U of S student tracks changing path to adulthood

Study will survey young people about their experiences to better understand what individuals are likely to go through emerging adulthood.

Photo of Chassidy Puchala. (Photo Credit: Scott Bell for the University of Saskactewan).

With the increasing need for more education to land jobs, young people today wait longer than ever to marry and become parents.

Psychologists have dubbed this new stage of life for 18- to 25-year-olds “emerging adulthood.”

With the help of a Canada Graduate Doctoral scholarship valued at $105,000 over three years from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, University of Saskatchewan psychology PhD student Chassidy Puchala will survey young people about their experiences to better understand which individuals are likely to go through emerging adulthood.

“For many, emerging adulthood is a kind of extension of adolescence,” she says. “But it’s not entirely clear whether everyone experiences emerging adulthood or whether it’s really more typical for young people who follow a path to post secondary education.”

It is a time of self-focused identity exploration, instability, and experimentation with different possibilities in love and work.

Because young people are under greater pressure to get more education, they are often left in a situation of financial desperation. More women today are having children later or not at all, and more people are living with their parents for longer, which often strains middle-class and poor families.

One result is that the median age for a first marriage is now 26 for women and 28 for men. In 1970, it was 21 for women and 23 for men.

Just as the term adolescence, coined only about a century ago, changed the way society treats children and young people in their teens, recognizing emerging adulthood is set to significantly alter education, health care, and social services for 18-to 25-year-olds.

“We know very little about how experiencing or not experiencing emerging adulthood affects healthy development and adjustment,” she says.

Puchala wants to determine how psychologists can better help young people struggling to make the next step—in work, in love, in spirituality, or in politics.

Conventional thinking is that people enter adulthood in their late teens or early 20s, so most support programs are ill-equipped to serve those going through emerging adulthood.

“Chassidy’s work will help us better train academic advisors and university career counselors in development and life transition counseling,” says Puchala’s supervisor psychology professor Patti McDougall.

With a master’s in community health and epidemiology, Puchala has worked on many issues of public health, from measuring access to health services, to helping educate those with intellectual disabilities, to counseling victims of sexual assault.

“Many social scientists examine emerging adulthood by lumping all 18- to 25-year-olds together, assuming that all individuals within this age range are experiencing emerging adulthood. I’m going to look at a broad cross-section of ethnicities, age groups, and education levels to understand their diverse experiences and unique needs” she says.

Going through emerging adulthood herself, Puchala, 24, can relate her own experience to her work.

“I thought about being a hairstylist, then about a career in commerce. I often had trouble finding what was right for me, but I was lucky to be supported by my family and encouraged by my fiancé,” she says.

Puchala chose a five-year scientist-practitioner program in clinical psychology in hopes of providing mental health services and conducting research.

“The sky is the limit for Chassidy. She will contribute a great deal to this province as a scientist and a practitioner,” McDougall says.

Lisa Johnson is a graduate student intern for the U of S research communications office.

This article first ran as part of the 2017 Young Innovators series, an initiative of the U of S Research Profile and Impact office in partnership with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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