Young adults have it made: lots of fun and plenty of time to make their mark — right?That’s not what a new nationally representative survey of 1,029 people ages 18-29 suggests. Almost 60 per cent say “adulthood will be more enjoyable than my life is now.”
More than half (56 per cent) say they often feel anxious; 33 per cent often feel depressed; 65 per cent say “this time of my life is full of uncertainty.” Yet 82 per cent say “it still seems like anything is possible.”
The responses are based on data collected online and through cell and landline phone interviews with people ages 18-29 as part of an ongoing study of a relatively new life stage dubbed “emerging adulthood.”
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor in psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., coined the term as a phase of human development for the period of late teens through the 20s. It began with Gen X (born in the mid-’60s through early 1980s) and has rippled through to the next generation, the Millennials.
The main contributing social forces are later ages for career, marriage and parenthood, says Arnett, who has been studying young people for 20 years.
“None of those are going to go away in our lifetime,” he says.
Among survey findings:
- 52 per cent have daily or almost daily contact with parents via text, e-mail, phone or in person.
- 34 per cent say “my parents are more involved in my life than I really want them to be.”
- 38 per cent get little or no financial support from parents, but 16 per cent do “frequently,” 16 per cent regularly; and 31 per cent occasionally.
To feel more like a grown-up, Alana Prant, 23, says she wants to become financially independent. That’s the response of 30 per cent of those surveyed who said financial independence is the most important factor in becoming an adult.
“I’m about to be 24. I should feel like an adult, but I don’t,” she says. “My parents completely support me.”
A May graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, she is an unpaid intern for a startup in Chicago, hoping for a paying job there soon. During college, she had four unpaid internships.
Finishing school, which had been long considered a marker of adulthood, now barely registers among young people, the survey shows. Just 16 per cent considered finishing education most important.
“Finishing school has become like a given. It barely felt like an accomplishment,” Prant says.
Liz Marz, 27, a makeup artist in New York, studied apparel and fashion merchandising at Indiana University in Bloomington and got her degree in 2007. Like 66 per cent of those surveyed, she says it’s possible to get a good job without college: “I know many people who did not go to college and are doing just fine.”
Brandon Smith, 20, a junior in engineering at Texas A&M University in College Station, agrees with the 36 per cent surveyed who said “accepting responsibility for yourself” is the most important factor in becoming an adult.
Smith says his parents let him make his own decisions, but “they’re right over your shoulder watching to make sure you don’t ruin yourself but not jumping in every five seconds like when you were younger.”
Arnett isn’t the only researcher focusing on the group. There’s a Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood. Jennifer Tanner of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., is the group’s vice chair.
“Now that this has emerged, it will not go away,” she says. “It reached peak mass.”
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