Young workers today grew up in rapidly changing times: They watched women march into the workplace and adults develop a wide range of alternatives to traditional marriage. Now making their own passage to adulthood, these “children of the gender revolution” have inherited a far different world from that of their parents or grandparents. They may enjoy an expanded set of options, but they also face rising uncertainty about whether and how to craft a marriage, rear children, and build a career.

Considering the scope of these new uncertainties, it is understandable that social forecasters are pondering starkly different possibilities for the future. Focusing on a comparatively small recent upturn in the proportion of mothers who do not hold paid jobs, some are pointing to a “return to tradition,” especially among young women. Others see evidence of a “decline of commitment” in the rising number of young adults who are living outside a married relationship. However, the 120 in-depth interviews I conducted between 1998 and 2003 with young adults from diverse backgrounds make it clear that neither of these scenarios does justice to the lessons gleaned from growing up in changing families or to the strategies being crafted in response to deepening work/family dilemmas.

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