What is Emerging Adulthood?

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  • Written By: N. Farley
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Emerging adulthood is a term coined by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett in an article that appeared in American Psychologist in 2000. Arnett used the term to describe the time between adolescence and adulthood that 20-somethings began to occupy in the late 1990s. This period of human development was significant because it strayed from the traditional track of past generations. While growing into emerging adulthood, a young adult might focus on self-exploration, learning and personal growth. Psychologists such as Arnett viewed this period of behavior from 20-somethings in contrast with the behaviors of that generation's parents, who instead chose to focus on careers, marriage and children while in their 20s.

Arnett noted that the causes of emerging adulthood stem largely from cultural changes that promote a different lifestyle for younger generations. In a technologically advanced society, Arnett points out, there is greater need for more extensive education, while there are also fewer jobs available. Additionally, Arnett also looked at the greater acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control use among young people. As societal values and cultural pressures changed and redeveloped, Arnett believes that a new period of life formed. Proponents of emerging adulthood say that this is a positive developmental period for young adults.


Emerging adulthood is also characterized by young adults who wait to get married or have children until they are established in their careers, as well as for those who pursue education before anything else. Many of these young adults move back in with their parents at some time during their 20s. They might also switch careers, homes and romantic partners frequently. Individuals in emerging adulthood might choose to remain single or childless throughout their adult lives. The time between the teenage years and the adult years can be a time for individuals to reflect on their positions in life, as well as the directions in which they're heading.

Some psychologists stand in opposition to the concept of emerging adulthood, because they say that it fosters laziness and underachievement in youth. Proponents of this side of the debate argue that 20-somethings haven't been raised well, either as a result of overprotective or inattentive parents. As a result, the generation of those in emerging adulthood have found themselves ill-equipped to handle the challenges of adult life. This poor planning causes them to fall back on their parents and families for support, without ever building the skills needed to succeed in a traditional manner.


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Post 3

I imagine other parents were as happy to read the last paragraph as I as, which was not at all. Parents play a major role in the shaping of their children, but we cannot take all of the responsibility for the adults our children become.

Yes, some parents may be overprotective (Though, I'm not sure I fully agree with this philosophy.) and some parents may not be involved enough in their children's lives, but there is no way that all parents should be lumped into any category that says we have done a poor job raising an entire generation.

All parents can do is establish the best foundation we can, and then pray that our children have enough moral fortitude to take themselves in the right directions as they become emerging adults.

Post 2

@Laotionne - I agree with you to a certain point. It's easy to say that the 20-somethings of today are more free in regard to their sexuality, and that they are more likely to abuse drugs than my generation. However, when I am tempted to say things like that, I think about the 1960s and just how wild our parents thought we were as teenagers at that time.

I'm a firm believer in the saying that the more things change the more they stay the same. Sure technology and the economy may change the way people live their lives, but the bottom line is that people are people, and we are all a little different from one another, but we are all a lot alike, too.

Post 1

I'm not sure I fully understand the idea of emerging adulthood, but it seems to me that each generation rebels against the ideas and accepted beliefs and practices of the previous generation. I think this is a natural process, and just the way society operates.

When I was a teenager I was convinced that every word that came out of my mother's mouth was wrong. I was determined that everything she did was opposite of what I was going to do.

On the other hand, I was always very close to my grandmother, and to this day I still seek out her advice when I have a big decision to make, and I go to her when I need someone to talk to for whatever reason. I bet when I have children they will rebel against me and they will think my mother is the greatest and wisest person they know.

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