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Unformatted text preview: CHILD DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVES Emerging Adulthood: What Is It, and What Is It Good For? Jeffrey Jensen Arnett Clark University ABSTRACT This article asserts that the theory of emerg- ing adulthood is a useful way of conceptualizing the lives of people from their late teens to their mid- to late 20s in industrialized societies. The place of emerging adulthood within the adult life course is discussed. The weaknesses of previous terms for this age period are examined, and emerging adulthood is argued to be preferable as a new term for a new phenomenon. With respect to the question of whether emerging adulthood is experienced positively or negatively by most people, it is argued that it is positive for most people but entails developmental challenges that may be difficult and there is great heterogeneity, with some emerging adults experiencing serious problems. With respect to the question of whether or not emerging adult- hood is good for society, it is argued that claims of the dangers of emerging adulthood are overblown, but emerg- ing adulthood is probably a mixed blessing for society. KEYWORDS emerging adulthood; young adulthood; tran- sition to adulthood It is now 7 years since I first proposed the term emerging adulthood for the age period from the late teens through the mid- to late 20s (roughly ages 1825) in an article in American Psychologist (Arnett, 2000). I had mentioned the term briefly in two previous articles (Arnett, 1998; Arnett & Taber, 1994), but the 2000 article was the first time I presented an outline of the theory. It was not until 2004 that I proposed a full theory in a book on emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2004). In a short time, the theory has become widely used, not just in psychology but in many fields. At the recent Third Conference on Emerging Adulthood (see www.ssea.org), a remarkable range of disci- plines was represented, including psychology, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, education, epidemiology, health sci- ences, human development, geography, nursing, social work, philosophy, pediatrics, family studies, journalism, and law. The swift spread of the term and the idea has surprised me because normally any new theoretical idea meets initial resistance from defenders of the reigning paradigm. Perhaps, the acceptance of emerging adulthood has been so swift because there really was no reigning paradigm. Instead, there was a widespread sense among scholars interested in this age period that previous ways of thinking about it no longer worked and there was a hunger for a new conceptualization. In any case, now that emerging adulthood has become established as a way of thinking about the age period from the late teens through at least the mid-20s, the theory is attracting commentary and critiques (e.g., Bynner, 2005). This is a normal and healthy part of the development of any new theory, and I welcome the exchange here with Leo Hendry and Marion Kloep....
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- Fall '10