Young adult

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In medicine and the social sciences, a young adult is generally a person in the years following adolescence, sometimes with some overlap. Definitions and opinions on what qualifies as a young adult vary, with works such as Erik Erikson's stages of human development significantly influencing the definition of the term; generally, the term is often used to refer to adults in approximately the age range of 18 to 40 years, with some more inclusive definitions extending the definition into the early to mid 40s.[1][2] The young adult stage in human development precedes middle adulthood.[3]

In the literary business, the term young adult is often used informally or in a marketing sense for the readers of young adult literature, books targeted at children down to ages 12 or 13. This broad extension of young adult to minors has been disputed, as they are not considered adults by the law or in most cultures, outside of religion (such as the Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Judaism), and the tradition of biological adulthood beginning at puberty has become archaic.[4][5]

Time co-ordinates[edit]

For a variety of reasons, timelines on young adulthood cannot be exactly defined—producing different results according to the different mix of overlapping indices (legal, maturational, occupational, sexual, emotional and the like) employed, or on whether 'a developmental perspective... [or] the socialization perspective[6][2] is taken. 'Sub-phases in this timetable of psycho-social growth patterns... are not rigid, and both social change and individual variations must be taken into account'[7]—not to mention regional and cultural differences. Arguably indeed, with people living longer, and also reaching puberty earlier, 'age norms for major life events have become highly elastic'[8] by the twenty-first century. Due to generational changes, the pathway for young adults to fulfill their adult responsibilities has become less predictable.[9] With growing changes in college education costs, living arrangements, and work and education opportunities, young adults are experiencing various life transitions in many stages of adulthood rather than one stage itself.

Some have suggested that, after 'Pre-adulthood... in the first 20 years or so... the second era, Early Adulthood, lasts from about age 17 to 45... the adult era of greatest energy and abundance and of greatest contradiction and stress.'[2] Within that framework, 'the Early Adult Transition (17–22) is a developmental bridge between pre-adulthood and early adulthood',[2] recognizing that 'the transition into adulthood is not a clear-cut dividing line'.[10] One might alternatively speak of 'a Provisional Adulthood (18–30)... [&] the initiation to First Adulthood'[11][12] as following that. Alternatively, MIT has generally defined "young adulthood" as 18 to 22, although this is likely to align with the typical age range of college students.[13]

Despite all such fluidity, there is broad agreement that it is essentially the twenties and thirties which constitute 'Early adulthood... the basis for what Levinson calls the Dream—a vision of his [or her] goals in life which provide motivation and enthusiasm for the future.'[14]


Young/prime adulthood can be considered the healthiest time of life[10] and young adults are generally in good health, subject neither to disease nor the problems of senescence. Strength and physical performance reach their peak from 18 to 39 years of age.[15][16] Flexibility may decrease with age throughout adulthood.[15][17]

The female reproductive system reaches its peak fertility during the early 20s.[18]

Of women who want to become pregnant,

  • At age 30
    • 75% will have a conception ending in a live birth within one year
    • 91% will have a conception ending in a live birth within four years.
  • At age 35
    • 66% will have a conception ending in a live birth within one year
    • 84% will have a conception ending in a live birth within four years.
  • At age 40
    • 44% will have a conception ending in a live birth within one year
    • 64% will have a conception ending in a live birth within four years.


As teens transition into young adulthood, engagement in risky behavior may be noticeable, which may result in health risks such as "unintended injury, unprotected sex, violence, binge drinking, motor vehicle incidents, suicide, and poor diet and nutrition."[9] In developed countries, mortality rates for the 18–40 age group are typically very low. Men are more likely to die at this age than women, particularly in the 18–25 group: reasons include car accidents and suicide. Mortality statistics among men and women level off during the late twenties and thirties, due in part to good health and less risk-taking behavior.[21]

Regarding disease, cancer is much less common in young than in older adults.[22] Exceptions are testicular cancer, cervical cancer, and Hodgkin's lymphoma.[23]

In sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS has hit the early adult population particularly hard. According to a United Nations report, AIDS has significantly increased mortality of between ages 20 to 55 for African males and 20 to 45 for African females, reducing the life expectancy in South Africa by 18 years and in Botswana by 34 years.[24]

Erik Erikson's theories of early adulthood[edit]

According to Erik Erikson, in the wake of the adolescent emphasis upon identity formation, 'the young adult, emerging from the search for and insistence on identity, is eager and willing to fuse their identity with that of others. He [or she] is ready for intimacy, that is, the capacity to commit... to concrete affiliations and partnerships.'[25] To do so means the ability 'to face the fear of ego loss in situations which call for self-abandon: in the solidarity of close affiliations, in orgasms and sexual unions, in close friendships and in physical combat'.[26] Avoidance of such experiences 'because of a fear of ego-loss may lead to a deep sense of isolation and consequent self-absorption'.[26]

Where isolation is avoided, the young adult may find instead that 'satisfactory sex relations... in some way take the edge off the hostilities and potential rages caused by the oppositeness of male and female, of fact and fancy, of love and hate';[27] and may grow into the ability to exchange intimacy, love and compassion.

In modern societies, young adults in their late teens and early 20s encounter a number of issues as they finish school and begin to hold full-time jobs and take on other responsibilities of adulthood; and 'the young adult is usually preoccupied with self-growth in the context of society and relationships with others.'[28] The danger is that in 'the second era, Early Adulthood... we must make crucially important choices regarding marriage, family, work, and lifestyle before we have the maturity or life experience to choose wisely.'[2]

While 'young adulthood is filled with avid quests for intimate relationships and other major commitments involving career and life goals', there is also "a parallel pursuit for the formulation of a set of moral values".[29] Erikson has argued that it is only now that what he calls the 'ideological mind' of adolescence gives way to 'that ethical sense which is the mark of the adult.'[30]

Reaching adulthood in modern society is not always a linear or clean transition. As generations continue to adapt, new markers of adulthood are created that add different social expectations of what it means to be an adult.[31]

Daniel Levinson's theory of adult development[edit]

Daniel Levinson argued that developmental sequences continue to occur as we transition into adulthood. Levinson's theory centers around Erik Erikson's conception of life courses. This theory of Erikson includes patterns and relationships of events for the person's life that distinguishes them.[32] The study of the life courses covers all aspects of the life relationships, internal and external feelings, bodily changes, and the good and bad times that are experienced.[32] Preadulthood, Early Adulthood, Middle Adulthood, and Late Adulthood are the four eras that constitute the life course.[32] Preadulthood begins with conception and continues to roughly the age of 22. During these years the person grows from being extremely dependent and undifferentiated to being a more independent responsible adult. This is the era that we see the most biopsychosocial growth. The Early Adulthood Transition is part of this first stage while also being a part of the second stage, this is from the age of 17 to 22. Here is when the preadulthood era begins to draw to a close and the transition to early adulthood begins. It is here that the individual begins to modify their relationship from the preadult world so that they fit better to the adult world they are creating. The second era Early adulthood begins at age 17 and goes till 45. It begins during the early adulthood transition, and has the greatest amount of energy, contradiction and stress. This is typically the time for forming and pursuing aspirations, finding a place in society, forming families and as the era ends establishing a solid position in the adult world. The third period (Middle Adulthood) begins at age 45 and goes till 65, here we begin to see a decline in our biological capacities, the decline is not enough to completely deplete us of the energy we had during early adulthood and it allows for us to continue to have a socially valuable life.[32] The final era is late adulthood this begins with age 65 and goes till death. In this era the individual has to find a new balance between involvement with society and the self. The individual is experiencing more fully the process of dying and here should be given the ability to freely choose the mode of life.[33]

Settling down[edit]

After the relative upheaval of the early 30s, the middle to late 30s are often characterized by settling down: 'the establishment phase', involving 'what we would call major life investments—work, family, friends, community activities, and values.'[7][34] After making major investments in life, individuals make deeper commitments and investing more of themselves to these commitments.[35] What has been termed 'the Culminating Life Structure for Early Adulthood (33–40) is the vehicle for completing this era and realizing our youthful aspirations.'[2] People in their thirties may increase the financial and emotional investments they make in their lives, and may have been employed long enough to gain promotions and raises. They often become more focused on advancing their careers and gaining stability in their personal lives—'with marriage and child-rearing,'[7] starting a family, coming to the fore as priorities.

Gail Sheehy, however, signposts the same twenties/thirties division differently, arguing that 'the twenties have stretched out into a long Provisional Adulthood', and that in fact 'the transition to the Turbulent Thirties marks the initiation to First Adulthood.'[36][12]

Midlife transition[edit]

Young adulthood then draws to its close with 'the Midlife Transition, from roughly age 40 to 45'[2]—producing 'a brand-new passage in the forties, when First Adulthood ends and Second Adulthood begins.'[37] In the midlife transition, early adulthood often ends, and individuals make changes in their lives, such as in their career.[38] The end of early adulthood can be defined as when a person stops seeking adult status or wanting to feel like an adult.[38] When people reach the midlife transition, they shift from talking about how old they are to bolster their reputation and emphasize how young they are.[38] In the midlife transition, individuals focus more on the present than the future and the past. In this transitional period from early adulthood to middle adulthood, changes individuals make tend to focus less on the self and more on relationships.[38] In addition, individuals experience physical changes (outside of the changes that occur to the individual's character), and this may necessitate changes to their perceived body image.[39]

Levinson thought midlife to be a time of development of crisis. However, research today in the United States shows that individuals do not experience a midlife crisis.[citation needed] Instead, individuals report midlife to be a freeing and satisfying period of life. In the midlife transition, the issue is not whether the individual has achieved or failed in accomplishing the goals they formed in the previous era. Rather the issue at hand is what the individual should be doing with the experience of disparity between their goals and outcomes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Baack, Brittney N.; Abad, Neetu; Yankey, David; Kahn, Katherine E.; Razzaghi, Hilda; Brookmeyer, Kathryn; Kolis, Jessica; Wilhelm, Elisabeth; Nguyen, Kimberly H.; Singleton, James A. (2021). "COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage and Intent Among Adults Aged 18–39 Years — United States, March–May 2021". MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 70 (25): 928–933. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7025e2. PMC 8224866. PMID 34166337.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Levinson 1986, pp. 3–13.
  3. ^ Martin Briner, Erik Erikson page Archived 2006-08-21 at the Wayback Machine, 1999, on Briner's site about learning theories Archived 2006-10-07 at the Wayback Machine, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Center for Assessment and Program Evaluation, US Military Academy at West Point. Accessed 24 November 2006.
  4. ^ Kessler, Sarah (4 March 2020). "What Age Range is Considered a Young Adult?". Cake Blog.
  5. ^ Doll, Jen (19 April 2012). "What Does 'Young Adult' Mean?". The Atlantic.
  6. ^ Levinson, Daniel J. (1986). "A conception of adult development" (PDF). American Psychologist. 41 (1): 3–13. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.41.1.3. eISSN 1935-990X. ISSN 0003-066X. OCLC 1435230.
  7. ^ a b c Rapoport & Rapoport 1980, p. 46.
  8. ^ Sheehy 1996, p. 15.
  9. ^ a b Stroud, Clare; Walker, Leslie R.; Davis, Maryann; Irwin, Charles E. (February 2015). "Investing in the Health and Well-Being of Young Adults". Journal of Adolescent Health. 56 (2): 127–129. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.11.012. ISSN 1054-139X.
  10. ^ a b Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman 2009, p. 411.
  11. ^ Sheehy 1996, p. 10.
  12. ^ a b Sheehy 1996, p. 59.
  13. ^ "Young Adult Development Project". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2021-11-08.
  14. ^ Birch 1997, p. 220.
  15. ^ a b Tarpenning KM, Hamilton-Wessler M, Wiswell RA, Hawkins SA (2004). "Endurance training delays age of decline in leg strength and muscle morphology". Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 36 (1): 74–8. doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000106179.73735.A6. PMID 14707771.
  16. ^ Knechtle B, Rüst CA, Rosemann T, Lepers R (2012). "Age-related changes in 100-km ultra-marathon running performance". Age. 34 (4): 1033–45. doi:10.1007/s11357-011-9290-9. PMC 3682063. PMID 21796378.
  17. ^ Emilio, Emilio J. Martínez-López; Hita-Contreras, Fidel; Jiménez-Lara, Pilar M.; Latorre-Román, Pedro; Martínez-Amat, Antonio (1 May 2014). "The Association of Flexibility, Balance, and Lumbar Strength with Balance Ability: Risk of Falls in Older Adults". J Sports Sci Med. 13 (2): 349–357. PMC 3990889. PMID 24790489.
  18. ^ MedlinePlus Encyclopedia: Infertility
  19. ^ pmhdev (25 March 2015). "Infertility: Overview". Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) – via {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ Leridon, H. (2004). "Can assisted reproduction technology compensate for the natural decline in fertility with age? A model assessment". Human Reproduction. 19 (7): 1548–53. doi:10.1093/humrep/deh304. PMID 15205397.
  21. ^ "Life Expectancy Profiles". BBC. 6 June 2005. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
  22. ^ "UK cancer mortality statistics by age". Cancer Research UK. May 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
  23. ^ "Cancers at a glance". Cancer Research UK. May 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-02-20. Retrieved 2007-06-26.
  24. ^ Ngom, Pierre & Clark, Samuel (18 August 2003). "Adult Mortality In The Era Of HIV/AIDS: Sub-Saharan Africa" (PDF). Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Secretariat. Retrieved 2007-06-26. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  25. ^ Erikson 1975, p. 255.
  26. ^ a b Erikson 1975, p. 155.
  27. ^ Erikson 1975, p. 257.
  28. ^ Birch 1997, p. 227.
  29. ^ Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman 2009, p. 298.
  30. ^ Erikson 1975, pp. 254–6.
  31. ^ Vandegrift, Darcie (2015). "'We don't have any limits': Russian young adult life narratives through a social generations lens". Journal of Youth Studies. 19 (2): 221–36. doi:10.1080/13676261.2015.1059930. S2CID 143314298.
  32. ^ a b c d Levinson 1986.
  33. ^ Levinson, Daniel Jacob (1978). The Seasons of a Man's Life. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-33901-0. Archived from the original on 2011-12-05.
  34. ^ Rapoport & Rapoport 1980, p. 72.
  35. ^ Levinson, Daniel J.; Darrow, Charlotte M.; Klein, Edward B.; Levinson, Maria H.; McKee, Braxton (1976-03-01). "Periods in the Adult Development of Men: Ages 18 to 45". The Counseling Psychologist. 6 (1): 21–25. doi:10.1177/001100007600600105. ISSN 0011-0000. S2CID 145146264.
  36. ^ Sheehy 1996, p. 55.
  37. ^ Sheehy 1996, p. 14.
  38. ^ a b c d "Psychosocial Development | Developmental Psychology". Developmental Psychology. ER Services. Retrieved 2021-03-19.
  39. ^ Ogle, Jennifer Paff; Damhorst, Mary Lynn (2005-01-01). "Critical Reflections on the Body and Related Sociocultural Discourses at the Midlife Transition: An Interpretive Study of Women's Experiences". Journal of Adult Development. 12 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1007/s10804-005-1277-2. ISSN 1573-3440. S2CID 143772119.


Preceded by Stages of human development
Young adult
Succeeded by