The emergence of emerging adulthood: The new life stage between adolescence and young adulthood

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Book Chapter


Theoretical and empirical understanding of development during the first stage of adulthood has undergone contemporary revision. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, Arnett (2000, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2015) introduced the theory of emerging adulthood to describe an extended period of development between adolescence and young adulthood, typically lasting from ages 18 to 25. Central to the theory is the tenet that emerging adulthood is a distinct period of development, different from the stage of adolescence that precedes it and the young adult period that follows. The theory of emerging adulthood stresses the psychological and subjective experiences of individuals aged 18 to 25, characterizing the age period as one of identity explorations, feeling “in-between,” instability, self-focus, and possibilities. The distinctive features of the 18 to 25 age period call for an apposite term conferring the distinctiveness of the stage. Correspondingly, terms that include the years 18 to 25 as a non-distinct stage of development – late adolescence, post-adolescence, youth, young adulthood, the transition to adulthood – are inadequate descriptors of this unique stage of development (Arnett, 2000, 2004). Arnett first outlined the theory of emerging adulthood in 2000 (Arnett, 2000), and since its publication this article has been cited over 5,000 times, according to (as of June, 2015). Biennial conferences on emerging adulthood have been held since 2003, with a steadily rising number of participants. The Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood (SSEA) was established in 2013, and in two years has grown to over 500 members (see The flagship journal of the SSEA, Emerging Adulthood, has quickly established itself as the leading venue for research on 18-29 year olds. In short, the theory of emerging adulthood has inspired the rapid development of a thriving, growing field of scholarship.

Publication Title

Routledge Handbook of Youth and Young Adulthood: Second Edition

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adolescence, yound adult, emerging adulthood, life stages