In Pursuit of Adulthood: Young Mothers’ Urban Choices and Tradeoffs following Hurricane Katrina


Researchers puzzle over why some young people return to disadvantaged areas after moves to opportunity. Prevailing understandings focus on financial or network constraints but, even when these two conditions are met, moves to opportunity areas are seldom durable. This article merges literatures on locational attainment and the transition to adulthood to offer a framework for systematizing how emerging adults adjudicate among the competing constraints they face once uprooted from their disadvantaged communities. Focusing on the life stories of 53 young, impoverished, and mostly-African-American mothers displaced following Hurricane Katrina, the authors reveal how household economics, social obligations, and locational choice often conflict: Economic scarcity and parental responsibility compete with the achievement of personal milestones, even as these young mothers rely on their kin in their quest for self-sufficiency. Returns to disadvantaged environments occur when young people view living in these areas as a temporary necessity for achieving “adulthood assets,” important milestones people seek to make their lives stable, meaningful, and expressive of their identities as emerging adults. The concept of adulthood assets sheds light on the multidimensionality of locational attainment for emerging adults, helping to explain how seemingly-irrational returns to disadvantaged environments may in fact represent a strategy that some young people use amidst resource constraints to accumulate the resources they deem necessary for becoming independent adults.

Last updated on 05/08/2018