What image comes to mind when you think of a person in their 20s?
Do you imagine an adult stressed out by the weight of many new responsibilities in family and work roles?
Or do you envision someone who is bursting with hope and undeveloped potential, still more of a kid than an adult, struggling to define a life and making little or no money but managing to find occasional joy nevertheless? Perhaps your soundtrack here is Taylor Swift’s radiant “22”: “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. It’s miserable and magical.”
How about when you think of someone in their 60s?
Do you envision someone – or maybe a happy couple – enjoying life, living well, still vigorous but now freer than before from daily work and family duties?
Or do you see someone who is stooped over from a lifetime of carrying burdens, their health diminished, now shuffling toward no particular destination? Here the soundtrack might be the doleful Beatles song “When I’m 64”: “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me? When I’m 64?”
The whole arc of adult development has changed over the past several decades, in ways that our psychological theories are still catching up with. In the 21st century, does it still make sense to refer to “young adulthood,” “midlife” and “late adulthood,” as psychologists have been doing for so long? If not, what are more accurate concepts?
Most of my career as a developmental psychologist has been devoted to answering these questions. My theory of emerging adulthood recognizes that the lives of younger adults have changed vastly since the 1960s. As the father of 22-year-old twins, I’m keenly aware of their journey through the new life stage I have been researching and writing about for so long. As a 64-year-old, I’m also turning my attention to how the 60s have changed from what they used to be.