the social clock for any given behavior or status are likely to vary in time and by cultural group.
We can think of the period of adolescence and young adulthood in terms of two complementary processes: emancipation and settling down. The content of emancipation includes the various behaviors for which there are minimum age requirements, as well as such aspects as staying out late at night and moving out of the parental home. By “settling down” we mean the culturally normative process of taking on an accumulation of continuing obligations: a car loan, a “real” (nontemporary) job, a marriage, a child, a house mortgage, and so on.
Along with the general legal provisions we have mentioned, the emancipation process is governed by strong general cultural expectations. By its nature, the process nearly always involves a generational tug-of-war within the family. The general cultural expectations about the settling down process are also quite strong, but legal age minimums and the struggle within the family are usually much less involved in the process. In the individual life history, emancipation and settling down may be linked closely, such as when a daughter does not leave the parents’ home until she marries. Characteristic of modernity is a considerable temporal separation of the two processes, leaving a significant liminal space in adolescence and early adulthood. Contrary to common belief, this transitional status and period also have been common in other societies and times (e.g., Sarmela, 1969).
As the existence of the minimum-age laws suggests, the process of emancipation involves many behaviors we may describe as “contested” (Gusfield, 1996). Some of these behaviors—driving a car, getting a job, having sex—are expected for nearly everyone to happen eventually as part of adult life, but to engage in them too early is seen as upsetting or even shocking. Other behaviors are legal but grudgingly tolerated for adults, and there is at least hope the process of emancipation will not include them. Thus most parents hope their children will never take up cigarette smoking. Other behaviors are illegal for everyone, but common in the emancipation process: marijuana smoking, for example, as well as behaviors with victims, such as vandalism and violence.
The contest is generational, between teenagers and young adults on the one hand and adults in general and school and civic authorities on the other. It is also intensely personal within the family: Parents find themselves on the front line, locked into a role as guardians of conventional hopes and expectations against the claims for autonomy and emancipation of their offspring. For many parents, the process of emancipation feels like a long process of grudging retreat from their preferred standards of conduct. As