson has a researcher offered such an insightful and innovative diagnosis of the problem and possible solution to this increasingly difficult transition. As such, this book is a must read for practitioners, researchers, and others concerned with the well-being of today’s young adults." – Kendall Cotton Bronk, Claremont Graduate University, USA
"A fascinating examination of the identity crisis gripping today’s youth. James Côté is the perfect scholar to write such a book. His knowledge and ability to explain and integrate multiple perspectives, from the sciences to the humanities, makes for a unique and particularly insightful take on the issues involved." – Steven L. Berman, University of Central Florida, USA
"This book is a most astute and engaging assessment of challenges facing modern societies in preparing youth for adulthood. Youth malaise and lack of purpose are situated in long-term trends—the decline of ‘role societies,’ individualization of the life course, and attempts to solve social inequality via universal higher education." – Jeylan T. Mortimer, University of Minnesota, USA
Foreword Gary T. Reker Part I: Identity and Purpose in Modern Societies 1. The Principal Paradox: Prosperity Without Purpose 2. From Roles to Identities: The Crisis of Purpose in a Sea of Choice 3. Finding Direction and Forming Identities: The Meaning of Purpose and the Purpose of Meaning Part II: Coming of Age Struggles in Identity Societies 4. Growing Up in Identity Societies: The Cross-Purposes of a Prolonged Youth 5. The Paradoxes of Universal Higher Education: Students Misdirected by Credentialism 6. The Student Mental Health Crisis: The Perfect Storm for Identity Confusion Part III: Purpose, Agency, and Generativity: New Forms of Adulthood 7. Adulthood in Identity Societies: Agency and Generativity in a Sea of Confusion 8. The Brave New Adult of Identity Societies: A Brave New World? 9. Conclusion: Purpose as a Mutual Project