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Emerging Adulthood

20-Somethings Are the New Adolescents

Older people have lamented how long it's taking our generation to grow up since, at least, the day after I graduated from college. Are we somehow different than previous generations, or do the traditional markers that once signaled adulthood no longer work?

A preview of this Sunday's New York Times Magazine says the latter, suggesting the time has come to do for 20-somethings what the early 20th century did for adolescents. Create a distinct developmental period.

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, has coined the period "emerging adulthood," which is a nicer way of saying extended adolescence. There used to be five milestones that were said to be passed on the way to adulthood: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had achieved all five by age 30; but in 2000, just under half of women and one-third of 30-year-old men had.

Find out more after the jump.

It may be true that more people live at home to finish school or launch careers, but they are doing it to arrive at a better adulthood. Maybe taking advantage of parents' hospitality — like those who live at home for the free rent and not to further themselves — is just a byproduct of an otherwise productive shift? Or maybe they benefit too? The whole point of emerging adulthood is to build in time to make mistakes.


The rise of adolescence forced the law, social institutions, health care, and education to adapt. It was responsible for the creation of junior high and middle schools, juvenile detention, and other programs that addressed the age group's needs. We're already seeing it begin for emerging adults with parents' health insurance being extended to at least 26 and up to 30 in the US. What else would you like to see for the under 30?

Source: Flickr User ollie e

Join The Conversation
jocupcake jocupcake 7 years
Sorry SKG, didn't see your post at first! But yeah I agree. I, and many of my classmates, were kind of encouraged to choose more well-known schools over cheaper ones. The justification was that your degree is "worth" more and you'll be able to get better jobs and into better grad schools. So I went to Cornell over my state school.
jocupcake jocupcake 7 years
Danaskully, yeah the same thing happened to me. My parents look very well-off on paper but they didn't contribute anything to my undergrad Even when I applied to medical school, I had to list their income - despite the fact that I am over 21 and had not been financially dependent on them in any way since starting undergrad.
danakscully64 danakscully64 7 years
^^ Absolutely. I don't know if this is an issue for everyone, but when I applied for different scholarships/grants, I was turned down because my parents made too much, even though they weren't paying a cent towards my education. It wasn't until this year (turned 24) when I didn't have to put them on the forms. This is one of the reasons I've put off finishing my degree. I also didn't qualify for many other scholarships because I'm not Hispanic. And it seems like every year, the tuition price goes up. I don't know if I'm the only one who feels this way, but it seems like the government does a good job of discouraging people from getting a higher education. If they would stop wasting money subsidizing the meat/dairy industry, this country would have more than enough money to everyone through school.
jocupcake jocupcake 7 years
I honestly think that student loans are the single largest problem holding 20-somethings back. So many people I know have such huge, high-interest private loans that even with their degrees they can barely cover their loan payments, let alone buy a house or cover their own health insurance.
MeiGaku MeiGaku 7 years
i don't know if i'd blame the older generation for anything, since i don't really know much about how they may have screwed or not screwed us over (i'm 1st generation about to be college grad), and i don't count technology as a reason for 20 somethings not growing up. maybe because my cousins who are in hs in viet nam work and take care of themselves as well as go to school, etc., that i think we americans are taking our sweet time becoming full-fledged responsibilities bearing adults. i understand why some would choose to stay home to save money. i just also recognize that there are many more out there who do it just cause they can.
snarkypants snarkypants 7 years
isn't blaming the past for 20-somethings not growing up thinking more about the past than the present?
snarkypants snarkypants 7 years
actually, if the economy was as bad when i graduated as it's been recently, i probably would have been MORE likely to be married right out of school.
snarkypants snarkypants 7 years
my statements are about our developmental years SKG, not our adult years. i actually have many college and high school friend who served overseas. one is actually at ft. hood now, and shipping out shortly. but i'm now an adult. i think if i was 18 and had friends serving, it shape me differently. or if i had a parent who served when i was younger...that would obviously affect me differently than having a friend serving now. i graduated from college post-9/11. was the economy great? no. was it as bad as it is now? no way. it still took me six months after graduating to find a "real" job. but i don't think that has anything to do with me not being married. haha
snarkypants snarkypants 7 years
i had 0 student loans, and got a job in my field. but i'm not married, don't have kids, etc. and i'm happy that way. i don't think the "fall of the middle class" has anything to do with it. i think we've just become more career-driven. most of us came from families with two working parents or single-parent homes, which has emphasized the importance of work, sometimes over family. i also think that we've become spoiled, as meigaku pointed out...with all the technology, etc. we don't grow up as fast as we used to...we never had to deal with war rationing or a draft...those kind of things that "force" people to grow up the crappy economy obviously has forced many 20-somethings to move home, but i feel like that's a completely different issue. i don't think that has anything to do with "not growing up"
danakscully64 danakscully64 7 years
I totally agree with posts 1-6. I especially agree with SKG about the previous generations pretty much screwing us over. I've heard from my own Mom so many times that by my age, she was married with kids. Like that is so realistic now. As for "being in school," why do so many people expect students to be superwoman/superman? 2 hours of studying for every hour in the classroom, I barely had time to sleep while working and going to school part time. Plus, it's easier in some areas to support yourself than others while in school. Where I'm from, rent is expensive and the job opportunities are few and far between. I was working 5-6 days a week and still not making enough to even make my basic bills (car, insurance, food, pets, gas, repairs, clothing, books, tuition). The income just isn't there for some, even working full time and going to school part time. Snookyx - I know what you're saying, I was living with my parents while going to school. To me, it didn't make sense to flush $1,500 a month down the toilet on rent (money I didn't even have). I paid for everything other than rent, did my own laundry, helped my parents around the house, I never asked my parents for money. I don't know any moochers that are in my age group.
Gdeeaz Gdeeaz 7 years
Most of the people I know still live at home with their parents, and the majority of them are hard working people who aren't just mooching off mom and dad. I work, go to school, pay my own bills, cook meals for my dad and myself, do my own laundry, clean the house, etc. The only reason I live with my dad is because I want to avoid paying rent as long as possible. I think its a huge waste and I would rather save the money I earn for when I buy a house. If I wanted to move out I could, but with school, rent, and other daily expenses I would have no money left to save towards a home. I live in Los Angeles and rent is extremely high.
Sundaydrive Sundaydrive 7 years
I never have liked the "I'm in school" excuse. I'm in school, but I live on my own, I pay my own bills, and I work full time. Sure it would be a lot easier to live with my parents, but I'm not looking for the easy way out in life. Thousands of students across the country do it each and every day, its not impossible to be in school and on your own. I find I appreciate things a lot more because of my hard work, and I enjoy knowing that I am financially independent from my parents.
MeiGaku MeiGaku 7 years
Maybe. They're all middle class types. i don't know, maybe because both my younger sister and i are financially independent of our parents that i see people who skate by with mommy and daddy. maybe cause i live in la? who knows.
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 7 years
MeiGaku, I think you just hang out with spoiled people. I live at home, but that doesn't mean I'm running to mommy and daddy for everything. I just can't afford to pay my own rent while I'm in school, but that doesn't mean I do not contribute anything. For most of us college students, the "I'm still in school" justification is not an excuse, but a truth. And I think the majority of us know how to do our own laundry.
MeiGaku MeiGaku 7 years
i don't know. in my opinion, it seems like americans are really behind in the growing up department. i'm in my last quarter in college and some of my friends don't know how to do laundry, some never HAD to work (which is different from choosing to work, just to get something on the resume), and others pay bills by asking mommy and daddy. yes, i have to agree that time times are tougher now, but to me, i don't consider someone a grown up until they're living on their own, toughing it out by paying their own bills (rent, cell phone, insurance, etc.), and not running to mom and dad every time something goes wrong. of course there are 40-sometimes who are still stuck in their teens, but overall, i think a lot of people use the "i'm still in school" excuse.
marcied23 marcied23 7 years
very well said skg.
mintyboy mintyboy 7 years
Spacekatgal brought up a great point. "They were able to get jobs in their field of study, and were able to get benefits," but our world now is not running the same protocol as back then (which I think has just been 5-10 yrs ago, yikes). I, like postmodern, is 23 and busting my bum to get into grad school because I am under-qualified with a bachelor's degree in the science field. Boy, even getting into grad school has been harder than before. What I am trying to stress is that we, the 20+ generation, are not putting off adulthood; just that it is harder for us to establish ourselves as adults than before. And to answer Tres' final question: I would like to see more help from our parents while we're in this stage of chaos or at least lower their expectation of what their kids should be doing in comparison to what they might have accomplished when they were our age.
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 7 years
I agree with totygoliguez. I don't think adolescence is being prolonged so much as cultural/societal norms are changing. I'm 23 and still live at home, but I'm busting my ass at school and I do consider myself an adult.
totygoliguez totygoliguez 7 years
I don't think most of these things mean you are an "adult"--the financially independent does. Unlike the 1960s, most of the twenty-something adults are trying to go through graduate school, and a lot live at home, but still help and work. Just because you are not marry doesn't mean you are not an adult.
lickety-split lickety-split 7 years
If you throw having kids in there, then I think then it's got a lot to do with women waiting to have kids. And I'm not sure having a kid means you're a grown up anyway.
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