The Rise Of Emerging Adulthood
Last week I had the chance to be a plenary session at the Princeton Emerging Adults Conference. What are emerging adults? Folks ages 18-29 who according to Dr. Jeffrey Arnett (who first coined the term) are marked by identity exploration, a feeling of being “in between,” instability, self-focus, and a sense of possibility.
The other plenary speaker was Dr. Christian Smith from Notre Dame. In Chris’ first session, he summarized some of the findings in the book he-coauthored called “Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults” by listing a handful of sociological factors involved in “The Rise of Emerging Adulthood”. Or as he put it, “The social forces that put off becoming a ‘real adult’”.
- Expansion of higher education in latter 20th Century.
- Delayed age of first marriage and childbirth.
- Macro-economic changes requiring flexibility and mobility.
- Substantial parental support well into the 20s.
- The pill and other accessible contraceptives.
- Cultural saturation of mass-consumer entertainment.
- Influence of postmodern relativism and skepticism.
While not one of the factors he listed, Chris mentioned an additional factor that I tend to think is one of the most important sociological factors that has contributed to this newly identified phase of life: lack of support. In my conversations with leaders of emerging adults who were gathered at Princeton, as well as our Sticky Faith/College Transition Project research, that consistently emerges as a dominant and fairly unique aspect of young adults today. Their relationships today leave them overstimulated and undersupported.
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