There are several recognized life-stages that we must all go through in order to grow from childhood to adulthood. These include infancy, childhood, and adolescence. However, new research shows that recent college-graduates and their peers are actually still growing and maturing. This new life-stage is called “emerging adulthood” and it explains why many recent graduates do not seem to be in a rush to grow up.
In the past, students made the “transition to adulthood” by completing five milestones: finishing their education, leaving their parents’ home, gaining financial independence, getting married, and having a child. In 1960, about 71 percent of people had reached these milestones by age 30; in 2000, this number was only 38.5 percent for women and 21.7 percent for men.
So what does this mean for those of us who have recently graduated and are in our 20s? According to this new research, 20-somethings’ brains are still developing and they are also exploring their own identities. This can lead to instability and a feeling of being in-between adolescence and adulthood. However, this age group also has a new-found “sense of possibilities” because they have so many options for what to do with their lives.
Cultural expectations for this age group are also to blame for the fact that many people in their early to mid 20s do not feel pressured to “grow up.” Culturally, we are not expected to marry until we are in our late 20s nor start a family until we are in our 30s nor have a highly successful career until a later age than was expected of our parents and previous generations. This leaves us with a feeling that we do not have rush into making these decisions that will affect us for the rest of our lives.
“It’s somewhat terrifying to think about all of the things I’m supposed to be doing in order to ‘get somewhere’ successful,” said a 25-year old named Jennifer. “[We are told to] ‘Follow your passions, live your dreams, take risks, network with the right people, find mentors, be financial responsible, volunteer, work, think about or go to grad school, fall in love and maintain personal well-being, mental health and nutrition.’ When is there time to just be an enjoy?”
“I don’t really plan to settle down,” said Bryan Daly, 25, who graduated from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, where he studied social sciences and business. “I don’t like the idea of it at all. It’s a societal norm that just doesn’t fit with our nature, in my opinion.”
There are other factors that are forcing young people to put off settling down, such as the current economy.
“The job market [in the USA] is tough, so I thought I’d work abroad for two years and build up my résumé,” said Mark Reese, 22, a recent graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Not all of us are in denial. I’m ready to get a real job and start a family. I just need to meet someone first. Growing up is just new adventures and experiences that should be enjoyed, not dreaded.”
However, if you are a 20-something and do not feel like you have it all figured out yet, even though you have earned your degree and should be an adult now, don’t worry. Evidently you still have a few more years to figure it all out. I don’t know about you, but I really like that fact.