Renowned US Psychologist, Prof Jeffrey Arnett speaks in TCD on the extended period of dependency of young adults

Posted on: 15 November 2007

All Grown Up in Your Twenties? – Yet Still Living in the Family Nest

According to leading US Psychologist Professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, who delivered the TCD Children’s Research Centre’s Annual Lecture this week, we are entering an age where adult children remain dependent on their parents for longer.

There was a time when you were considered to be an adult at 18 years of age.  By 21, people were believed to have ‘come of age’ and used their twenties to make the transition into adult roles and responsibilities:  moving from education into employment, from the family nest to their own home, from financial dependence to independence, and marriage and parenthood.   Parents wondered about how they would deal with their ’empty nest syndrome’.

Now ‘coming of age’ is changing, and many people use their twenties to explore possible directions in life and are more interested in furthering their self-development than finding a steady long-term job.  Parents now support their adult children to pursue their passions, and the empty nest is not so empty anymore as many young adults remain in their family home into adulthood.  US commentators refer to these young adults as ‘Generation Y’.

According to leading US psychologist Professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, 30 is the new 20, and we are now seeing an extended period of dependency lasting from late teens through the twenties which he calls ‘Emerging Adulthood’.

According to Professor  Arnett, ‘Emerging adulthood’ is: “An age of possibilities, a period in which many different potential futures remain possible and personal freedom and exploration are higher for most people than at any other time”.

The social changes leading to this new stage in the life course include later ages of marriage and parenthood, fewer children and longer time spent in education**.

Parents are now wondering how they will continue to support their adult children who may continue to live at home while exploring life’s possibilities or become part of the ‘boomerang generation’ who move out and move back in with parents and look to them for support.

The implications for Ireland of this ’emerging adulthood’ phase in the life course, according to Professor Sheila Greene, Director the Children’s Research Centre and AIB Chair of Childhood Research, is that: “We need to come to terms with the new social patterns brought about by this new and longer road to adulthood, and change the traditional assumptions that we still hold about family, relationships, education and careers”.

Biographical Detail on Jeffrey Jensen Arnett
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is a Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He received his PhD in developmental psychology from the University of Virginia and was formerly an associate professor at the University of Missouri. He is the editor of Journal of Adolescent Research and of two encyclopedias published in 2007, the International Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Routledge, two volumes) and the Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and the Media (Sage, two volumes). Dr Arnett is the originator of the theory of emerging adulthood and the author of numerous articles on emerging adulthood, as well as the textbook Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach (2004, Prentice Hall). His book Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties, was published in 2004 by Oxford University Press. He has also edited a book on emerging adulthood (with Jennifer Tanner), Emerging Adults in America: Coming of Age in the 21st Century, published in 2006 by APA Books.

**Note to Editors:

The latest marriage statistics in Ireland (2005) show that the average age for a groom is 33.1 years and 31 years for a bride (as compared with 30 and 28 years in 1996 and in 1980 this was 24 years of age for a bride) and the average age of women having their first child within marriage is now 31 years, but was 25 years in 1980. Adult Irish children can still be financially dependent on their parents – 20% of first-time house buyers rely on a gift from their parents to help with buying, with the average gift size a substantial €15,000. There are now increasing numbers of full-time mature students in Irish universities and Institutes of Technology, partly due to increasing numbers remaining on to do post-graduate study.