They’re in the throes of “emerging adulthood,” a term coined by Clark University psychology professor Jeffrey Arnett to describe a life stage that doesn’t quite have all the contours of traditional adulthood—marked by a marriage license, a mortgage, and a steady job. The concept of this new stage was explored last August in a New York Times Magazine article that asked: “Why are so many people in their twenties taking so long to grow up?”
But perhaps it’s not as much that twentysomethings are taking longer to grow up as it is that they’re defining adulthood in new ways, with different goals. Instead of a steady job, they want a meaningful one that serves a larger purpose or fulfills a personal passion. And instead of settling down with a spouse and mortgage, they want more years of freedom to chase career dreams and explore different paths before they have to make tradeoffs.
“Adulthood is a taller order these days,” Brent Donnellan, a professor at Michigan State University who studies the transition to adulthood, tells me. “When we look at surveys at what this generation values, they want a lot.”