By the end of the 20th century, however, the special role of adolescence in US culture began to fall apart. Global competition was making skills acquired in high school obsolete as higher levels of schooled certification became necessary in the workplace. The longtime educational advantage of the US and the competence of its students was challenged as other nations prospered and offered their children schooling that was often superior when measured by international scores. New immigrants, who began to arrive in the US in large numbers in the 1970s, were less well-integrated into high schools as schools re-segregated, leaving Latino immigrants, for example, in underperforming schools.
High schools, long a glory of US education and a product of democratic culture, had lost their central social role. Graduation, once the final step for most Americans on the road to work and steady relationships leading to marriage, no longer marked a significant end point on the way to maturity. It provided neither an effective transition to adulthood nor a valuable commodity for aspiring youth, and was an impediment to those who dropped out. Going to college became a necessary part of middle-class identity, and this complicated the completion of adolescence for everyone. Now that college was held up as essential to economic success, the failure to go to college portended an inadequate adulthood.
The extension of necessary schooling into the 20s (and sometimes even into the 30s) strongly attenuated the relationship between a stage of physical maturation (puberty) and the social experiences to which it had been attached in the concept of adolescence.
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