During my université years, I wrote a composition on adulthood. It was for a class that was, well, un peu bizarre. That is to say, it was not set up like most université classes – and that’s saying something because my specialty is foreign language in education (spécifiquement: ESL/ELL and FSL/FLL), so, I had some pretty open-minded classroom instruction. This class was all about debating and conversing with one another in conjunction with our group rôles. Somehow, this was supposed to prepare us for teaching adolescents.
As preparation for a discussion in one class, I read, Arrested Adulthood: The Changing Nature of Maturity and Identity by James E. Côté. As a resultat of reading this book, I began to question adulthood. Western société has split adulthood into 3 stages (and some theorists have even gone as far as to split those stages into stages): young adulthood, middle adulthood, and later adulthood. But, do these “stages” truly define adulthood? We will never know unless we take a deeper look into each stage. And, even then, will we ever really get a true answer? Let’s find out…
In answering the “what defines adulthood?” question, the problems arise when starting with young adulthood. At what age does adolescence end and young adulthood begin? The answer to this question differs between countries and cultures; however, Western société has tried to establish some sort of starting point: Young adulthood starts during an individual’s twenties. I’ve seen this twenties description in numerous articles, but it’s kind of vague, non? Twenties – so, 20, 25, 28? Which is it? Côté seems to think that two segments of youth exist in modern société, “those in their teens and those in their twenties (Côté 169).” So, does this mean that during my twenties, I’m not an adult yet? Wait, I thought that young adulthood started during my twenties…I’m confused.
At the same time, Erik Erickson believes that young adulthood starts at age 20 and ends by age 40. This is a lot more spécifique…almost too spécifique. So, which is it? 20 or twenties? Why is it so ambiguous? To make matters more confusing: It seems that as société progresses, it pushes the transition into adulthood to higher and higher ages. This explains why Western société has dropped ‘starts at age 20’ for ‘starts during an individual’s twenties’. Côté identifies this trend of increasing the transition age by taking readers on an adventure through decades of Western société‘s “norms”. For example, during the 1800’s, both children and their parents could work; therefore, everyone’s income supported the house. According to modern société, this forced children to “grow up early,” thus defining the starting age of young adulthood at a much younger age. In modern société Américaine, child labor laws exist, so, an 8 year-old can’t legally work at McDo. Furthermore, this defines adulthood, in general, as “an individual who has a job.” Does this mean that unemployed people are no longer adults? Certainement, I still consider myself an adult even though, as a contract teacher, I’m unemployed during the summer months.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett proposes using the term “emerging adulthood” instead of “young adulthood” in his book, Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. His theory offers a réponse that I can live with: The emerging adult is diverse. For example, the emerging adult might go to college or might start working right away. He/she might change roommates several times, move back home with mom and dad, or might never leave the nest. Rather than using the term ‘young adulthood,’ ’emerging adulthood’ offers a way for Western société to appropriately define the transition period from adolescence to adulthood. Of course, this is just my opinion; however, the characteristic of the emerging adult most certainly describes all of my friends. And, it doesn’t have as many contradictions as does the term ‘young adulthood’ (i.e. as previously mentioned: no job=no longer an adult). So, how can I disagree with Arnett? Furthermore, Arnett proposes that as the emerging adult ages, his/her diverse world becomes less and less diverse, thus leading into middle adulthood (and the idea that the individual is ready to “settle down”).
Pinpointing the exact starting and ending ages in middle adulthood is just as ambiguous as defining these ages in young adulthood. I always thought that middle adulthood started around age 30. According to Erikson, I’m wrong. Erikson seems to believe that it begins after age 40 and ends at age 65. I suppose my definition of middle adulthood has a lot to do with choosing age 30 as a starting point. What is my definition? Well, it starts with my environment growing up. My parents (and nearly all of their friends as well as my family) both had jobs, kids, a nice house… by the time they reached age 30. While I don’t think having one or all of these things makes someone a middle adult (there are 14 year olds who have kids but are definitely not adults), I do think that responsabilité and what an individual does with it puts someone into the middle adult catégorie.
For my parents, it was the responsabilité of rearing children, showing up to work on time, and paying a mortgage. So, it seems that Arnett’s theory, not Erikson’s, seems to link more closely to my own definition. After all, it was during the late twenties when my parents’ lives became drastically less diverse…by age 30, they had already “settled” down. So, I suppose my definition of middle age comes with responsabilité and independent decision making.
This article on the top 40 signs of middle age is horrifying. According to the article, middle adulthood is defined as people who “enjoy afternoon naps, moan when they bend over, are frustrated by modern technology and choose comfort over style when it comes to clothing.” This describes my definition of late adulthood. In fact, I don’t know many people aged 40-60 who don’t have a tablet and who don’t know how to use it. However, I do know several 65+ year olds who are lost when it comes to modern technology. Does this mean that middle adulthood starts at age 65? According to the article, middle adulthood starts at age 53. That’s 13 years later than Erikson’s theory. I suppose we can contribute this change in age to Côté’s idea: As technology advances, the ages defining the stages advance, too.
Also, I particularly found #2 on this list interesting: “Finding you have no idea what ‘young people’ are talking about.” I have this problem now and I’m still in my twenties. Although I disagree that this article defines middle adulthood, it certainly defines my grandma who’s in late adulthood.
What defines late adulthood? When I think of a definition of late adulthood, I picture my granddaddy (R.I.P.) and my grandmas.
But what really makes them fit into this category? Maybe it’s fact that they’re retired…Or maybe it’s that they show signs of old age: hearing loss, wrinkles, gray hair/hair loss… etc. According to Erikson, late adulthood starts at age 65. This is an age that I can agree with. Late adulthood is the last stage in adult life (and in life, in general), so, it makes sense that it would start as people begin to retire – to put an end to their middle adult life and to begin a new stage. In my opinion, this last stage ends with the death of the individual; however, in the book, The Seasons of a Man’s Life by Daniel Levinson, Levinson goes even further by creating the concept of “late late adulthood.” In late late adulthood, the individual focuses on coming to terms with death. I understand that with the increasing life-span today, the concept of late late adulthood seems like a good idea – after all, a 65 year-old and an 85 year-old might not have the same priorities. But, then again, the same can be said for every decade. So, do we keep the ages grouped into 3 stages or do we divide each stage even further like Levinson? Or maybe we’re better off ignoring this focus on finding the correct ages and, instead, focusing on an individual’s cognitive, social, and physical changes. On the one hand, we generalize when we create spécifique age groups that fit into each catégorie. On the other hand, it would get seriously complicated to focus on every single individual. Sometimes, we need these generalizations in order to make sense of how we’re developing as humans. But, it’s important to remember that not everyone will fit perfectly into each categorie. I mean, look at the issues we have defining starting and ending points for each stage.
The ambiguïté that comes with defining a starting and ending point for each stage in adulthood is incredible. Everyone has a définition of adulthood and it’s not always the same. Add technological advancements along with advancements in medicine to the mix and we’re cooking up some long-lives. With people living longer than ever before, the definition of adulthood and when each stage begins and ends evolves (duh!). Even theorists such as Erikson, Arnett, and Côté have
to agree to disagree – thus, there really is no “true” definition. So, when it comes to defining adulthood, we are stuck with this absolute ambiguïté: To each her/his own, I guess. ♦
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