15.12 Emerging Adulthood: The Bridge Between Adolescence and Adulthood

The next stage of development is emerging adulthood and is characterized as an in-between time where identity exploration is focused on work and love, which occurs from approximately 18 years of age to the mid to late 20s.

When does a person become an adult? There are many ways to answer this question. In the United States, you are legally considered an adult at 18 years old, but other definitions of adulthood vary widely; in sociology, for example, a person may be considered an adult when they become self-supporting, choose a career, get married, or start a family. The ages at which we achieve these milestones vary from person to person as well as from culture to culture. For example, 50 years ago, a young adult with a high school diploma could immediately enter the workforce and climb the corporate ladder. That is no longer the case, a Bachelor’s and even graduate degrees are required more and more often—even for entry-level jobs (Arnett, 2000). In addition, many students are taking longer (five or six years) to complete a college degree as a result of working and going to school at the same time. After graduation, many young adults return to the family home because they have difficulty finding a job.

Emerging adulthood.^[[Image](https://www.flickr.com/photos/30745127@N07/28986198764/) by [City Year](https://www.flickr.com/photos/cityyear/) is licensed under [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0](https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)]

Figure 15.31: Emerging adulthood.708

This is a relatively newly defined period of lifespan development, Jeffrey Arnett (2000) explains that emerging adulthood is neither adolescence nor is it young adulthood. Individuals in this age period have left behind the relative dependency of childhood and adolescence, but have not yet taken on the responsibilities of adulthood. “Emerging adulthood is a time of life when many different directions remain possible, when little about the future is decided for certain, when the scope of independent exploration of life’s possibilities is greater for most people than it will be at any other period of the life course” (Arnett, 2000, p. 469).709

In this chapter we finished our exploration of childhood and adolescence having looked at:

  • Theories from Erikson and Marcia

  • Self-concept and identity

  • Gender identity

  • Ethnic identity

  • Sexuality

  • Parent and adolescent relationships

  • Peers and peer groups

  • Antisocial behaviors

  • Emerging adulthood

  1. Image by City Year is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0↩︎

  2. Psychology – 9.3: Stages of Development by OpenStax is licensed under CC BY 4.0; Lifespan Development: A Psychological Perspective by Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0↩︎