In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Adolescence

  • Introduction
  • Classic Works
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks
  • Data Sources
  • Institutions
  • Journals
  • Social Transitions
  • Biological Transitions

Sociology Adolescence
Melissa R. Herman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0002


The sociology of adolescence focuses on biological, social, economic, and psychological development of youth during the period between childhood and adulthood. In this period, typical youth undergo puberty, consolidate cognitive reasoning abilities, and attain majority status and social privileges. Most youths complete their education, undergo cultural rites of passage, develop economic and emotional independence from parents, and develop the capacity for intimacy with peers. Developmental sociologists examine these changes in the contexts of home, family, peer group, school, neighborhood, work, houses of worship, and extracurricular activities. Although the field has much in common with the psychological study of adolescence, developmental sociology focuses more on the institutions in which adolescents develop: from whole societies to ethnic groups, from schools to homeless shelters, and from baseball fields to gang turf.

Classic Works

Although Erik Erikson was a clinical psychologist, sociologists consider Erikson 1959 and Erikson 1968 to be important introductory works on adolescence, along with Hall 1904. The first sociologist to give great attention to adolescents was James Coleman, who broadened the focus from individuals to social groups in schools (Coleman 1961). Coleman’s later work on educational inequality, and public policy recommendations for reducing it, were also significant (Coleman 1966). Bronfenbrenner 2005 is based in psychology, but the theory is appealing to scholars of all disciplines, including ecology, sociology, and human development.

  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 2005. Making human beings human: Biological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Collecting six decades of Bronfenbrenner’s work on human development, this book focuses on the process of development. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory argues that humans develop in an integrated multilevel system of contexts: a biological organism (human) is shaped by interaction with its social/physical setting. Bronfenbrenner concentrates on interactions between different social spheres rather than individual relationships.

  • Coleman, James S. 1961. Adolescent society: The social life of the teenager and its impact on education. New York: Free Press.

    A controversial book arguing that teenagers are a social group unto themselves, different from children and adults in their interests and values. Coleman claims that young people value athletic prowess rather than academic achievement, and that they have unrealistic expectations for their future careers. The book’s arguments have been debated and found to be overgeneralizations that miss important differentiating details.

  • Coleman, James S. 1966. Equality of educational opportunity. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

    This national survey report describes the sources and extent of educational inequality, finding that the disparity in resources (funding) between schools contributed minimally to achievement disparities. Student body’s socioeconomic and ethnic makeup, followed by teacher quality, was highly associated with achievement. Though Coleman advocated school integration at the time, his observations of integration through busing, and the white flight that resulted, made him reconsider this position.

  • Erikson, Erik H. 1959. Identity and the life cycle. New York: W. W. Norton.

    This book includes three papers on identity development. One collects Erikson’s observations of children over time, both in the clinic and on field trips outside; the second paper examines the whole life cycle; the last deals with what Erikson called the central task of adolescence: developing an ego identity.

  • Erikson, Erik H. 1968. Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: W. W. Norton.

    Erikson argues that each age has a different psychosocial crisis or challenge that the individual must resolve. These crises are normative, and they may be repeated. The adolescent crisis is called “identity formation”: adolescents must make a series of ever-narrowing decisions on personal, occupational, sexual, and ideological commitments to a particular identity.

  • Hall, G. Stanley. 1904. Adolescence: Its psychology and its relations to physiology, anthropology, sociology, sex, crime, religion and education. New York: Appleton.

    Based on the German idea of Sturm und Drang, Hall argued that adolescence was a stormy and stressful period of life for humans, as evidenced by moodiness, risk-taking behavior, and conflict with adults (particularly parents). This book is particularly concerned with gender roles, coeducation, and what constitutes appropriate information and experiences for adolescents.

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