Silicon Valley Notebook


The shifting priorities of work, family, and leisure, in American adults’ lives and their self-concepts were assessed. Secondary survey data from 3,617 American adults (aged 25 and older) in the Americans’ Changing Lives survey were supplemented with qualitative insights from four professionals knowledgeable about work and community and with journalistic accounts about life transitions. Earlier in the life course (2002), work, followed by family and leisure, defined one’s social identity (supporting Parson’s social systems and Mead’s self-concept). However, life priorities of Americans were redefined over a ten-year period (2011); family roles and leisure were the only factors that shaped their identity (supporting Elder’s life course theory). These findings contributed to the literature on changing priorities over the life course. Future research is warranted on the place of health in shaping one’s identity as well as differences in life course trajectories across social locations of race, class, and gender.