Methods:Qualitative data were collected from 15 young adults aged 18-25, without a college degree, living in two urban neighborhoods of concentrated poverty in a northeast city of the United States.Convenience sampling – in partnership with a local community organization – and snowball sampling methods were used to recruit participants. Methods were informed by an interpretive method of ethnomethodology. Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted to explore emerging adult perspectives on community engagement, decision making, and the transition to adulthood. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and reviewed for accuracy. The development of the codebook was guided by constructs in the Theory of Sociopolitical Development and Theory of Capital, then further developed through open axial coding by multiple coders to capture budding themes from the interviews. Coding discrepancies were resolved through mutual consensus. The research team facilitated triangulation through interview notes, qualitative work groups, member checking, and the utilization of publicly available data on the two neighborhoods.
Results: A team of analysts identified three primary themes: (a) varying perceptions of community engagement; (b) the challenges associated with the transition to adulthood; and (c) factors related to decision making. The emerging adults in this study shared varying perspectives about community engagement. Emerging adults with limited exposure to community engagement opportunities stated they could not offer opinions about it because they had no experience with the activity. For those with previous experience with community engagement, a sense of duty emerged during the interview, to which they began to consider re-engaging in their community. Furthermore, competing priorities including earning money, managing emotional health, and ensuring personal safety impacted the time that an emerging adult could commit to community engagement activities. Emerging adults also identified the importance of social support in managing these competing priorities as it related to decision making throughout the transition to adulthood.
Conclusions and Implications: This study identified how the challenges emerging adults face during the transition to adulthood may interfere with their ability to fully engage within their communities. Given the state of the research around the benefits of community engagement on both personal and community development, this study supports the need for researchers and community organizers to explore ways to improve the provision of practical community engagement opportunities that elevate the value of community engagement for emerging adults.