Emerging Adulthood

A Theory of Development From the Late Teens Through the Twenties

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett
University of Maryland College Park

Emerging adulthood is proposed as a new conception of it had risen to 25 for women and 27 for men (U.S. Bureau
development for the period from the late teens through the of the Census, 1997). Age of first childbirth followed a
twenties, with a focus on ages 18-25. A theoretical back- similar pattern. Also, since midcentury the proportion of
ground is presented, Then evidence is provided to support young Americans obtaining higher education after high
the idea that emerging adulthood is a distinct period de- school has risen steeply from 14% in 1940 to over 60% by
mographically, subjectively, and in terms of identity explo- the mid-1990s (Arnett & Taber, 1994; Bianchi & Spain,
rations. How emerging adulthood differs from adolescence 19961). Similar changes have taken place in other industri-
and young adulthood is explained. Finally, a cultural con- alized countries (Chisholm & Hurrelmann, 1995; Noble,
text for the idea of emerging adulthood is outlined, and it Cover, & Yanagishita, 1996).
is specified that emerging adulthood exists only in cultures These changes over the past half century have altered
that allow young people a prolonged period of independent the nature of development in the late teens and early
role. exploration during the late teens and twenties. twenties for young people in industrialized societies. Be-
When our mothers were our age, they were engaged . . . . They cause marriage and parenthood are delayed until the mid-
at least had some idea what they were going to do with their twenties or late twenties for most people, it is no longer
lives . . . . I, on the other hand, will have a dual degree in majors normative for the late teens and early twenties to be a time
that are ambiguous at best and impractical at worst (English and of entering and settling into long-term adult roles. On the
political science), no ring on my finger and no idea who I am, contrary, these years are more typically a period of frequent
much less what I want to do . . . . Under duress, I will admit that change and exploration (Arnett, 1998; Rindfuss, 1991).
this is a pretty exciting time. Sometimes, when I look out across
In this article, I propose a new theory of development
the wide expanse that is my future, I can see beyond the void. I
realize that having nothing ahead to count on means I now have from the late teens through the twenties, with a focus on
to count on myself; that having no direction means forging one of ages 18-25. I argue that this period, emerging adulthood, is
my own. (Kristen, age 22; Page, 1999, pp. 18, 20) neither adolescence nor young adulthood but is theoreti-
cally and empirically distinct from them both. Emerging
adulthood is distinguished by relative independence from

F or most young people in industrialized countries, the
years from the late teens through the twenties are
years of profound change and importance. During
this time, many young people obtain the level of education
and training that will provide the foundation for their
social roles and from normative expectations. Having left
the dependency of childhood and adolescence, and having
not yet entered the enduring responsibilities that are nor-
mative in adulthood, emerging adults often explore a vari-
ety of possible life directions in love, work, and world-
incomes and occupational achievements for the remainder views. Emerging adulthood is a time of life when many
of their adult work lives (Chisholm & Hurrelmann, 1995; differen! directions remain possible, when little about the
William T. Grant Foundation Commission on Work, Fam- future has been decided for certain, when the scope of
ily, and Citizenship, 1988). It is for many people a time of
independent exploration of life's possibilities is greater for
frequent change as various possibilities in love, work, and
most people than it will be at any other period of the life
worldviews are explored (Erikson, 1968; Rindfuss, 1991).
By the end of this period, the late twenties, most people
For most people, the late teens through the midtwen-
have made life choices that have enduring ramifications.
ties :are the most volitional years of life. However, cultural
When adults later consider the most important events in
influences structure and sometimes limit the extent to
their lives, they most often name events that took place
during this period (Martin & Smyer, 1990),
Sweeping demographic shifts have taken place over I thank the following colleagues for their comments on drafts of this
the past half century that have made the late teens and early article: Jack Brunner, James Cot& Shirley Feldman, Nancy Galambos,
twenties not simply a brief period of transition into adult Lene Arnett Jensen, John Modell, John Schulenberg, David Skeel, Dor-
roles but a distinct period of the life course, characterized othy Youniss, and James Youniss.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jef-
by change and exploration of possible life directions. As frey Jensen Arnett, Department of Human Development, University of
recently as 1970, the median age of marriage in the United Maryland, 3304 Benjamin Hall, College Park, MD 20742. Electronic mail
States was about 21 for women and 23 for men; by 1996, may be sent to arnett@wam.umd.edu.

May 2000 • American Psychologist 469
Copyright2000 by the AmericanPsychologicalAssociation,Inc.0003,(166X/00/$5.00
Vol. 55. No. 5,469-480 DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.55.5.469

as I argue in the following sections. Keniston wrote at a time when American society and which emerging adults are able to use their late teens and some Western European societies were convulsed with twenties in this way. and on the basis of their accounts he developed a theory that included development in the late teens and the twenties. present evidence to illustrate how emerging adulthood is a More importantly. emerging adulthood is a period of things). Levinson interviewed men at midlife. Like Erikson and Levinson. Levinson acknowledged that his conception of the novice phase was similar to Erikson's ideas about the role exper- imentation that takes place during the psychosocial mora- torium (Levinson. 1994). Keniston's (1971) application of distinct period demographically. young adulthood yet not strictly either one. Next. teens through the twenties. 9) reflects that historical moment I lay out the theoretical background first and then rather than any enduring characteristics of the period. of the United States in the Vietnam War (among other ration. 8) and "re- and immutable. Erik. a period in Postponing these transitions until at least the late twenties 470 May 2000 • American Psychologist . Youth has a of identity explorations. subjectively. I explain how emerging long history in the English language as a term for childhood adulthood can be distinguished from adolescence and generally and for what later became called adolescence young adulthood. 1978. p. which adult commitments and responsibilities are delayed while the role experimentation that began in adolescence continues and in fact intensifies. demo- section of his society" (Erikson. 322-323). Perhaps the best-known theory of development in the Jeffrey late teens and the twenties is Kenneth Keniston's theory of Jensen Arnett youth. During this process. and it continues to be used popu- tural conditions under which emerging adulthood is most larly and by many social scientists for these purposes (as likely to exist as a distinct period of the life course. His description of youth as a time of "tension the life course that is culturally constructed. pp. p. graphic changes in the timing of marriage and parenthood son seems to have distinguished--without naming--a pe. in recent decades have made a period of emerging adult- riod that is in some ways adolescence and in some ways hood typical for young people in industrialized societies. One early contribution was However. He called ages 17-33 the novice phase of devel- opment and argued that the overriding task of this phase is to move into the adult world and build a stable life struc- ture. human development across the life course he did not in- clude a separate stage that could be considered analogous Emerging Adulthood Is Distinct to emerging adulthood as proposed here. and in terms the term youth to this period is problematic. 156). he wrote Demographically of development in adolescence and of development in young adulthood. he also commented on the Although Erikson (1968). not universal between self and society" (Keniston. I discuss the economic and cul. Levinson (1978). the nature of the period has changed people in such societies "during which the young adult considerably since the time of their writings more than 20 through free role experimentation may find a niche in some years ago. Like adolescence. Finally. How- ever. but he had them describe their earlier years as well. according to Levinson. reflected in terms such as youth organizations). Erikson rarely dis. empirical support for conceiving this period--proposed cussed specific ages in his writings. Rather. 1968). Thus. Keniston's The Theoretical Background choice of the ambiguous and confusing term youth may explain in part why the idea of the late teens and twenties There have been a number of important theoretical contri. the young person experiences a considerable amount of change and instability while sorting through various possibilities in love and work in the course of establishing a life structure. However. and in his theory of here as emerging adulthood--as a distinct period of life. and Keniston prolonged adolescence typical of industrialized societies (1971) all contributed to the theoretical groundwork for and on the psychosocial moratorium granted to young emerging adulthood. 1968. there is good made by Erik Erikson (1950. As noted at the outset of this article. 1971. fusal of socialization" (p. and not all young people in this age highly visible youth movements protesting the involvement period are able to use these years for independent explo. Ben-Amos. Another theoretical contribution can be found in the work of Daniel Levinson (1978). as a separate period of life never became widely accepted butions to the understanding of development from the late by developmental scientists after his articulation of it. Keniston (1971) con- ceptualized youth as a period of continued role experimen- tation between adolescence and young adulthood..g. (e.

because these changes often take place at the end during these years. year degree. but their parents.g. in between the two but not really change of any age group. Rindfuss (1991) de. 1997. as young people follow. variation. It is only in the transition from emerging adult- tus. in s o m e r e s p e c t s Laumann. 1998). in recent decades (Chisholm & Hurrelmann. twenties and early thirties do a clear majority of people scribed how rates of residential mobility peak in the mid. indicate that they feel they have reached adulthood. Gagnon. new demographic norms have been established: highest level ever. Emerging adults have the highest rates of residential adolescents nor adults. age is only the roughest marker of the subjective generation of emerging adults. ploration. this is a period of semiautonomy (Gold- Emerging Adulthood Is Distinct scheider & Davanzo. 1995). more enduring choices in love and work. but the ambiguous in s o m e r e s p e c t s yes. but this term applies with a bachelor's degree are enrolled in postgraduate edu- much better to emerging adulthood. and especially of the: Census.leaves the late teens and early twenties available for ex. 1994). Bureau In between these two periods. the majority of Americans in Goldscheider. 1994). About two thirds experience a period their late teens and early twenties answer neither no nor y e s of cohabitation with a romantic partner (Michael. however. This reflects a subjective sense on the attending college or working or some combination of the part of most emerging adults that they have left adoles- two. For those who do eventually graduate with a four- ing adulthood is a reflection of the experimental and ex. 1994). late twenties. In European to have a wider scope of possible activities than persons in countries too. the length of education has become extended other age periods because they are less likely to be con. Only about 10% of men and 30% of women remain at cence but have not yet completely entered young adulthood home until marriage (Goldscheider & Goldscheider. reflecting the wide scope of individual volition quality. For emerging adults. 1994a. Bureau of the Census. characterized by a high degree of demographic diversity One demographic area that especially reflects the ex. Using data from several cohorts one or the other. & Kolata.. strained by role requirements. How- twenties (see Figure 1). college authorities. fewer than 10% have had a child.S. Over 95% of American adolescents aged 12-17 School attendance is another area in which there is live at home with one or more parents. a variety of key demographic areas show little place). Only 32% of young people ages 25-29 (U. They have no name for the Amidst this diversity. up leaving college. 1994). and punctuated by periods of nonatten- The demographic diversity and unpredictability of emerg. 1986) as they take on some of the Subjectively responsibilities of independent living but leave others to Emerging adults do not see themselves as adolescents. dance. As May 2000 ° American Psychologist 471 . About one third of those who graduate called adolescence the r o l e l e s s role. residential changes include transition from emerging adulthood to young adulthood. over 60% (Bianchi & Spain. have completed four years or more of college (U. 1997). frequently com- areas is very difficult to predict on the basis of age alone.S. Emerging adulthood is the only period of one period of exploration or the beginning of another of life in which nothing is normative demographically (e. 1996). or other adults. over 98% are substantial change and diversity among emerging adults. (Arnett. least once in the course of their late teens and twenties An important demographic characteristic of emerging (Goldscheider & Goldscheider. emerging adults' living situations are diverse. especially in the on adults. college educa- from ages 18 to 25. and instability. perhaps the unifying feature of period they are in--because the society they live in has no the residential status of emerging adults is the instability of name for it--so they regard themselves as being neither it. and over 95% The proportion of American emerging adults who enter are enrolled in school (U. For about 40% of the current ever. Overall. Talcott Parsons (1942) graduate school. the years of emerging adulthood are graphic status unpredictable. Some remain at home while no (Arnett. 1997). For them.S. 1991. Bureau of the Census. 1995). unmarried. Rindfuss About one third of emerging adults go off to college after (1991) called the period from ages 18 to 30 "demograph- high school and spend the next several years in some ically dense" (p. bined with work. make. 1996). or the beginning of a new job in a new to age 18. As Figure 2 shows. college is increasingly likely to be followed by ploratory quality of the period. 1994). About 75% of 30-year-olds have married. moving back into their parents' home and then out again at ploring various possible life directions.. Most young Americans leave home by age 18 or 19 hood to young adulthood in the late twenties that the (Goldscheider & Goldscheider. Frequent residential adulthood is that there is a great deal of demographic changes during emerging adulthood reflect its exploratory variability. and this makes their demo. 496) because of the many demographic combination of independent living and continued reliance transitions that take place during that time. nity or sorority house (Goldscheider & Goldscheider. 40% move out of their parental home not for college but for Figure 2 shows that when they are asked whether they feel independent living and full-time work (Goldscheider & they have reached adulthood. for example. in a college dormitory or a frater. a person's demographic status in these tion is often pursued in a nonlinear way. this figure masks the expanding diversity in the become parents. reflecting the emphasis on change and ex- ploratory quality of emerging adulthood is residential sta. 1997). in press). then. Emerging adults tend cation the following year (Mogelonsky. During adolescence. higher education in the year following high school is at its By age 30. only in their late of the National Longitudinal Study. About many of them also do not see themselves entirely as adults. entering or (Rindfuss. Wallace. and fewer than 10% are enrolled in school years that follow. the end of a period of cohabitation. about 75% have However. 1995). In the years that diversity narrows and the instability eases.

However. perhaps surprisingly. Scheer. Do You Feel That You Have Reached ambiguity in attaining full adulthood to arise from the Adulthood? demographic diversity and instability described above. No. Bureau of the Census. 2000. and parenthood rank at the bottom in importance among possible criteria considered necessary for the attainment of adulthood (Arnett. set- tling into a career. DC: U. Current Population Reports (Series P-20. nearly one third did not feel their transition to Figure 2 adulthood was complete. & Brown. + m b m F I 10-14 15-19 20-24 25-29 30-34 35-44 45-54 55+ Age Note. Greene. Per- haps it is difficult for young people to feel they have reached adulthood before they have established a stable residence. 1992. 20 15 10 5 0 k. Government Printing Office. 1994). Subjective Conceptions of Adult Status in Response to One might expect emerging adults' subjective sense of the Question. adults in their subjective sense of attaining adulthood are not demographic transitions but individualistic qualities of 472 May 2000 • American Psychologist . illustrated in Figure 2. & Aldava. Unger. The characteristics that matter most to emerging Note. 1997. Consistently." by the U. 1998 50 45 40 35 30 e. the research evidence indicates strongly that these demographic transi- tions have little to do with emerging adults' conceptions of what it means to reach adulthood. N = 519.F i g u r e '1 Residential Change by Age. Data are from "Geographic Mobility: March 1997 to March 1998. marriage. demographic transitions such as finishing education.. Wheatley. in a variety of studies with young people in their teens and twenties. settled into a career.S. Washington. even in their late twenties and early thirties.- ¢~ 25 o o. 520). 1998. in press. and married (or at least committed themselves to a long-term love relationship).S. finished school. Data are from Arnett (in press).

as noted. 1999). tend to involve a deeper level of intimacy. learned are few. most identity exploration which the cognitive challenges are minimal and the skills takes place in emerging adulthood rather than adolescence. 1999).to 14-year-olds. dances. and sexual adults experience a subjective change in their developmen.. also individ. also ranks consistently near the top. explorations cause it requires taking on the responsibilities of protecting in love tend to be tentative and transient. A third criterion. With parenthood. Although adolescents often report that their work the central crisis of the adolescent stage of life. For adolescents. Greene et al. Specifically. in all three of these becoming a self-sufficient person (Arnett. and worldviews. and young adulthood. restaurant meals. & Aronson. on identity has been on adolescence (Adams. be- (Michael et al. Romantic relationships in emerging tant marker of the transition to adulthood for themselves adulthood last longer than in adolescence. here and now? focus of concern shifts inexorably from responsibility for In contrast. Dating in adolescence often transitions as necessary for attaining adulthood. it is adolescence rather than emerging adulthood adulthood. 1985. mainly in emerging adulthood. Parenthood Blyth.. The explorations that occur in emerging to include sexual intercourse. Harley. Financial independence is also crucial to ous consideration of marriage is a decade or more away for self-sufficiency.character (Arnett. 1991). it should takes place in groups. usually accomplished by the late twenties (Arnett. In emerging adulthood. How. clothes. dating provides compan- financial independence has been attained do emerging ionship. and may include cohabitation adulthood become sharply restricted with parenthood. Tesch. love. concerts. Whitbourne & independent decisions (Arnett. During areas. this occurs some time during the twenties and is sweetheart" much beyond high school. 1998). this process begins in adolescence but takes place these years. their dating relationships typi- tal status. becoming financially indepen. the implicit and providing for a young child. Only years of dating as primarily recreational (Roscoe. Identity formation involves The prominence of these criteria for the transition to trying out various life possibilities and gradually moving adulthood reflects an emphasis in emerging adulthood on toward making enduring decisions. Thus. & after these character qualities have reached fruition and Brooks. Steinberg & extended identity explorations. Who would I enjoy being with. the character qualities most important to be. the first experiences of romantic love. 1996. are more likely (Arnett. Amer- coming successfully self-sufficient--accepting responsibil. Adolescents tend to view their jobs not as Although research on identity formation has focused occupational preparation but as a way to obtain the money mainly on adolescence. travel. explorations in love in emerging adulthood one's self to responsibility for others. in press). 1998). 1992. and May 2000 • American Psychologist 473 . a similar contrast exists between of life that offers the most opportunity for identity explo. retail stores. can be seen in the three main areas of identity exploration: dent. 1995). Most adolescents are employed in ser- from ages 10 to 18 and emerging adulthood is the period vice' jobs--at restaurants. the two top criteria school (Montemayor. what kind of person do I wish to have as a partner Identity Explorations through life? A key feature of emerging adulthood is that it is the period With regard to work. in adolescence. the transient and tentative explorations of adolescence and rations in the areas of love. Erikson (1950) designated identity versus role confusion as 1999). students are employed part-time (Barling & Kelloway. work. for the most part their jobs do not provide them with ever. 1991). and so forth---in from (roughly) ages 18 to 25. 1994). and the implicit Emerging Adulthood Is Distinct for question is more identity focused: Given the kind of person I am. 1998). and the focus is less on recreation for adulthood for people in general. because any seri- being developed. Scheer et al. By emerging adulthood. However. 1987). and in the experiences enhance their abilities in areas such as manag- decades since he articulated this idea the focus of research ing their time and money (Mortimer. With regard to love. the question is. Erikson (1950. 1996). In the United States. 1986. as adolescents pursue shared recre- be noted that parenthood in particular is often sufficient for ation such as parties. however. that will support an active leisure life--paying for compact tity achievement has rarely been reached by the end of high discs. & Adams. ican adolescents typically begin dating around ages 12 to ity for one's self and making independent decisions--are 14 (Padgham & Blyth. and worldviews. 1968) clearly believed that knowledge or experience that will be related to their future industrialized societies allow a prolonged adolescence for occupations (Greenberger & Steinberg. Brown. 1985). this research has shown that iden. For most young people in American few adolescents expect to remain with their "high school society. 1997. If adolescence is the period Cauffman. explorations in love become Although emerging adults do not view demographic more intimate and serious. 1998. dating is more likely ranks low in young people's views of the essential criteria to take place in couples. so it is also important in emerging adults' most 12. the majority of high school that has typically been associated with identity formation. work. but those who have had and more on exploring the potential for emotional and a child tend to view becoming a parent as the most impor- physical intimacy. Dian. 1995).. cars. as they move out of emerging adulthood and into cally lasl only a few weeks or months (Feiring. Of the more serious and focused explorations of emerging course. and hanging out (Padgham & marking a subjective sense of adult status. Waterman. young people view the early conceptions of what is necessary to become an adult. for the transition to adulthood in a variety of studies have 1982) and that identity development continues through the been accepting responsibility for one's self and making late teens and the twenties (Valde. experimentation. The locus on identity issues in emerging adulthood ualistic but more tangible.

are pessimistic about the future of their society (Arnett. the explora. emerging alone than any other age group under 40 (Larson. & Luidens. often in the context of a limited. the construction of anything more compelling in their place adult responsibilities. research on emerging different kinds of future work. Jensen. 1993). In exploring various work possibilities. 1994. 1990). and identity explorations--provide the most often a central part of cognitive development during emerg. in disappointment. "I am very sure that someday I term work or educational experience. Similarly. they own beliefs and values is an essential criterion for attaining try out various possibilities that would prepare them for adult status (Arnett. one they brought in. (Arnett & Jensen. Morch. 1991). Americans ages 19-29 spend more of their leisure time emerging adulthood is the time for it. part of expanding their range of personal experiences prior to making the more enduring Other Notable Findings on choices of adulthood. 1999).to 24-year-olds in the travel to a different part of the country or the world on their United States (Hornblower. 1999. because parental alone than any persons except the elderly and spend more surveillance has diminished and there is as yet little nor. However. However. By the end of their college years they have often In emerging adulthood. with- of experimentation and exploration that is not likely to be out the daily companionship of either their family of origin possible during the thirties and beyond. Emerging adults may also goals.. these explorations are not always experi- they had chosen as undergraduates. Shanahan. This too can be part will get to where I want to be in life. Explora- rations in emerging adulthood are not limited to direct tions in work sometimes result in a failure to achieve the preparation for adult roles. subjective (1970/1999) has shown that changes in worldviews are perceptions. adulthood is the time for trying out unusual work and Many of them see the condition of the world as grim and educational possibilities." of their identity explorations. 1991). Explorations in worldviews their own sake. will lay the groundwork for the jobs they may have through Most of the research on changes in worldviews during adulthood. emerging mitments in emerging adulthood makes possible a degree adults pursue their identity explorations on their own. & Costa. In one national poll of 18. views. Although there is a voluminous literature on adolescent risk views. and pursue others. Also. Nevertheless. to a large extent. However. Emerg. emerging prevalence of several types of risk behavior peaks not 474 May 2000 ° American Psychologist . Over the course of their college years. part of obtaining a broad range of life sometimes lead to rejection of childhood beliefs without experiences before taking on enduring--and limiting-. evidence is available from other areas enter college with a worldview they have learned in the that suggests possible lines of inquiry for future research on course of childhood and adolescence. teer jobs in programs such as Americorps and the Peace 2000b). tions often continue through their early twenties and mid. and in the course of this exposure college students behavior and relatively little research on risk behavior in often find themselves questioning the worldviews they emerging adulthood (Jessor. for themselves personally. enced as enjoyable. 1996. the goals of identity explo. Donovan. emerging Corps are more popular with emerging adults than with adults are highly optimistic about ultimately achieving their persons in any other age period. 1997). 1995). or rejection. occupation most desired or in an inability to find work that tions of emerging adulthood are in part explorations for is satisfying and fulfilling. In their educational paths. On the contrary. they consider it important during years. they emerging adulthood has involved college students and explore identity issues as well: What kind of work am I graduate students. of their time in productive activities (school and work) mative pressure to enter marriage. Steinberg & Cauffman. 1997).9 6 % . it is nota- that seems to suit me best? ble that emerging adults who do not attend college are as Emerging adults' educational choices and experiences likely as college students to indicate that deciding on their explore similar questions. Johnson. short-term volun. According to Perry. while remaining open to further mod- ing adults begin to consider how their work experiences ifications of it. the brought in. adults examine and consider a variety of possible world- Burchinal. a college emerging adulthood. as they try on possible occupational futures. especially in their first two tional background. abundant information on the distinctiveness of emerging ing adulthood. agreed with the statement. nearly a l l . work experiences become committed themselves to a worldview different from the more focused on preparation for adult work roles. Young wish to have a variety of romantic and sexual experiences. Hoge. The absence of enduring role com. and there is evidence that higher educa- good at? What kind of work would I find satisfying for the tion promotes explorations and reconsiderations of world- long term? What are my chances of getting a job in the field views (Pascarella & Terenzini. & Conger. 1993.so forth (Bachman & Schulenberg. Explorations in love sometimes result For both love and work. For people who or their family to be (Jonsson. education leads to exposure to a variety of different world.- own for a limited period. Elder. For this reason. Although the identity explorations of emerging adult- twenties. emerging adults' educational explora. Graduate school allows emerging adults to switch hood make it an especially full and intense time of life for directions again from the path of occupational preparation many people. 1995). College students often adults' religious beliefs suggests that regardless of educa- change majors more than once. Emerging Adulthood With regard to worldviews. Also. With graduate school becoming learned in their families and to form a set of beliefs that is an increasingly common choice after an undergraduate the product of their own independent reflections (Arnett & degree is obtained. the work of William Perry The three areas outlined above--demographics. discard emerging adulthood to reexamine the beliefs they have them. emerging adults often adulthood. disillusionment. One of these areas is risk behavior.

. (1) 25 o Q. adults has also been conducted. emerging adults who and intense experiences more freely than adolescents be. In one example of this. physical proximity to parents of their identity explorations. and risky driving behaviors riage. Graber. 20 15 10 t t-- 13-14 15-16 17-18 19-20 21-22 23-24 25-26 27-28 29-30 Age Note. adults are con. 1996). Bachman et al. remain at home tend to be happier with their living situa- cause they are less likely to be monitored by parents and tions than those who have left home. parents' households (Chisholm & Hurrelmann. 1995). L. What is it about emerging adulthood that lends itself Research on family relationships among emerging to such high rates of risk behavior? To some degree." by J. J. especially emerging adults the motivations consistently found to be related to partici. Bachman. These risk behaviors include unprotected sex. they also tend to have a great deal of autonomy within their strained from taking part in risk behavior by the responsi. autonomy and relatedness are complementary role. for emerging adults in both the United States and they are constrained by the responsibilities of the parenting Europe. which is the desire for novel and intense experi. A. Schu[enberg.during adolescence but during emerging adulthood (ages in the early twenties during the role hiatus of emerging 18-25). Brooks-Gunn. In European studies. adulthood.). After marriage. O'Connor. G. Figure 3 Rates of Binge Drinking (Five or More Alcoholic Drinks in a Row) in the Past Two Weeks at Various Ages 50 45 40 35 •O•30 ¢. & Schulenberg. The responsibilities of these roles lead to lower rates 1992. D. N J: Erlbaum. C. tend to be the least close to their pation in a variety of types of risk behavior is sensation parents and to have the poorest psychological adjustment seeking. Thus. in TransitionsThroughAdolescence:InterpersonalDomainsand Context(p. Emerging adults with the most down into the roles and responsibilities of adult life. Bachman. bilities of the marriage role. One of frequent contact with parents. Bell. Figure 3 shows an example for binge drinking. and once they have a child. 1996. Copyright 1996 by Erlbaum. (Dubas & Petersen. Allen.org/data/99data/pr99tlc. Mahwah. young adulthood. Data also available at http://www. 1996. Data are from "Transitions in Drug Use During Late Adolescence and Young Adulthood. May 2000 • American Psychologist 475 . that is.pdf. O'Malley. Emerging adults can pursue novel Hauser. they continue to rely can pursue them more freely than adults because they are on their parents as a source of support and comfort. 1996). P. Used with permission. and A. but less constrained by roles. (1996) used rather than opposing dimensions of their relationships with longitudinal data to show how substance use rises to a peak their parents (O'Connor et al.. still living at home. Johnston. and declines further following the entry to parent- such as driving at high speeds or while intoxicated (Arnett.. as one reflection of the has been found to be inversely related to the quality of desire to obtain a wide range of experiences before settling relationships with them. of risk behavior as emerging adulthood is succeeded by 1996). For American emerging emerging adults' risk behaviors can be understood as part adults in their early twenties. by J. Petersen (Eds. Johnston. O'Malley. and J. declines steeply and sharply following mar- most types of substance use. 118). & ences (Arnett. hood..moniloringthefuture. 1994b).

1988). the median age of menarche opmental period. p. In 1900. stances of the "forgotten halt"' and a set of policy sugges- As for the age when adolescence ends. What is less widely known. school remain rare. However." What happened between Hall's time and but most often as "adults" in social psychology studies. such as being allowed to vote and sign legal Adolescence documents. Hogan & Astone. xix). This makes it easy to understand why Hall age period? One reason is practical. were on samples of high school age or younger. however. Why did the Grant commission's ever. 1997). in the sense that studies of young people adolescents in the United States. the forgotten half remains forgot- dance that made high school a normative experience for ten by scholars. 1976). 1904. Education ended earlier. Stanley Hall's teens and early twenties should be considered late ado- two-volume magnum opus nearly a century ago (Hall. 1994). 90% of and to end by age 18 or 19. this proportion rose steeply and steadily over the widely acclaimed report not inspire more enduring schol- course of the 20th century to reach 95% by 1985 (Arnett & arly attention to young people not attending college in this Taber. It is widely known that the scientific study of adoles. and leaving home took place later. but by a social change: the growth of high school atten. Of course. is that in part scholars on adolescence focus on ages 10-18 as the Hall's view adolescence extended from age 14 to age 24 years of adolescent development. and Cit- designation of adolescence as beginning with the entry into izenship. They produced an so that now the typical age of menarche in the United States influential and widely read report entitled The Forgotten is 12. he chose this age. the median age of tion and asked to address the life situations of young people menarche (and by implication other pubertal changes) de. ing adults rely on friends for support and companionship. more work remains to be done on virtually every aspect of Marriage and parenthood did not take place for most people development during this period. the change in tions for promoting a successful transition from high school this age may have been inspired not by a biological change to work. The initial changes Hal/? Non-College-Bound Youth in America (William T. our own to move scholars' conceptions of adolescence Sociologists have studied the late teens and the twenties earlier in the life course? for patterns of demographic events viewed as part of the Two changes stand out as possible explanations. a distinguished panel of scholars and public policy 13-15 for most people. Studies published in (Hall. especially with clined steadily between 1900 and 1970 before leveling out. In contrast.g. 1986. the flagship Adolescence and the Journal of Youth & Adolescence journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence. which is just where Hall designated officials was assembled by the William T. until their early twenties or midtwenties (Arnett & Taber.. is the decline that has taken place during the 20th century Rindfuss.5 (Brooks-Gunn & Paikoff. this means that the Forgotten initial changes of puberty would have begun at about ages In 1987. much work began earlier.. who do not attend college after high school. decade of life. of puberty usually begin about 2 years earlier. At the the late teens through the twenties as a distinct devel- beginning of the 20th century. 1994). only 10% of who do not attend college in the years following high persons ages 14-17 were enrolled in high school. (Hall himself did not explain why left their families of origin but have not yet entered mar. These findings provide a foundation for research into transition took place at that age. Age 18 also marks a variety of legal transi- Why. in Western countries was about 15 (Eveleth & Tanner. which may have been why Hall designated age 24 as given that this is a period when most young people have the end of adolescence. given that common that they live with their parents. College proclaims that adolescence is defined as "the second students have been the focus of many research studies. Studies of college would not have chosen age 18 as the end of adolescence. development during emerging adulthood. respect to their economic prospects. Emerging Adulthood Is Not tions. None of emerging adulthood as a distinct developmental period may this remains normative after age 18. One transition to adulthood (e. Young people in this age group have in adults have especially high rates of media use. are attending secondary questions about the period await investigation. Family.g. in 1997. and are part of a school-based peer culture. The cover of every issue of the studies published in the Journal of Research on the Journal of Research on Adolescence. contemporary scholars the major journals on adolescence rarely include samples generally consider adolescence to begin at age 10 or 11 with ages higher than 18. lescence (e. Elliott & Feldman. students are ubiquitous because college students are so easy because for most adolescents of his time no significant to find--most scholars who teach at colleges or universities 476 May 2000 • American Psychologist . However. How. which is why it is not help to promote this research. Grant Founda- the beginning of adolescence. few studies have recognized in the typical age of the initiation of puberty. Establishing school. 1991). for the most 1904). it makes sense to define adolescence as adulthood different for men and women? Do emerging ages 10-18. To what extent do emerg.) riage? To what extent are the explorations of emerging In our time. Although some scholars have suggested that the late cence began with the publication of G. Over a decade later. which contained an analysis of the circum- the second decade of life. For example. are experiencing they spend so much time alone? These and many other the physical changes of puberty. Because menarche takes place relatively late in the Why the Forgotten Half Remains typical sequence of pubertal changes. 1990). adequate simply to call the late teens and early twenties late adolescence. thus the Grant Foundation Commission on Work.

to some extent. leave their parents' home. there is little that is normative. tion--and 29-year-olds who have not. a new way of thinking about development from the defined by its heterogeneity. Also. Notable exceptions to this rule end of adolescence and the beginning of emerging adult- include some excellent longitudinal studies (the National hood.have ready access to them. The same conditions should be distinguished as separate developmental periods. the Monitoring finish secondary school. the transition from emerging adulthood to development from the late teens through the twenties. and these samples often have the should be clear. the focus of this article has been on emerging that make the thirties? Young adulthood is a term better adulthood among young people in the West. Emerging adulthood partly in the hope that a definite conception of this period is very much a transitional period leading to adulthood. and from young adulthood in that it is.g. which are still young but are defi. in press). apply to research on college students after they leave col. whereas the majority of people in their thirties have used. There their late teens and twenties is not due only to the difficulty are 19-year-olds who have reached adulthood--demo- of finding samples in this age group. young people at these ages as a focus for developmental Emerging adulthood differs both from adolescence research. adulthood was typically signi- a long-term adult occupation. concluded that adolescence as a life stage do not believe they have reached full adulthood. The warning is to be cautious in designation for this developmental period. for Scholars have no clearly articulated way of thinking about most people. The majority of people ages 18-25 are child- taining research participants in this age period must be less. most young people in this age period would disagree pommity is that this heterogeneity makes emerging adult- that they have reached adulthood. Al- One reason is that the use of young adulthood implies most: always. the transition from emerging adulthood to young However. so emerging study. e. hood. Rindfuss. adulthood seems a better term for their subjective experi- ence. Bachman et al. and in any case. For example. Nevertheless. Eighteen is a good age marker for the in any institutional setting. 1975). It should be emphasized. 1991. different emerging adults reach adulthood at different points. had at least one child. The majority of people ages 18-25 are not in college is more difficult because they are not readily unmarried. the dearth of studies on young people in adulthood is much less definite with respect to age. whereas the majority of fied by entry into marriage. The op- seen. Offer & Offer. whereas is virtually universal. are married. the term emerging captures the dy. dynamic period of life to gradually making their way into adulthood. such statements need to be qualified by men- that adulthood has been reached at this point.. in their comprehensive integra- period from ages 18 to 25 could hardly be more distinct tion of information on adolescence in 186 traditional non- from the thirties. In still in the process of obtaining education and training for the cultures in their sample. and thirties answer to this question appears to be yes. Is emerging adulthood a period of life nitely adult in a way that the years 18-25 are not. Emerging adulthood is offered as a new para. in part because they are not available to young adulthood. making sweeping statements about emerging adults. digm. The Schlegel and Barry (1991). and marriage usually took place people in their thirties have settled into a more stable at about ages 16 to 18 for girls and at about ages 18 to 20 May 2000 • American Psychologist 477 . especially ages 18-25. but that a further period between the majority of people in their thirties believe that they have adolescence and adulthood (youth. twenties. 1996. because it is the age at which most young people Longitudinal Studies. Also. The list could go on. and the Future studies. fluid quality of the period.. and will lead to an increase in scholarly attention to it. The majority of young people ages 18-25 Western cultures. no young adulthood intensifies in the late twenties and is paradigm for this age period. subjectively.. e. Emerging adulthood and young adulthood liability of being nonrepresentative. 1996. O'Connor et reach the legal age of adult status in a variety of respects. together and call the entire period young adulthood. rough indicator of the transition from emerging adulthood ties to late twenties. As noted. complex. As we have tioning the heterogeneity of emerging adulthood. and in terms of identity forma- lack of a clear developmental conception of this age group. There are a number both a warning and an opportunity for those who wish to of reasons why young adulthood is unsatisfactory as a study this age period. The majority of people ages 18-25 are used) existed in only 20% of the cultures they studied. The point ing out newspaper ads. so they may not think about reached by age 30 in all of these respects. However. especially in applied to the thirties. It makes that is restricted to certain cultures and certain times? The little sense to lump the late teens. the years of the late teens and the twenties? Is that not what The heterogeneity of emerging adulthood represents young adulthood is? The answer is no. the possibility of devoting the late teens and Why Emerging Adulthood Is Not early twenties to explorations of various kinds is not Young Adulthood equally available to all young people. whereas the majority of people in their thirties accessible in any institutional setting. in emerging adult- late teens through the twenties. Other ways of ob. al. It also arises from the graphically. They see themselves as hood an especially rich.. people vary in the degree of exploration they choose to But (some might object) is there not already a paradigm for pursue.g. that age is only a lege. such as contacting community organizations or tak. if ages 18-25 are young adulthood. Studying young people who are occupational path. Emerging Adulthood Across Cultures namic. More generally. what would Thus far. the United States. changeable. Few studies exist of young people in their midtwen. however. in the terminology they (Arnett.

considerable social pressure is placed on young Mormons Thus in developing countries emerging adulthood is often to marry early and begin having children. Because opportunities tend to be less widely professions that are the most prestigious and lucrative. with young people in the middle class or above jobs before taking on the responsibility of supporting a having more opportunities for the explorations of emerging child financially. jobs Table 1 that require young people to obtain higher education. and M. Copyright urgent need for young people's labor. then. and young Mormons are likely to decades to come. Marriage and parenthood may be less likely to experience ages 18-25 as a period of are typically postponed until well after schooling has independent exploration of possible life directions (Morch. These are possibilities to be investigated. and devoting years to the explorations of emerg- 478 May 2000 • American Psychologist . As developing countries are becoming more integrated into a global economy. and the median ages of mar- nities also influence the extent to which young people can riage and first childbirth rose in these countries as well (Noble et al. cultures rather than countries. Cover. Japan 26. members of the Mormon church recreational opportunities than young people in rural areas. the proportion of adult roles. 1992).6 grant young people the opportunity for the extended mor- atorium of emerging adulthood.3 These changes open up the possibility for the spread Germany 26.1 of emerging adulthood in developing countries. Young people in urban areas of countries such as China and trialized countries. because they have no Note. cultural practices that lead to a shortened period of emerg.0 Brazil 22. DC: Population ReferenceBureau. which allows for a period of exploration of various 1995). 1996. Because of cultural beliefs prohibiting premar. have children later.1 As societies become more affluent.8 India 20. economic 1996 by the Population ReferenceBureau. Similarly. Yanagishita. late teens. it may be that explorations are not trasted with the median ages of marriage in selected devel. Table 1 shows the median ages of mar. period. Washington.. At the Median Marriage Age of Women in same time. young people in developing countries who attended sec- Limitations in educational and occupational opportu. and have a greater range of occupational and ple. J. countries often receive minimal schooling. sis on work explorations and less emphasis on education.for boys. emerging adulthood would be most likely nor does the young man who drops out of school and to be found in countries that are highly industrialized or spends most of his late teens and early twenties unem- postindustrial. it should also be noted that emerging adult- lower among Mormons than in the American population as hood is likely to become more pervasive worldwide in the a whole (Heaton. young people in rural areas of developing adulthood. Thus. Such countries require a high level of edu. However. so available in minority cultures than in the majority culture in many of their young people remain in school into their most industrialized countries. the median ages of marriage and first childbirth are much However. with the increasing globalization of the have a much briefer period of exploration before taking on world economy. social class may be more important than relationships before marriage and for exploration of various ethnicity. in the United States.7 development makes possible a period of the independent Italy 25. Canada 26. ondary school rose sharply. Although median marriage ages are typically calcu. In economically developing countries. tend to have a shortened and highly structured emerging in contrast.2 Egypt 21. ployed and looking unsuccessfully for a job (Cote & Alla- cation and training for entry into the information-based har. Alternatively. 1996).0 Morocco 22. The young woman who has a child outside ot Emerging adulthood. because they marry later. and ital sex and emphasizing the desirability of large families. Within some highly indus. have little choice of occupations except agricultural work. particularly in agriculture. below. This early timing of marriage allowed for a period experience their late teens and twenties as a volitional of adolescence but not for a period of emerging adulthood. marry early. there tends to ing adulthood is best understood as a characteristic of be a distinct cultural split between urban and rural areas. members of minority groups early twenties and midtwenties. there is an increas- ing number of higher-paying jobs in these countries. it should be noted that emerg. Data are from The World's Youth. obtain more ing adulthood or no emerging adulthood at all. ended. with more empha- oping countries. con. education. the labor of Industrialized Developing young people is becoming less and less necessary for countries Age countries Age family survival. fewer in the working class but different.9 attend school instead.9 Indonesia 21.2 Ghana 21.0 role exploration that is at the heart of emerging adulthood. lated on a countrywide basis. Between 1980 and 1995. making it possible for many of them to United States 25. is not a universal period marriage at age 16 and spends her late teens and early but a period that exists only in cultures that postpone the twenties alternating between welfare and low-paying jobs entry into adult roles and responsibilities until well past the has little chance for exploration of possible life directions. adulthood than young people who are working class or riage in a range of highly industrialized countries. they are more likely to Australia 26. For exam. Reprintedwith permission. experienced in urban areas but rarely in rural areas. by J. 1996). Economic France 26. members of minority cultures may have India are more likely to experience emerging adulthood. as technology becomes increasingly available in Selected Countries these countries.1 Nigeria 18. Noble. development is usually accompanied by increased life ex- pectancy. Consequently.

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