Adulthood as a social construct

This article in the Atlantic posits that adulthood is a social construct.

Any time I’ve heard the term social construct, I’ve been skeptical.

This time, the expression seems to have touched me.

Perhaps, that’s just a reflection on me being a millennial in her late twenties yet to produce any offspring. Any excuse to feel better.

But perhaps, it is actually somewhat true. The article highlighted having children and financial independence as the keys to adulthood.

Of course, independence is a key part, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that the elderly or the infirm who need additional support aren’t adults.

For a wild Homo sapiens, independence would have had more to do with physical strength and mental agility. For a modern Homo sapiens, independence is more about convincing other homos that this homo can be useful to them.

Independence is a social thing by definition, where other human beings perceive that they depend on you no less than you depend on them – and the more they feel that they depend on you, the more they will be willing to pay, subject to demand and supply.

At the same time, the most independent of our ancestors depended on other people too: someone had to keep the fire lit, share the food etc. But I am not sure that back then there was such a thing as independence as we understand it today. There was no office you could go to that would tell you whether you are above or below a certain line.

Were the males in their prime really independent? It seems that they would have had a high chance of being killed if they were seen by members of another tribe. Today, the equivalent man can arrive in another tribe and work for Google, etc.

As for the children part, the biological part is perhaps less important to becoming an adult than the act of caring and taking responsibility for another human being – which is also entirely social.

Thank you everyone for a fantastic blogging year – I gladly we are now 1500 strong. I wish you all a happy holiday season 🌲❀️

21 thoughts on “Adulthood as a social construct”

    1. Haha, I guess I’ve known a person or two who was retired and regained a certain childlike carelessness.

      In answer to your q, sometimes. The article in the Atlantic has a letter from an doctor who says that in her experience, what differentiates adults and children is the ability to take problems in one’s stride, which I thought was interesting. It’s a state of mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think the idea of independence, as we understand it today, would be terrifying to a primitive man. My guess is that they saw themselves as apart of a larger unit, be it family or tribe and taking one’s place as a regular member of the tribe was the gaol. This is possibly why there were rites of passage to make this clear to one and all so that one didn’t get treated as an adult by one member and as a child by another.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There is a lot of anthropological evidence showing you are correct. Among Australian Aborigines, for example, being banished from the tribe was a death sentence. The person would simply wither away.
      However, I disagree with calling them “primitive.” Biologically, they were and are identical. Their cultures were typically complex, and very efficient in thriving in their particular environment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “…on me being a millennial in her late twenties yet to produce any offspring…” You’re a millennial in your late 20s? What the hell am I doing here wasting my time reading you then? Oh! Wait! You’re a Doctor….Okay…Everything today is actually inter-dependence. No man is an island. (I kept this statement as written, and did not make it politically correct by changing it to “No man/woman is an island.” So what are you a Doctor of, you little millennial? Just curious.


    1. I have teachers who are little children at the moment. Age has nothing to do with wisdom. She is a medical doctor, trained in Russia and practicing in Ireland. Since you are so patronising, I am tempted to suggest you learn to read so you can see the info she has posted, but I won’t do that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There are many modern cultures that exist right now emphasizing dependence upon others such as South Korea, Japan or India. There do exist tribes today, modern tribes (like in the US) who have governments, laws etc., yet whose culture still are community oriented. As you picked up on, the idea of an independent individual is passed along by a community of people, so its a bit of a paradox for those who come from individualist cultures. Somehow they have to trick themselves into thinking they are independent, all the while being active participants in a number of groups, and doting on their greater society to accept them as independent adults. Funny business, that adulting.


  4. In hunter-gatherer cultures, which is of course what humans evolved for, there is in almost every case a set of rituals for passing from childhood to adulthood. The concept of a teenager, or in-between, is a modern concept, but adulthood vs. childhood goes back to the beginnings of human existence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fun topic Doc.
    I’d chime in and say that the assumption of responsibility marks adulthood. When one can take responsibility for all of their actions — they become an adult. If daddy or mommy still has to show up, at times, to relieve you of some burden you just can’t handle, then your adulthood might be suspect.
    Asking for help is one thing, expecting it is another.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Would you consider any young mother who throws up her hands at mothering and expects her own mother to automatically take over to be of questionable adulthood? “I’m going out for a drink, you deal with this brat!”
        As opposed to, “Mom, do you think you could watch junior for a few hours while I go out with my friends for a few hours?”
        It’s the setting and handling of expectations which may be part of growing up.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s