Even if some traditional milestones are never reached, one thing is clear: Getting to what we would generally call adulthood is happening later than ever.
And then, while writing a long article about this supposedly new "emerging adulthood" stage of life, freelance science reporter Robin Marantz Henig fails to provide any solid evidence beyond a few anecdotes and interviews with a single researcher, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett.
Henig discusses G. Stanley Hall and his 1903 work Adolescence as a sort of intellectual history, to note that Arnett isn't the first to try to assert a new stage of life. She does so without noting the irony: Hall's adolescent age included a substantial part of Arnett's emerging adulthood.
Henig's a talented writer, and I wish she had done more to discuss what evidence exists as opposed to the conclusory quotations she draws from Arnett and a friendly skeptic, Richard Lerner.
But wait: for those five transitions Henig mentions (finishing school, moving away, getting a job, pair-bonding, having kids), there should be a way to test Henig's claim. Unfortunately, like so many others, she sets her benchmark in the immediate post-WW2 years, when early marriage and low childlessness helped define the Baby Boom. I wish I had time to spend this week checking the central tendency measures for those transitions. But I suspect the picture is more complicated than Henig (or Arnett) asserted.
Incidentally, my older child is going through one of those transitions this week, as she starts college in Pennsylvania. I read articles like Henig's, or ones about helicopter parents, and shake my head. My daughter is more than ready to go.