Emerging Adulthood


There seems to be a lot of talk about the New York Times article about 20-somethings (thanks to those who shared it with me!). Since I’m a 20-something myself, I thought I would use this post to comment on the article. Check it out here.

If you haven’t read it, it’s basically about how 20-year-olds in this day and age are taking longer to reach adulthood (if you can even define adulthood) because many of them are using their twenties as personal time to explore career options and the world by living in different places, traveling, dating, seeking out unpaid internships, trying out multiple jobs, or going to graduate school. Apparently, by engaging in these activities, we 20-somethings are ‘avoiding commitments.’ The author also talks quite a bit about young adults who are choosing to move home in order to save money.

The main question in the article is whether or not the time 20-somethings are taking for exploration is creating a new life stage between adolescence and adulthood, called ‘emerging adulthood.’  If, in fact, 20-somethings are in a unique life stage, the author asks whether or not this stage is ultimately beneficial in helping adults make better decisions about their careers, partners, and other life choices.

Being in the psychology field and all, I appreciate that psychologists want to base theories on rigorous scientific research, but I don’t really understand the controversy over whether or not a new stage exists.  After all, it was psychology class where I learned that people go through stages differently and don’t necessarily need to pass through each stage to be normal.  There is no normal.

I obviously believe that there should be an emerging adulthood stage because the whole point of my blog is to find that stage. I’m frustrated that society expects an instant transition from college to adulthood.  One of my problems with my twenties is that I feel like I’m oscillating between the college stage and the adulthood stage, and I don’t want to have to choose between the two. Like I said in my post about post-college partying, there seems to be people who are on both ends of the spectrum, but not as many people balanced in the middle. Since beginning graduate school, I’ve always felt like I’m stuck in this weird in-between period and that my real life can’t begin until I’m in one stage or the other.  And since I can’t go back to college, I’ve felt pressure to go ahead and reach the adult stage, but I’m resisting it.  Does that make sense?  Anyway, the point of all this rambling is to say that yes, there is an emerging adult stage because I’m in it!!

On the topic of 20-somethings moving back home, I really don’t see why it’s a big deal, as long as it’s for the right reasons. What I mean by ‘the right reasons’ is that if someone is moving home because they’re in grad school and want to avoid loans, are in between two activities in their life and need a place to stay, or simply working near home and want to save up some money to get on their feet, as long as its ok with the ‘rents, then who cares?  The only time it might be a problem is if someone is living at home because they are afraid to live on their own or they don’t know how to live on their own.

As for the question of whether or not ‘emerging adulthood’ is beneficial to 20-somethings in the end, I really can’t say.  For me, I think having time for personal exploration is important, and I’m glad that I chose to go  to graduate school to have some transition time before beginning a career.  However, I often wonder if I had gone straight into the working world and became financially independent right away, if I would feel less like I’m ‘stuck’ in a weird stage.

I think the amount of time needed for exploration depends on the person and I definitely don’t think that getting married, having children, and establishing a career are what determine if you are an adult or not. I think becoming a successful adult is more about maturity, financial independence, autonomy, and being a [semi] responsible citizen. And, it shouldn’t matter which path 20-somethings use to achieve these things or how long the process takes.  So, I say don’t worry about what society thinks, take all the time you need to become the person that makes you happy:)

  • silvershadow157
    August 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I completely agree. As a fellow 20 something I think there is far too much pressure to “figure things out” and “grow up” I say we should all do things in our own time in our own way. Life’s about experience and why not enjoy as much of it as you can.

  • sragal
    August 27, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I also read this article and thought it raised some interesting points. However, I think you would be in the same “stuck” spot you’re in if you had forgone grad school and jumped right into career/financially independent mode. I debated going to grad school after graduating a year ago, but decided to just see where the real world would take me. I’m a young-20 something gal facing the same problems you are 🙂 And the good thing is we’re not alone.

  • kath
    August 27, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    It’s funny that I have never had ANY of these ‘tween’ sentiments. I feel like I went straight to adulthood (perhaps emerging adulthood) with no problem. I still go out and have beers, but I also pay bills and save for retirement. Maybe it’s because I matured early and didn’t really like staying out to 3AM drunk. But I do think going to grad school right after college is a big part of why you feel stuck. As soon as you manage your own money, I bet you’ll feel like an adult right away – but a fun adult that has more choices and freedoms. If you feel like an adult during the day, feeling like a college kid at night doesn’t make you feel less like an adult.

    • Laura
      August 27, 2010 at 11:22 pm

      It’s not that I want to stay out until 3AM drunk either (I actually don’t miss that at all), I just miss the social community, am resisting the 9 to 5 workforce, and I hate that my body doesn’t feel young anymore (can’t eat or drink as much as I used to without feeling sick and always tired).

      And, you did have the period where you questioned your career choice and realized you didn’t want to work 9 to 5 either…

  • Caroline
    August 28, 2010 at 1:42 am

    I just found your blog and I’m so glad I did! I also graduated from college in 2004 and feel like I’m in the in-between type stage because I’m in a PhD program, so I’m still in school but it’s technically my job. I have a flexible schedule, but am still trying to find how to balance school commitments, work commitments, and time for relaxing and having fun. I have adult responsibilities and am financially independent but still (somewhat) have the student lifestyle, so I feel like I’m in between too but just in a different way.

    I definitely don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking time to figure out what you want and how you want to live your life, and what’s really important is finding a balance which works for everyone in his or her own life.

    I’m really enjoying your blog and love hearing your thoughts on the same topics that I’ve been thinking about lately.

    • Caroline
      August 28, 2010 at 1:58 am

      Oops, graduated from college in 2008, not 2004!

    • Laura
      August 28, 2010 at 10:09 am

      Thanks for your insightful comment Caroline!

  • Kat
    August 28, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Girl, I read this article when it came out and I couldn’t agree more. I graduated in 2009, and since I don’t plan on going to grad school, I (thankfully) found a job that started right after graduation. The first month of adjustment was total hell, and now I don’t mind showing up every day, but I’m 100% sure that this isn’t what I want to do with the rest of my life. What’s more overwhelming (I think) as twenty-something is that if you want to ditch stability for a new adventure, everyone gives you the raised eyebrow, even if they know that the choice you’re making is the right one for you.

  • Jill
    August 28, 2010 at 10:22 am

    O to be twenty something again…sigh..

  • C. Allen
    August 28, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I loved this post on emerging adulthood. As a mature, baby-boomer, I find it fascinating to read about ‘emerging adulthood’. My experience after college was along the ‘traditional’ definition of adulthood, i.e., I married right after college and went straight to work out of college.
    However, I can identify with your desire for time for personal exploration, instead of jumping into the workforce, marrying and having children. The world that new graduates face today is vastly different than in the past. In this time of economic uncertainty and high unemployment, the idea of attending graduate school right after undergraduate school and/or moving back in with parents should be acceptable, IF as you said, an individual concurrently strives to gain maturity (less partying and more personal responsibility), autonomy and financial independence.

  • Matt
    August 29, 2010 at 10:41 am

    One problem is that we’re being compared to our predecessors. Consider our grandparents – most of them had one or two careers for life, and many of them with one or two companies for life. They graduated college, got a job, and then stuck with it whether they hated it or not.

    Now it’s more accepted, and even necessary to try multiple jobs and companies through your life. I think our culture actually encourages us to take our time to find our lifetime work.

    I also challenge any “adult” out there to define the exact moment when they felt like they were truly and adult. While some people would pick college graduation, I think that a much greater number of people go through a significant portion of their lives feeling unsure of their own maturity.

    Compare me to my fraternity brothers. A lot of them are still basically living a college lifestyle, having traded going to class with going to work. They still live day to day, drink a lot, and live dirtily. So you might say that I’m more of an adult than they are since I have owned a home, am opening a business, save for retirement, garden, keep a clean house, etc. But I don’t really feel that much of an adult. What will it take? Having a child? Even having a kid is a moment when a lot of people think to themselves, “Holy crap, am I really mature enough to do this?”

    Bottom line: it’s easy to have a debate about any topic in which somebody is being labelled or classified. Classification helps us order our world, and if it helps define our culture further by calling us ‘tweens, then I think that’s fine. Even if you disagree with the distinction, I bet you could still think of a list of ten things that define the ‘tween generation.

    • Laura
      August 29, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      hmm…interesting. Thanks for the thoughts Kanz!