The dimensions of emerging adulthood in first- and continuous-generation students
Bekker, Constance Jesse
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Emerging adulthood is a distinct developmental stage that follows adolescence and precedes adulthood. This stage is regarded as a time of possibility, instability, identity exploration, self-focus, and feeling in-between. Views of the future are also prominent. In this study, the dimensions of emerging adulthood and the views of the future of emerging adult students were studied. South African universities are extremely diverse, and the student population consists of students with parents who were privileged to attend higher education (continuous-generation students) and students whose parents could not attend university (first-generation students). Gender was also considered in this study by investigating how experiences of emerging adulthood of males and females differ. This study followed a mixed-methods research approach. In the quantitative section of the research, 1452 students of the University of the Free State between the ages of 18 and 25 completed an online survey. Data were analysed by means of multivariate analysis of variance. In the qualitative section of the research, participants were purposively recruited for focus group discussions, which were analysed using thematic analysis. It was found that first-generation students experience the dimensions of emerging adulthood more intensely than their continuous-generation peers do and seem to be more positive about their future. Female students experience the dimensions of emerging adulthood more intensely. In the qualitative themes, it was evident that many similarities are found between first-generation and continuous-generation students. Among some of the similarities are how both groups identify with the developmental stage of emerging adulthood and how they view it as an unstable stage with many uncertainties. However, university poses greater challenges to first-generation students compared to their continuous-generation peers. Some of these challenges include facing pressure from home to perform academically, not having financial support from home, and having a sense of responsibility to “pay back” in life. First-generation students also experience difficulties with adapting to university life, as they have no knowledgeable other at home who has university experience. Although these challenges exist, students were still very optimistic about their higher education experience and their future. This study contributes to the research field of emerging adulthood by extending research that mostly has been done in Western societies to a developing country, South Africa.