Approximately one-third of Israeli young adults are having trouble "finding themselves," recent research conducted by Prof. Shmuel Shulman of Bar-Ilan University's Psychology Department concludes. A conference on the subject, entitled "Exploration and Confusion in the Merging Adulthood: The Onrush to India as an Example," took place on Sunday afternoon to raise awareness about the topic. "There is a new stage in life between adolescence and adulthood called 'merging adulthood,'" Shulman explained. "It is characterized by young people in their 20s having difficulties making decisions to settle. People have a hard time committing in a relationship and end up marrying much later. They also have a harder time deciding what profession to take up," he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
'But I still haven't found what I'm looking for'
Two different research projects were undertaken by Shulman and his colleagues, Prof. Golan Shahar of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Dr. Benny Feldman, and Dr. Esther Kalnitsky.
The first research project, which began three and a half years ago, follows 170 people aged 21-26.
Shulman and his colleagues are measuring participants' responses to questions every year, and he says that so far, they have been able to predict from one year to the next how well the subject would perform in certain age-related tasks, such as forming a committed relationship or deciding on a profession.
With a year and a half to go, Shulman believes he and his colleagues will be able to come up with a tool to predict how well a person will be able to function.
The second research project conducted by Shulman and his colleagues has already been completed. It consisted of 72 in-depth interviews with people aged 21-26 about their lives.
A third, Shulman says, raised questions about life decisions. Of those, many had already chosen professions or university majors, but felt that their fields of endeavor weren't "them."
"I had... a university graduate who is mopping floors simply because he does not want to work in the field that he studied," Shulman said.
Shulman said that societal changes in the last 20-30 years have caused this kind of conflict, in Israel and other Western nations. "Parents used to make decisions for their children. However, now the children themselves are the ones who make many of the important decisions in their lives. They have more choices and less direction and this makes them more confused," he explained.
As a way to escape making decisions, thousands of young Israeli adults who have finished their army service opt to travel overseas to places such as India, hoping to "find themselves."
Shulman explained that entering this new stage of life, combined with the instability of Israel's security situation, pushes them to do so.
"Israel doesn't have a supportive environment. It's hard for individuals to plan what they are going to do when the future of the country is less clear," Shulman said.
While traveling to India may help some people decide what they want to do with their lives, many come back unsure, Shulman says.
"Approximately 8-10 percent of university students change their majors each year," Shulman said. "They can't decide what profession they want. And it doesn't stop there."
Shulman said many of them also have problems committing to relationships, pointing out that in Europe, fewer young people are marrying and having children, a cycle that ultimately leaves fewer workers to support the next generation. However, he said, it was too early to predict what ramifications, if any, merging adult indecision would have here.
He advocated acknowledging the problem and raising awareness of it. "Maybe we'll be able to find a way to deal with it," Shulman hoped.