One of the most important features of emerging adulthood is that this age period allows for exploration in love, work, and worldviews more than any other age period. The process of identity formation emerges in adolescence but mostly takes place in emerging adulthood. Regarding love, although adolescents in the United States usually begin dating between ages 12 and 14, they usually view this dating as recreational. It is not until emerging adulthood that identity formation in love becomes more serious. While in the United States during adolescence dating usually occurs in groups and in situations such as parties and dances, in emerging adulthood, relationships last longer and often include sexual relations as well as cohabitation.
As far as work, the majority of working adolescents in the United States tend to see their jobs as a way to make money for recreational activities rather than preparing them for a future career. In contrast, 18 to 25 year olds in emerging adulthood view their jobs as a way to obtain the knowledge and skills that will prepare them for their future adulthood careers. Undergoing changes in worldviews is a main division of cognitive development during emerging adulthood.
People in emerging adulthood that choose to attend college often begin college or university with the worldview they were raised with and learned in childhood and adolescence. However, emerging adults who have attended college or university have been exposed to and have considered different worldviews, and eventually commit to a worldview that is distinct from the worldview with which they were raised by the end of their college or university career.[ Emerging adulthood is the sole age period where there is nothing that is demographically consistent.
In contrast, of adolescents in the United States up to age 18, over 95% live at home with at least one parent, 98% are not married, under 10% have become parents, and more than 95% attend school. Similarly, people in their thirties are also demographically normative: 75% are married, 75% are parents, and under 10% attend school. Residential status and school attendance are two reasons that the period of emerging adulthood is incredibly distinct demographically. Regarding residential status, emerging adults in the United States have very diverse living situations. About one third of emerging adults attend college and spend a few years living independently while partially relying on adults.
Contrastingly, 40% of emerging adults do not attend college but live independently and work full-time. Finally, around two-thirds of emerging adults in the United States cohabitate with a romantic partner. Regarding school attendance, emerging adults are extremely diverse in their educational paths (Arnett, 2000, p. 470-471). Over 60% of emerging adults in the United States enter college or university the year after they graduate from high school. However, the emerging adulthood years that follow college are extremely diverse – only about 32% of 25-29 year-olds have finished four or more years of college.
This is because higher education is usually pursued non-continuously, where some pursue education while they also work, and some do not attend school for periods of time. Further contributing to the variance, about one third of emerging adults with bachelor’s degrees pursue a postgraduate education within a year of earning their bachelor’s degree. Thus, because there is so much demographic instability, especially in residential status and school attendance, it is clear that emerging adulthood is a distinct entity based on its demographically non-normative qualities, at least in the United States.