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Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from Late Teens through the Twenties

(2004, Oxford University Press)
Cover of Emerging Adulthood: The WInding Road from Late Teens through the Twenties

Young people today wait longer than ever before to marry and become parents. What is going on in their lives from their late teens through their twenties, between the time they leave their parents’ household and the time they settle into adult roles? Although there have been fictional and journalistic accounts of “Generation X” and “Generation Y,” including claims that many of them suffer from a “quarterlife crisis,” until now there has been little real evidence to describe what their lives are like.

In Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett presents a broad and compelling portrait of the lives of today’s “emerging adults.” Dr. Arnett, a professor at the University of Maryland and the editor of Journal of Adolescent Research, argues that a new stage of life has been created in recent decades, lasting from about age 18 through the mid-twenties for most people, that is distinct from either the adolescence that precedes it or the young adulthood that follows it. This new stage of emerging adulthood has five key features: it is the age of identity explorations; the age of instability; the self-focused age; the age of feeling in–between; and the age of possibilities. Drawing on over 300 interviews, Dr. Arnett describes diverse aspects of emerging adults’ lives, including relationships with parents, love and sex, marriage hopes and fears, college experiences, the search for meaningful work, religious beliefs (or lack of them), and perceptions of what it means to be an adult. In contrast to previous portrayals of this age group, Dr. Arnett describes emerging adults as wary but hopeful, strikingly optimistic even if their lives in the present are often unsettled. Their voices come through loud and clear in this insightful and provocative book.

Read Chapter 1, A Longer Road to Adulthood (pdf)
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