Maturity and Emerging Adulthood

In his article “Emerging Adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties” (2000) Jeffrey Arnett proposes that a new term be put to use for the period between adolescence and adulthood. Arnett claims that “emerging adulthood” is a better label for those people between the ages between 18 and 25. With little prior attention given to this age span, theories from researchers such as Eriksen (1968), Levinson (1978) and

Keniston (1971) tended to lump the youthful period starting at age 11 or so and continuing until the mid-20’s along with adulthood, making no distinction between the earlier and later phases. It is Arnett’s belief that due to the numerous changes, explorations, experimentations and explorations that occur when a young person leaves high school, there should be a completely separate categorization.

Adulthood, as defined by Arnett through his research, is a period in one’s life in which demographics, subjective perceptions and identity explorations are no longer ambiguous (Arnett 474). He points to differences between the 1950’s and the 1990’s regarding the age in which a person perceives himself to be an adult– in an earlier time period most persons in their early twenties had already married, held jobs and had one or more children, defining them as adults. In the 1990’s not only did most of his subjects not hold jobs, they were unmarried, without children and attending school.

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Article #2: “Growing up is harder to do”

In an article from the American Sociological Association, Furstenberg et al (2004) refers to the period between the ages of 18 and 25 as early adulthood. The researchers make the assertion that becoming an adult now takes longer than it once did and is defined differently than it was in the period immediately after World War II. In the 1950’s, couples were usually married by their early 20’s, the husband held a job and most likely they had one or more children.

Citing demographic trends, Furstenberg, et al. claims that now it is more likely that people in their early 20’s are getting an education and relying on their families for financial and other support. They point to several reasons for this lag in becoming an adult: the changing role of women in society, the establishment of Social Security benefits which made it unnecessary for young couples to take care of their aging parents by working after completing high school and changing economic forces which require the acquisition of more skills before being able to land a good job that in order to support oneself (Furstenberg et al 39). It is taking longer for adolescents to reach adulthood and the growing demands on this age group occur because of “new demands on families, school and government” (40). Furstenberg and his colleagues expect that reforms must take place in both the school system and the military to ease the transition and cause young adults to grow up and become self sufficient more quickly.

Maturity and Emerging Adulthood: A New Phase in Life?

Recently, both sociological and psychological research has introduced the advent of a new phase in life referred to as either “emerging adulthood” or “young adulthood”. These terms apply to a nebulous period in a person’s life, roughly between the ages of 18 and 25, when an enormous amount of existential changes take place. Two theories were examined for the purposes of this paper: “Emerging Adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties” Arnett, 2000) and “Growing up is harder to do” (Furstenberg et al, 2004). It is Arnett’s theory that “emerging adulthood” is the proper way to categorize this period while Furstenberg et al prefers to refer to it as “young adulthood”.

Both sets of research point to the differences between the era of the 1950’s and more current times, making the assertion that the concept of adulthood, as well as its reasons for occurring later have changed due to a number of factors. The logos, ethos and pathos of each article will be examined and compared, showing that even without the scientific jargon used in the Arnett article, the Furstenberg treatise makes an arguably better case for defining the years following high school and college as “young adulthood” through its easy to understand concepts, its logical reasoning for the changes taking place and its exploration of current circumstances regarding family, education and lifestyle.

Arnett (2000) begins his research article by defining the period he deems emerging adulthood in terms of age, based on analogies to previous research which tended to lump together both the years of youth and the early years of adulthood. He presents a theoretical background on the subject, supporting evidence, explanation of the term emerging adulthood and a final cultural context.

He appeals to readers’ sense of logic by citing the research findings and then defining the demographics which identify his characterization. Arnett narrowly defines the demographics of his studied group and further relates statistics which show changes in residence, responses to questions regarding a subjective definition of adulthood and respondents’ answers and a graph showing peak exploratory behavior. Using specific terminology and definitions, Arnett makes his point by employing terms which evoke a sense of scientific and psychological accuracy in his findings.

Furstenberg, et al (2004) also use logos in their rhetoric. Citing survey results accomplished by other teams in both the 1950’s and closer to 2000, the findings are presented logically but without the use of scientific terminology. Factual data is used to show the differences between survey respondents’ definition of what it means to have reached adulthood. Analogies are made between the two groupings of subjects studied with allowances made for the particularly different roles of women in the two eras in order to indicate that there are now less people in the age group of 18 – 25 who are considered to be “adults” through a traditional definition of the term.

Their study, in a manner similar to Arnett’s, makes a case for the introduction of a new defining period of life which they call young adulthood by pointing to previous research as well as laying out facts regarding the changes that have taken place since the 1950’s. The conclusion of the article urges readers to think about the implications inherent in modifying existing systems of school and military preparedness training for young people.

In terms of ethos, Arnett employs reliability, competence and respect for the researchers who have gone before him in making strides towards defining life phases and everything that occurs to go along with them. His research is thorough and includes extensive study in the subject, with a slant toward the psychological aspects of the period of emerging adulthood. He gives credit where credit is due and interprets previous findings with a fair and balanced explanation. His use of terminology that is beyond the understanding of most people, however, tends to produce a work that, while considered ethical, is almost meant to be condescending.

Ethically, the Furstenberg article also meets the criteria of demonstrating reliability in its research findings and summaries, competence through the use of its authors’ credentials and clear understanding of the subject and respect for its readers by portraying the research results and conclusions in language easily understood by a layperson. Several snippets of interviews with subjects falling within their defined age range show that the researchers took a “hands-on” approach to their study and portrayed these descriptions in a fair and balanced manner without making judgment.

An interesting facet of the study is their assertion that socio-economic levels play a key role in the development of a young person into an adult as defined in their study – those subjects in lower socio-economic levels tended to grow up much faster due to the increased urgency to find stable work, marry at a younger age and support a family and its needs. The ethos of the article is arguably more favorable in that it uses a more appropriate level of vocabulary.

The article written by Arnett is least of all employing pathos to state its points. There is no visual imagery nor an emotional tone, example or emotion-invoking language. The study is very clear cut and a good example of a proponent of psychology attempting to convince the reader that his methods, rationale and findings are of a scientific nature. Not relying on emotions and keeping the article grounded in factual information ensures that it will not appeal to the subjective nature of its readers. Accordingly, pathos has no place in his writing and neither does Arnett attempt to rectify this lack.

In contrast, Furstenberg et al clearly enjoy relating their research and its findings in a more conversational manner. Using visual images with corresponding descriptions of the people depicted within, the reader is given a sense of being introduced to some of their subjects. The readers of the article learn a bit about the lives of the respondents as well as their social and economic circumstances and the reasons they have reached the age of 25 or older without feeling they can be defined as an adult. Descriptions of life in the 1950’s when most couples in their mid-20’s were married and raising a family, evoke a good feel for the era and encourage the reader to relate these portrayals to “many of today’s grandparents” (33). An emotional response is the result, making the results of the study seem more relevant and interesting.

Both articles made a valid point in demanding the usage of a new term for the period between youth and adulthood. Clearly, evidence from both Arnett and Furstenberg et al show that there are differences not only in the social structure of today’s society but also in the role of a young adult. After World War II, the GI Bill encouraged young men who had served in the military to receive an education through subsidies and then settle down to raise a family. No longer is there a need to support parents during this phase of life; conversely it is usually the parents who provide financial and other support to their emerging adults. No longer do older children feel obligated to stay at home but often go through a variety of residences as they experience life in college, romantic relationships and explorations of the world at large.

There has also been a change in economics not only in the United States but in the world at large. These changes are reflected in the lack of job security which often necessitates the need for further education and training (Smith). Women, in particular, have experienced a changing role due to economics. No longer expected to stay at home and be a mother, most couples find it financially necessary for the woman to obtain a job and in order to find one that is well-paying, she, too, must get an education. There is a greater percentage of young adults in today’s society who receive an education which is necessary to compete in today’s top job markets.

The three indicators of adulthood which are agreed upon by both Arnett and Furstenberg et al are: financial independence, completion of education and a stable, independent home. Back in the 1950’s most were considered adults if they were married and had children while the husband held a job which could sustain his family. Today’s young adults are putting off marriage in favor of completing their educational requirements and exploring their independence. Many of them experience a delay of a decade or more between the completion of high school and the start of life as a couple (Smith).

The research in both Arnett’s (2000) and Furstenberg’s et al (2004) articles is just the beginning of studying a life phase which merits further investigation. While both articles were well-written and appealed to the logos and ethos of their readers in a comprehensive manner by citing appropriate research and evidence, it was Furstenberg’s study “Growing up is harder to do” however, that a made for a more compelling read based on its use of pathos in the writing style. The concepts and facts outlined were compelling and it will be interesting to note what further research comes about based on their conclusions and recommendations for reform of educational and military establishments.

Works Cited

Arnett, Jeffrey J. “Emerging Adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties”. American Psychologist, May 2000. 55:5, 469-80.

Furstenberg, Jr., Frank, Kennedy, Sheela, McLoyd, Vonnie C., Rumbaut, Ruben G. and Settersten, Jr., Richard A. “Growing up is harder to do”. American Sociological Association, 2004. 3:3, 33-41.

Smith, Christian. “Getting a life”. Books & Culture, 2007. Retrieved December 11, 2007 from the Books & Culture Website:

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