Monday, January 22, 2007

EA in Popular Culture and Media

In addition to the academic research literature, another way I like to track Emerging Adulthood-related phenomena is through the popular culture and media. If you're watching a show featuring individuals in their early 20s (give or take a few years), there's a good chance you'll hear something that ties into an EA theme, such as identity exploration (or "finding oneself"), feeling "in-between," and seeking romantic partners. Whenever I hear such a statement, I either try to find a transcript on the web or, in the case of one television show that frequently repeats its recent episodes, I record the show the next time and write down the exact statement. Several examples follow...

In a February 2002 interview with the Associated Press, then-27 year-old singer Jewel Kilcher (usually known by just her first name), participated in the following dialogue with the reporter.

Question: You've got a big ring on your finger. Do you have some marriage plans?

Kilcher: No -- wrong finger! ... I'd like a family probably one day, but ... I don't feel like an adult quite yet.

Oprah Winfrey, on the December 9, 2003 show of Larry King Live, answered a caller's question regarding the 20s age range, in part, as follows (full transcript, see call from Boonsboro, Maryland):

...the 20s are the time when you're finding out who you are. And so if you're ever going to be lost, 24 is the time to be seeking and finding yourself. So don't -- this is what I say to people in their 20s, don't beat yourself up about it... you always feel like you're not doing enough, you're not getting ahead. You wish you were doing more, and why -- why aren't things more settled? They're not supposed to be in your 20s.

Alexandra Robbins, co-author of Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenge of Life in your Twenties, made the following observation in her appearance with Jeffrey Arnett on the Diane Rehm radio show (see links section on right to access audio of the broadcast):

...30 is the new 20

In other words, things that in earlier eras many people used to do around age 20, are now being done around age 30 (e.g., marriage, setting up own household).

Popular music is no exception to the trend, as exemplified in the following two songs.

First, there's the Britney Spears song, "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" (brought to my attention by Jeff Arnett). Note the lyrics that say:

It's time that I
Learn to face up to this on my own

Arnett (2001, Journal of Adult Development) found that most survey respondents felt criteria such as "Accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions" and "Decide on personal beliefs and values independently of parents or other influences" were necessary before one could be considered an adult.

Martina McBride's song, "This One's for the Girls," traces the process of growing into adulthood, including a reference to the difficulties that sometimes occur during the Emerging Adulthood years:

This is for all you girls about twenty-five
In a little apartment, just trying to get by
Living on, on dreams and Spaghetti-O's
Wondering where you life is gonna go

Finally, I've been collecting EA-relevant quotes from episodes of MTV's The Real World-- a show where a group of people in (roughly) their early 20s lives together in a house, with their daily lives on display to the camera.

... I think it's important for me to get rid of the party-girl side of me, so I can embrace the housewife/grown-up side of me. -- Rachel, 10/18/05 episode, Austin, TX season

Football was my life and that's really all that I knew. I was totally dedicated to it. When that didn't happen, it totally changed my life. And so, here I am now, trying to really figure out who I am. -- M.J., 2/22/05 episode, Philadelphia season

This is your youth. This is supposed to be the best time in your life, where you're trying to find yourself, find who you are, find what kind of person you want to be with. -- Cameran (to Brad) in season opener, January 2004, San Diego season

I'm definitely afraid of growing up... scared to death of it. If I had my choice, I would be 21 forever. -- Ace, 8/26/03 episode, Paris season

It's all about the conflicts between being young, and being in this awesome situation, with cool people in the very same house and wanting to act like I'm 22. The conflict between that and loving Nicole [girlfriend from before] and trying to be a grown-up. -- Kyle, 2/5/02 episode, Chicago season

I'm allowed to be scared of getting to know myself. That's what this next decade is for, right? -- Cara (age 22), 4/9/02 episode, Chicago season

Lastly, here's a picture of me, visiting the Real World Chicago house while in town for the American Psychological Association convention in August 2002 (the cast members moved out of the house several months earlier).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Alcohol and Other Substance Use in EA

One of the more active research areas in Emerging Adulthood is its relation to alcohol and other substance use. As Arnett noted in his 2000 American Psychologist article, rates of binge drinking and other risky behaviors peak within EA.

According to more recent U.S. government surveys, heavy drinking (based on a measure of consuming five or more drinks per drinking occasion) tends to be more prevalent in 18-25 year-olds than in other age groups.

Risk behavior may be linked to identity exploration, as "one reflection of the desire to obtain a wide range of experiences before settling down into the roles and responsibilities of adult life" (Arnett, 2000, p. 475).

With particular reference to higher education, Borsari and Carey (2001, Journal of Substance Abuse) contend that, "...many [students] view college as a place to drink excessively, in a time-limited fashion, before assuming the responsibilities of aduthood" (p. 392).

Finally, an article in a 2004 issue of the National Institute on Drug Abuse newsletter NIDA Notes discusses Emerging Adulthood and substance use during this period.

For further reading, see...

Chassin, L., Pitts, S.C., & Prost, J. (2002). Binge drinking trajectories from adolescence to emerging adulthood in a high-risk sample: Predictors and substance abuse outcomes. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 67-78 (abstract).

White, H.R., & Jackson, K. (2004/2005). Social and psychological influences on emerging adult drinking behavior. Alcohol Research and Health, 28, 182-190 (full-text PDF).

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Welcome to the re-launching of my Emerging Adulthood (EA) website in blog format. For the last several years, I have maintained a conventional website on EA. However, blog format offers several advantages such as the address (URL) being easier for people to remember, more visually appealing graphics, automation of the archiving function, and the opportunity for visitors to post comments.

Eventually, all the content on my previous EA site will be moved here. The links to EA-relevant pages already have been moved here, along the right-hand column. This includes a link to the Inventory of the Dimensions of Emerging Adulthood (IDEA), a questionnaire measurement instrument that I developed with Jeff Arnett and Malinda Colwell; this link is in the top section on the right-hand part of the page.

Since this is an introductory message, in a sense, it would probably be good to restate some of the definitions of Emerging Adulthood, especially for anyone who is a first-time visitor. So here goes...

Arnett (2000, in American Psychologist) proposed that the time of life roughly between ages 18-25 be considered a "distinct period" called Emerging Adulthood.

Essentially, this is a time when individuals would likely consider themselves too old to be adolescents, but not yet full-fledged adults. From the perspective of Erikson's lifespan theory, it would be like going back and inserting Emerging Adulthood in between Stages 5 and 6 on this chart. Identity and intimacy are also goals during EA, as well as during the adjacent stages. According to Arnett (2000):

Having left the dependency of childhood and adolescence, and having not yet entered the enduring responsibilities that are normative in adulthood, emerging adults often explore a variety of possible life directions in love, work, and worldviews (p. 469).

EA is likely to be most prevalent in industrialized/technological societies where high levels of education are needed to obtain prestigious/high-paying jobs -- advanced educational training thus tends to postpone marriage and having children.

I'll keep adding to this new page in the coming days, and I hope you'll become a regular visitor!