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The New Emerging Adult in Chiapas, Mexico


Social changes in indigenous Maya communities in Chiapas, Mexico toward increasing levels of formal education, commercialization, and urbanization are transforming traditional Maya developmental pathways toward adulthood. This mixed-methods study is based on interviews with a sample of 14 first-generation Maya university students who have also undergone a transition from a rural to an urban environment, either with their families or as part of their educational process. Greenfield’s theory of social change and human development suggests that formal education and urbanization shift developmental pathways in the direction of increasing values for individual autonomy. This study supports Greenfield’s theory: students perceive they are departing from traditional values by endorsing notions of choice, exploration, self-fulfillment, expanded norms for behavior, and gender equality. However, change is a gradual process of negotiating a pathway through old and new values. Qualitative analyses of interviews reveal how Maya university students are working to harmonize new values of independence, self-fulfillment, and gender equality with the traditional values of respect for elders and family obligation. The study concludes that formal education and urbanization are forces that create conditions for changes in developmental pathways toward adulthood consistent with the characteristics of emerging adulthood. This study adds to a growing body of literature documenting particular manifestations of emerging adulthood in developing countries around the world and shows how emerging adulthood may be a key developmental period connected to the socialization of individualistic values.

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