Emerging Adulthood: A New Stage in the Life Course
Defining youth is always a challenge, particularly when using age criteria (Furstenberg, 2000; Galland, 2001; Gauthier, 2000). Who, in fact, are youths? Teenagers? Adults? Life stages are defined as much by psychological and biological processes as by the social standards that mark ages, such as symbolic rites, life events, laws, standards, and social roles (Elder et al., 2005). The definition of youth has always been somewhat ambiguous, as the boundaries from childhood to adolescence or from adolescence to adulthood depend on a multitude of such factors. These standards change according to macro-social contexts (socioeconomic conditions, rules of law or policy), meso-social contexts (group or community values), and micro-social contexts (family and personal values).
The purpose of this study is to propose a reflection on the definition of youth and of its relevance in policy development. Our analysis will focus on young adulthood, the period that straddles adolescence and adulthood and that researchers refer to as a new life stage. New expressions, such as adolescence, (Anatrella, 1988), post-adolescence (Galland, 2001) or emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2004), are also used in reference to this category of youth aged between 17 and 25. Côté (2006) even hypothesizes that there is another phase, coined "youthhood", which characterizes the second half of the twenties.
Early adulthood is an especially important life transition characterized by a quest for autonomy and an exploration of identity (Gaudet, 2005; 2001). This group also represents a particularly interesting target group for the policy milieu, as they experience a number of specific realities: changes in their academic and occupational trajectories, as well as family and housing status. These changes are examined from an intergenerational perspective, with a particular focus on differences in values. The symbolic age of majority (age 18) is but one of numerous benchmarks along the path to adulthood. New data on the current generation of young people show they are evolving in a normative culture that differs radically from previous generations. Finally, the study also explores issues related to identity formation and relationships with institutions as well as implications of this new life stage for policy development and data development strategies.