Coming of Age in 'America’s Finest City': Transitions to Adulthood among Children of Immigrants in San Diego

Publication Date:
Jan 2011
Project Programs:

“Coming of age,” a familiar phrase but an elusive process, can mean many things, but fundamentally it connotes the manifold changes that accompany the exit from adolescence and the entry into adult roles and responsibilities. However it is measured, coming of age is taking longer these days. The prolonged completion of higher education affects the timetables of other adult transitions, especially by delaying the entry into full-time work, the exit from the parental household, and decisions about marriage and children. Not only are more young Americans going to college, but they are taking longer to attain what are still called “two year” and “four year” degrees; more are also continuing on to seek advanced degrees in graduate or professional schools, and still others return to school to gain needed credentials or work skills in order to compete in rapidly changing local labor markets. Today, only a fourth (27%) of all those enrolled in higher education are so-called “traditional” full-time students who go directly from high school to a 4-year college or university, are supported financially by their parents, and work either part-time or not at all. In contrast, about 40% attend community colleges, most of whom tend to be “nontraditional” students who may have delayed going after finishing high school, lack the financial support of their parents, often work full-time or nearly full-time, and may already have children of their own. A growing proportion of them are ethnically diverse young adult children of immigrants, especially in regions of high immigration such as San Diego, the setting for the study reported here. We highlight the variety of trajectories San Diegans pursue from high school through college, and the complex financial, institutional and psychological struggles they encounter during the transition to adulthood. The 134 young adults that we interviewed are from a wide range of Latin American and Asian backgrounds and all are the children of immigrants. Through their narratives we illustrate how they come of age through the lens of their educational experience. The cases, most of whom were 24 or 25 years old at the time they were interviewed, were representatively drawn from the San Diego sample of the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS), a panel study which followed for more than a decade a large sample of young people growing up in immigrant families in San Diego, from the end of junior high school through their mid-twenties.


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