Why 30 is the new 20: Meet the 'emerging adult'

Researcher Jeffrey Arnett says the period from 18 to 30 is now a new life stage on a longer path to maturity.

By Jason Notte Jun 5, 2013 1:37PM

Really, 30 is the new 20? Forget that series Netflix (NFLX) is reviving -- this is arrested development.

Jeffrey Arnett, a research professor in the psychology department at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and the author of "When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult," has devised a theory that considers the period from 18 to 30 a "new life stage between adolescence and young adulthood."

Arnett posits that 20 was the accepted age for hitting adulthood 50 years ago, but folks around that age today are just starting to sort out their careers and lives and are putting off marriage and children until after 30.

That line of thinking has already sparked a mini backlash among folks like Susan Patton, the mother of a Princeton University student who advised the school's female students to find a husband before graduating. It was also the topic of a long thesis by Newsweek writer Megan McArdle, who warned that families may not get the number of children they want if they wait until they're financially and socially stable before having them.

Woman holding empty purse (© image100/Corbis)McArdle notes that college grads who wait until they're 30 or older to get married report an average annual income of $50,000 --  $20,000 a year more than those who marry before 21. That dovetails nicely with Arnett's observations about couples living together longer before getting married, planning for fewer children and developing full careers before starting families.

Does that make the millennials whom Arnett observed lazy or selfish? He says they just have really high expectations of both life and their jobs and are willing to do what it takes to get to those fulfilling gigs later. If that means working for minimum wage, as 284,000 college grads are doing, or making less money doing time at Starbucks (SBUX) or Wal-Mart (WMT) in exchange for college credits, they're in.

And selfish? This is a generation that's shunning Wall Street and that considers a position at St. Jude's Children's Hospital an ideal gig. Maybe their baby boomer parents instilled an oversize sense of confidence in them, but nine out of 10 of these "emerging adults" told Arnett they agreed with the statement "I am confident that I will eventually get what I want out of life."

If they're willing to ride out their 20s in low-paying jobs to ensure a gig at St. Jude's or Google (GOOG) in the future and somehow haven't had their dreams ground into dust by age 30, maybe Arnett is on to something. Maybe development occasionally needs arresting.

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Jun 5, 2013 4:27PM

As a married 33 year old who has postponed starting a family until just recently, I don't think older generations realize how difficult it is nowadays for the average young person to do things like buy a home and achieve financial stability in their 20's.


I have a lot of respect for people who recognize they they wouldn't be able to properly care for another human being and wait to do so rather than bringing another mouth to feed into this world before they're ready.

Jun 5, 2013 2:53PM
Thirty is still thirty as far as chronological age and health goes. But because of the erosion of our standard of living due to wall street greed, money printing, corporate benefit cuts, and shipping jobs to China, people in this age group will generally be less well off economically than their parents: poor job security, poor and expensive health care, no retirement plan, low and stagnant wages, high and rising prices for necessary commodities and services...
Jun 5, 2013 4:18PM
We live in a bit of an odd society these day's.  Parent's hover over their kids like crazy these days.  I have two kids 7 and 3, and I don't let them out of my sight for more than a few minutes at a time.  I often joke about the differences from when I was my son's age (7).  When I was his age, I was out the door shortly after breakfast and didn't come home until dinner, or lunch (if I was hungry).  We would travel quite a distance from the house, through woods and trails, kids are never allowed to do that.  Even the bus, I'm out there every morning with the other parents w/ the kids, I think our parents came out for the first week of first grade maybe, but that was it.  After that first week it was, "bye Mom, I'm leaving for school".  It starts very early, kids are no longer allowed to develop strategies for dealing w/ different situations at an early age.  A lot of them don't do it until their teens now, which leaves them in their 20s where my generation was in their teens.
Jun 5, 2013 2:59PM
Maybe this is all an outcrop of the "I'm so great" that has evolved in our culture from a fear of not harming our children's self esteem, continually build them up, and shield them from criticism, even the constructive kind. I believe the intention was good, but not sure the end result has worked out the way we may have wanted it.

When it comes time to go on job interviews, and they get a dose of the real world, they can't imagine why the interviewer, and EVERYONE else doesn't think they are as great as they have been told all their lives, and offer them a high-paying job on the spot. Its a real letdown I'm sure.

The work ethic, that I have noticed with the younger crowd that I work with seems to be "I'll get to my work once I'm done texting my friends, and updating my facebook page".
Jun 5, 2013 2:55PM
of course 9 out of 10 still have an upbeat confidence in them.... they are young! so of course they do.  in another 10 years when they are still working for 10.00 an hour their tune will change. and remember they will still be making the same amount over those years but inflation will have gone up, prices gone up, CEO wages gone up, but not the common worker.
trust me it's not that they are waiting for st. judes or google careers to open up... it's because there is very little in good paying jobs and high competition for them.  unless you are a rocket scientist there is 1000 people out there with your same credentials.

Jun 5, 2013 4:34PM

Grad in 05 when I was 25.  Didn't know what to do job wise.  27 found an ok job which led to something which turned into something else.  Fast forward 4 yrs.  Now 32, great wife, great career, and expecting my first child.  30 is the new 20.

Jun 5, 2013 5:34PM

Here's an idea, stop putting time stamps on life. Your life has never been lived before, it hasn't been written yet. Let God do his work and let the fates move as they will. Because you may die tomorrow, or you may die in 50 years. Live life fully, (and yes part of living fully involves working hard and commitment) and you will have no regrets.

Jun 5, 2013 2:57PM
The answer is no.  
When I was twenty-two I could **** for hours.  I could do this standing up, laying down, just about anywhere.  
At thirty-two, I just don't have it in me for the long haul anymore.  Not nearly as attractive as it use to be and I am subject to leg cramps.

Jun 5, 2013 6:01PM

wow, marrying in your late twenties or early thirties. What's wrong with this kids. They sound just like

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson

Andrew Jackson

Conrad Hilton

Kelly Johnson

Wernher Von Braun



It doesn't matter when you marry, it matters how long it lasts. many of those married at 20... don't make it past 35

Jun 5, 2013 9:22PM
Being selfish because you don't wanna have kids? please tell me how SELFISH it is TO HAVE KIDS while knowing you have no work and can't provide a good life for your kid. 
those ppl just make kids because they like to, and don't think further, for the future of their kids. 
every human being wants kids, especially women, but at least most of women DO GET the situation and decide to wait before having them. 

so you decide who's more selfish. 

it makes sense  30 is the new 20 and 20 is the 15's and pre teen is the preemie ...........


 don't make excuses why people wont grow up   

Jun 5, 2013 3:54PM
Just give them a fancy sounding job title and a trophy that says "I'm special" and they will be fine.
Jun 5, 2013 2:27PM
Looks like it.
Still living with parents
going to community college
don't have a career
your part time job requires a hair net
most of your friends are still living with their parents
voted for a President 'cause he is "hip"
Jun 5, 2013 5:37PM
Every generation has their issues to face.  Yes the world is different...  

But in my day affirmative action was put in to play just in time for me to graduate from college , Summa cum laude...  You know, they said, sorry I can not hire you because we have to make up for discrimination from years gone by so even though you are the most qualified and the person I want to hire I can not....  Tantamount to figuring out grandpa had robbed banks and sending grandson to serve the prison sentence....

This article just fosters the poor me, crap that is already far to prevalent in this country.  Get a grip, you are competing with people from around the world who have had it far harder than you ever will.  They are better educated because their parents made that the priority...  Do you think kids in india or china's parents coddled them.  They are hardened by the realities of life that so many here are shielded from by mommy and daddy.  Eventually you have to stand up on your own and in the rough and tumble world of work and globalization your whinging, weak, coddled butt is going to get handed to you multiple times.... Far better to learn how to get the heck back up early than to have to face those issues in your 20's.  Whole article is COMPLETE CRAP!
I both agree and disagree.  At 30 your body is not the same and your children will be less likely to be born healthy that in your 20s. It's even less likely in your 40s.  However, in these times when everyone has to have everything it is not possible to both have fun and buy all the newest gadgets, nice cars and clothes and have a family.  30 is the new 20 in America.  Mainly because we want it all and we have created an economy that is sucking the youth out of us. 
Jun 5, 2013 1:56PM
The incredibly long incubation period in the professional world is to blame for this post-adolescent puberty.  A person's peak youth is no longer his/her most financially fruitful time.  It's like until a cheetah has gray hairs can he finally enjoy the game he hunted during its prime, because he now belongs to a more sophisticated society.
Jun 5, 2013 3:18PM

"I am confident that I will eventually get what I want out of life."


Like a job? Good luck with that.

Jun 5, 2013 6:08PM
Things are as difficult as you make them.  Blaming life choices on the economy is ridiculous.  If you want something bad enough go and get it.  If you don't like the job you are in, get a new one.  Many of these comments are obviously from an older generation that is either jealous of the younger generation, or unhappy how their own lives have turned out.  I am 32 and happily single working in a decent job making 50k/year and still want more.  We don't all rush out and get married right after high school for many reasons.  The world is a completely different place now, people are more educated, and religion is not as big of a factor as it used to be.  My parents believed you had to be married before being involved in an intimate relationship, which was religious based.  I stopped believing in these things around the same time I stopped believing in other fictional characters such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  I live my life for myself and if that makes me selfish I don't care.  I care about one persons happiness and that is my own.  Ultimately people just need to mind their own business and the world would be a much better place.
Jun 5, 2013 11:11PM

In my experience I think you get what you put in.  I'm a single 28 year old male. Got out of high school in 2003, went to an automotive trade school finished 2005 at 21. By 23 I had all my student loans paid off and a brand new truck paid for. At 24 I bought 2 rentals homes and home of my own. No debt other than mortgages and this is as an automotive technician...mechanic....grease monkey...whatever you want to call it. Not a glamorous job, not the best paying gig.  You just got to prioritize want vs. needs.  We get new hires at work that talk about wanting to do the same but then you watch them work and then see how much attention their cell phone needs..smoke breaks...eating out everyday and they claim they're not making enough to get by.  I just shrug it off and get back to work because they have had every opportunity that I've had.  Just not using it as wisely.  I wanted to get all that out of the way before having a family.  Its to each their own though.  Live your life you way you choose and don't complain if its not going your way because you don't want to put in the effort.     Just my experience.... 

Jun 5, 2013 4:18PM
Most of the chicks take it in the pooper now days....I love it!
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