History professor Steven Mintz to speak about modern adulthood at Texas Book Festival

Brandi Davis

In UT history professor Steven Mintz’s latest book, “The Prime of Life: A History of Modern Adulthood,” he argues strict familial norms are a thing of the past. 

Mintz is the author and editor of 14 novels which largely focus on the history of American families and growing up in the U.S. On Sunday, he will be one of many authors presenting their work at the Texas Book Festival, and will discuss how people are using phrases such as “coming-of-age” and “settling down” later in their lives.

In his recent work, Mintz touches on what it means to be an adult today and the way it has changed over the course of history. His book argues that in general, health is better, people are more affluent and that today’s world is more individualized.

“There are positives, but with that, it is more difficult to define a course in life,” Mintz said. “There is no set rule book, and people are excessively pressured and stressed. I wanted to understand this paradox.”

Mintz said the fact that the average college graduate will have 11 different jobs in three different career fields proves people are no longer confined by rigid roles. He said they now have more freedom to define their own lives.

“This is scarier than spending the rest of your life in one job,” Mintz said. “Careers hinge more on taking chances, on being a risk taker, being an entrepreneur than it did a half a century ago.”

Because of these expectations, women in the 1970s typically had two or three kids by the age of 20. But since then, Mintz said the roles of adulthood have changed drastically.

“It’s harder to grow up now, economically,” Mintz said. “It’s difficult to have a career because it requires advanced education and experience that many people don’t have. Adulthood is synonymous with stress and independence, but there’s an alternate definition of adulthood: being sophisticated and confident, being mature and knowledgeable.”

Mintz has helped create programs to bring students into STEM fields such as cyber security, biomedical sciences and criminal justice. He said he aims to lead students into fields that offer more promising career opportunities and valuable learning experiences.

“I feel that I’m helping shape the future of education,” Mintz said. “I’m helping students have a more successful academic experience.”

Stephanie Coontz, a best-selling author of books such as “Marriage, a History” and “The Way We Never Were,” has known Mintz since 1988. After they both released their debut novels the same year, she and Mintz met through the Council on Contemporary Families, a foundation that provides research about American families. She said that in his writing, Mintz takes every side of an issue into account. 

“A good thing about Mintz is that he digs very deeply into his history and research,” Coontz said. “He doesn’t take a one-sided argument. He looks at all different components of a topic.”

Mintz said he’s looking forward to the Texas Book Festival because it’s a “who’s who” of authors. He’s excited the state has given books and reading so much recognition. 

“In different stages of life people read books that alter the way we see ourselves and the way we see the world around us,” Mintz said. “I’m excited to be part of a book festival that creates a buzz surrounding reading culture.”

By working to create pathways that bring many students to fields that have high attrition rates, Mintz has helped create programs in STEM fields such as cyber security, biomedical sciences and criminal justice.