Jeffery Jensen Arnett

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett

What is emerging adulthood?

In 1994, Jefferey Jensen Arnett first introduced the term “Emerging Adulthood”. In 1998, Jefferey Jensen Arnett reviewed Human Development, providing an analysis that shows that an individual’s transition into adulthood is a process extending over several years. Once again, Arnett introduced the term Emerging Adulthood. He defined it as “a period of development bridging adolescence and young adulthood, during which young people are no longer adolescents but have not yet attained full adult status”(Arnett, 2004, p. 312). Arnett pinpoints the age span of Emerging Adulthood, ranging from ages 18-25, however, the upper age boundary is flexible and may be extended up to age 29 (Arnett, 2004).

According to Arnett, “during Emerging Adulthood, young people are in the process of developing the capacities, skills, and qualities of character deemed by their cultures as necessary for completing the transition to adulthood” (Arnett, 1998, p. 312). In the majority culture of American society, life events such as marriage and other role transitions are rejected as markers of adulthood (Arnett, 1998). Instead, adulthood becomes marked by one becoming more independent from others as well as being able to stand alone, essentially being self sufficient (Arnett, 1998). Also, in America transition into adulthood is believed to be individualistic, emphasizing qualities of character. Three criteria for American adulthood include: accepting responsibility for one’s self, making independent decisions, and financial independence (Arnett, 1998).

Video 1. This video shows Dr. Arnett discussing the basic concepts of his theory of emerging adulthood.

Characteristics of Emerging Adults

Arnett presents an outline of what Emerging Adulthood is considered. There are five key features, which include:

1. The age of Instability

Emerging adults often find that their grand life plan encounters complications along the way, and they are forced to revise it, often changing majors, partners, jobs, and especially residences (Arnett, 2004, p. 10-11).

2. The age of Identity Exploration

Emerging adults are continually trying out different options in an attempt to figure out who they are and who they’d like to become, particularly in the areas of romantic relationships and careers, where they are focused on finding a person whose qualities would make for a suitable life partner and finding a job that will provide them with a sense of personal fulfillment (Arnett, 2004, p. 8-9).

3. The Self- focused age

Emerging adults tend to delay significant adult responsibilities, such as marriage and parenthood, in an effort to enjoy the opportunity to exercise the freedom they now have without their parents governing their every move.  During this stage they tend to focus on themselves and their own personal needs (Arnett, 2004, p. 12-13).

4.  The age of feeling in between

When asked, “Are you an adult?”, emerging adults often answer “yes and no”. They still feel that they need to meet all three criteria of adulthood (listed above) before they can be considered fully adult, but they do feel a great deal more independent and mature compared to when they were adolescents (Arnett, 2004, p. 14-15).

5.   The age of possibilities

Emerging adults often hold a very optimistic view of the future and truly believe that they will accomplish their dreams and overcome past circumstances, such as an unhappy home life, in an effort to become the person they’d like to be (Arnett, 2004, p.16-17).

Video 2. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett at the University of Illinois:                                                      Is It Better to Grow Up Later? The New Life Stage of Emerging Adulthood

This video shows Dr. Arnett giving a more in-depth explanation of his theory.

Is It Better to Grow Up Later? The New Life Stage of Emerging Adulthood from Family Resiliency on Vimeo.

How did emerging adulthood come to be?

Arnett pinpointed a number of historical events that may have led to the development of this new life stage. The invention of birth control led individuals to engage in sex without feeling the need to be committed to marriage (Arnett, 2004, p. 5). In combination there were less stringent standards of sexual morality after the sexual revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s. This meant that younger people no longer needed to enter marriage in order to have a regular sexual relationship (Arnett, 2004, p. 4-7). Premarital sex and cohabitation have also become increasingly more acceptable in American society (Arnett, 2004, p. 55).

The marriage age has changed over the past few years, primarily due to the number of children individuals are having nowadays (Arnett, 2004, p. 4-7). Also, this may be explained by the fact that over the years, there was a devotion to pursing higher education. About two thirds of young people now enter college after graduating from high school (Arnett, 2004, p.119).

Created by: Lisa Feeley, Amanda Halliburton and Bethany Mastrorilli.



Agenda Steve Palkin. (2010, September 21). Jeffrey Jensen Arnett: Emerging Adulthood [Video File]. Retrieved from

Arnett, J.J., & Taber, S. (1994). Adolescence terminable and interminable: When does adolescence end? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 23(5), 517-537.

Arnett, J.J. (1998). Learning to stand alone: The contemporary American transition to adulthood in cultural and historical contextHuman Development, 41, 295-315.

Arnett, J.J. (2004). Emerging adulthood the winding road from the late teens through the twenties. New York: Oxford.

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