A new developmental stage?

According to an article in The New York Times last week, there’s a debate going on in academic circles (mainly among psychologists and sociologists) as to whether a new developmental stage should be officially acknowledged. It’s called “emerging adulthood” and it covers the 18-29 age range.

It could happen the same way the stage of “adolescence” did. A century ago, a case was made, and after much disagreement and debate, it was recognized  as a new stage of human development. Social institutions had to adapt — education, health care, etc., — and laws had to change.

“Emerging adulthood” sounds like a bad idea on first consideration — I mean, do we want really to prolong growing up? But I can see why psychologists and sociologists are contemplating it. A lot of research shows that our brains keep growing and changing well into our late 20s. Additionally, young adults who don’t have to worry about the basics of life like food and shelter do tend to wrestle with issues of identity, mission, career path, vocation, etc. in their 20s. (In fact, one school of thought holds that if this isn’t addressed in young adulthood, it will show up later in the form of a mid-life crisis or serious life dissatisfaction.)

Our laws also reflect a confused mentality about young adults. They can vote and join the military at 18… but can’t drink until 21. They can drive at 16 but can’t rent a car until 25. Some are mature and independent at 22, and others are still partying like college Freshmen at 28.

Of course, the experts disagree about what constitutes a developmental stage. Some believe the brain may operate according to Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, and so the emergence of new stages of development makes sense. Others think a developmental stage has to be “universal and essential,” and is necessarily consecutive. If you don’t master the tasks and needs of one stage, in other words, you can’t sufficiently move onto the next.

The article is long, but if you read it, let me know what you think about “emerging adulthood.”

Zoe Romanowsky


Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants, urls, or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)