The 20’s – Emerging Adulthood

The decade of the 20s (ages 20-29) has been called “emerging adulthood”, a term coined by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett in his 2004 book of the same name.  The reason that it makes sense to think about the 20s as a distinct period of life is because people think and behave differently now during their 20s than people of the same age used to several generations ago.  It is worth thinking about because this phenomenon will be around for additional generations.  The distinctness of the 20s decade has come about because more people are getting higher education, the age of marriage has gone up, the age of having a first child has gone up, and, more recently, the economic situation puts home ownership and financial independence out of reach for many.

Here are the main characteristics of “Emerging Adulthood”:

  1. It is the age of identity exploration. The 20 somethings are no longer beholden to parents nor committed to a million adult roles so they have the chance to try out different ways of living.  They can try romantic involvements, travel, experiment with strange jobs or other experiences that will not last a lifetime but are appealing for now.
  2. It is the age of instability, meaning that plans are subject to revisions. Jobs can be left, boyfriends and girlfriends can be dumped, apartments can be changed (and they do move around a lot!).  Many (almost 50%) move home at some period between 18-25.
  3. It is a self-focused decade (not narcissistic) when they can attend to their own needs and wants before making permanent commitments to others.
  4. It is a time when they feel “in-between”, not quite adults because they have not yet assumed the responsibilities that we generally associate with adulthood.
  5. It is the age of possibilities when people have terrific possibilities to transform their lives, rise above past problems and distinguish themselves from the parents. 

Mostly, people in their 20s say that they know they will make permanent decisions but they don’t want to do it yet – that’s for the 30s!!!

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