Emerging Adulthood

A bit ago, my friend Dan linked me to the New York Times story that everyone seems to be talking about: What is it About 20-Somethings. The article discussed how 20-somethings today are much different than those before. For example:

  • One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year.
  • Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. 
  • They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. 
  • Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. 
  • Marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.
I know these statistics hold true for me: 
  • I’ve lived in five different places
  • I moved back home with my parents twice
  • I’ve had five different jobs 
  • I’m living with my boyfriend right now
  • And, at 26, I’m not married
So what is it with our generation? 

In my young adult literature class, we discussed this phrase. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett coined the term emerging adulthood, which relates to those just past adolescence (with adolescence defined as those around 10-18). According to Arnett, “in the past half century what most people experience during the years from age 18 to 29 has changed dramatically in industrialized societies. Instead of entering marriage and parenthood in their very early twenties, most people now postpone these transitions until at least their late twenties, and spend their late teens through their mid-twenties in self-focused exploration as they try out different possibilities in love and work. Essentially, a new developmental stage has been created between adolescence and young adulthood.”

Further, emerging adulthood could be characterized as a period of self-exploration of love and work issues. It’s a time for the 20-somethings to explore their own lives before focusing on marriage and children. They live more in the now, rather than the future.

I, for one, agree with this newfound age group, as it generally applies to me. But what interests me most is – why did we change? 

There’s no scientific proof as to why this generation of 20-somethings is different than the previous ones, but I suppose there could be some factors that, I know, were an influence to me:

1. We Don’t Settle – My grandfather stayed at the same job for most of his life. He didn’t switch jobs because something else came along. I’m different. If a job makes me unhappy, I try something else. At 26, I’ve not only changed jobs, I’ve changed career paths. It’s this desire to be happy at the job that pushes us to achieve more. In the same sense, we don’t settle within relationships. If a guy (or girl) makes us unhappy, we move on. We have one-night stands, we date for fun. When we find someone great, we hold on – but sometimes that doesn’t even work out.

2. We Focus on our Careers – We focus on our career first, family second. Most don’t want to settle down and have a family until they’re not only financially stable, but stable within a working environment. And with all the job changing, sometimes that’s hard.

4. We Have a Desire to be Different – How many people want to be like their parents? How many want to do the things their parents never did? I’m not saying my parents are horrible – they’re actually quite wonderful – but I want to do so much more before I settle down. I want to say I’ve lived, loved, and learned before I’m ready to move on to the next section of my life.

5. The Economy – Although it’s something that’s only been a major problem within the past year or so, the economy’s decline has effected many people. We can’t find jobs. We go back to school. We start over.

6. The Media – I’m not denying that the whole media revolution isn’t, well, appealing. Reality shows show us that it’s cool (and easy) to be a celebrity. Scripted shows tell us to go for what makes us happy, be it the sparkly vampire or the head of surgery. Heck, sometimes I even want to be a Gossip Girl. Sure, I don’t actually go through with emulating any of those on TV – but, honestly, when i’m behind at work – it’s tempting.

Essentially, we want more before we’re ready to move on.

Those are just some reasons i’ve come up with, and I’m sure there are many, many more (and I’m also sure that some of these don’t even relate to everyone). I’m just incredibly interested in why we changed so much that we brought upon a new term. And, in the end, is it a good thing?

Are you an emerging adult, too? 

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