Emerging Adults: a life stage, not a generation

by. Kayla Byers

It’s true that the Millennial generation has a lot of distinct characteristics (coming of age during the recession and being social media/tech natives), yet many of the attributes of this generation have more to do with their stage of life than the year they were born.

In 2000, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett proposed the idea of emerging adulthood, a stage of development between 18-29, when individuals have left adolescence and childhood, but haven’t yet taken on the responsibilities of full-fledged adulthood, like starting a family or owning a home.

Arnett believes the social and economic changes in the last half century that led to the formation of an emerging adult stage aren’t going away, so we can expect that as future generations pass through their late teens and twenties, they will experience similar challenges with a similar approach to life.

2012 Clark University study, led by Arnett, took a deeper look at how this life stage pans out.

One notable trend is a shift in traditional markers used for considering yourself an adult:

  • Only 4% of the respondents consider getting married the most important part of becoming an adult.
  • Being financially independent ranked second highest at 30% (behind accepting responsibility for yourself: 36%).
  • Nearly three-fourths (74%) of emerging adults stated that they would rather live on a tight budget than be financially dependent upon their parents.
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