• January 30, 2018 8:00 AM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)

    Happy New Year to the SSEA community! We are excited about what the upcoming year has in store for our organization and invite you to be an active participant in some great ways to deepen your connection with the study of emerging adulthood. The first SSEA Thematic Conference will be taking place from May 17-19, 2018, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. It is titled “Self and Identity in Emerging Adulthood” and we are very excited to gather together international scholars on this topic (broadly defined) for this exciting event. Submissions will be accepted through February 8, 2018. Please see the conference website (http://ssea.org/conference/Identity) for more information.


    Another great way to stay involved with the SSEA is through our Topic Networks. We currently have over 20 different groups established with the goals of connecting members who share interests so that they can share resources and develop collaborations. If you would like to join any of the Topic Networks listed on our website, please contact the SSEA Coordinator, coordinator@ssea.org or manage your member profile here. [http://www.ssea.org/membership/manage_member_profile] You may join as many Topic Networks as you like. We also welcome your ideas for more Topic Networks as well as nominations for Topic Network chairs or co-chairs. You need to be a current SSEA member to be a part of the Topic Networks.


    As a way to provide extra support for the great work our members are doing on emerging adulthood, we are working on establishing a small grants program and hope to distribute more information about this opportunity in the next few months. We also hope to encourage conversation and consideration of the ways that we can “make our research matter” through public engagement. Keep an eye out for calls to share the ways that your research is making an impact.


    We are also thrilled to take this opportunity to look back to our most recent conference. SSEA held its 8th biennial meeting this past November in Washington DC, USA. Brian Willoughby chaired the conference with Carolyn Barry as co-chair and they had support from committee members Byron Adams, Goda Kaniušonytė, and Spencer Olmstead. SSEA is highly committed to maintaining an international membership, so we were delighted to have representation from over 30 countries, with 20% of attendees from outside of North America. We are also pleased to have been able to offer travel grants to 29 international attendees. Furthermore, SSEA is highly committed to involvement from emerging scholars, which we hope is evidenced by our high rate of student attendees (37%) and new professional attendees (14%). To the organizers and all who attended and contributed, thank you for helping make the conference such a success.”


    The invited program included scholars with various areas of expertise in emerging adulthood. Brian Barber provided the Keynote Address titled, “Making it to Adulthood: When Youth Emerge under Continuous Political Constraint,” covering work he has been conducting with Palestinian youth for over 20 years.  Master lectures were offered by Elisabetta Crocetti (“Identity formation in emerging adulthood: A dynamic process”), Ofra Mayseless (“The caring motivation and its development during emerging adulthood – a neglected, fundamental facet of our human nature”), Larry Nelson (“Trajectories of flourishing and floundering: The good, the bad, and the lonely”), and Scott Stanley (“Sliding vs. deciding: Commitment, ambiguity, and relationship formation”).


    We were excited to offer six pre-conference events at this conference, organized by some of our most active Topic Networks, including Media, Prevention and Intervention, Religion and Spirituality, Identity, Mental Health, and Sexuality and Romantic Relationships. These always prove to be energizing sessions with excellent networking opportunities, so we highly suggest that you consider attending at pre-conference workshop in 2019.


    We had over 150 poster presentations on topics such as: parents and family, work and career, friendships, moral development, and substance use and abuse. Our program was also full of highly quality invited discussion sessions, symposia, and individual paper sessions covering a broad array of topics related to emerging adulthood.  The Friday night Dinner and Show included an enthralling story telling event and great chance to connect with other SSEA members. If you are still hoping to connect with a presenter or other conference attendee, there is a contact list posted on the SSEA website here. [http://www.ssea.org/conference/2017/program.html]


    We would be delighted to see everyone again at our 2019 conference. We hope to announce the location and dates soon. Stay tuned!


    All our best,

    Elizabeth Morgan, President

    Larry J. Nelson, President-elect


  • December 06, 2016 5:33 PM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)


    Growth of SSEA

    We are less than one year away from the 8th conference on Emerging Adulthood, to be held November 2-4, 2017 in Washington DC. We anticipate that we will have over 500 conference attendees, with excellent representation from countries across the globe. Our society membership continues to grow and diversify, creating fantastic opportunities for collaboration across disciplines and continents through our Topic Networks and other society activities. Given that SSEA is itself in an emergent period of development, we wanted to take this opportunity to take a brief look back at the history of the organization and excitedly anticipate our future directions.

    SSEA originated as a special interest group within the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA). The first Conference on Emerging Adulthood on took place in November 2003 at Harvard University. The second conference took place in Miami in 2005 in conjunction with the International Society for Research on Identity (formerly known as SRIF).  In 2007, SSEA was established as a stand-alone society at the meeting in Tucson, Arizona. Starting with the 2007 meeting, and continuing through 2009 (Atlanta), 2011 (Providence, RI), 2013 (Chicago), and 2015 (Miami), attendance has increased at each successive conference. We are expecting the attendance at the 2017 Washington DC conference to be even higher than Miami. We strongly value international attendance at our conferences, which we facilitate through consistently providing travel awards for scholars from outside North America. Currently SSEA has more than 500 members, and approximately one-third of these members are from outside the United States and Canada.

    The initial SSEA steering committee envisioned many core elements of the society that we continue to embrace as we look to the future of the organization. We have focused on multiple aspects of emerging adulthood, such as identity, substance use, family relationships, and school-to-work transitions. From the start, SSEA has placed a major emphasis on emerging scholars – graduate students, post-docs, and early-career faculty members. Rather than adopt the usual approach where most leadership positions are given to senior professors, in SSEA we purposely sought to place emerging scholars into positions of leadership, where they could be empowered and use their unique vision and enthusiasm to guide the future of the organization.

    Starting in 2013, SSEA established its own journal, Emerging Adulthood. Under the leadership of Manfred van Dulmen, EA quickly became a prominent journal, and we began receiving submissions from leading scholars around the world. Moin Syed, who took over as editor in July 2016, has continued this excellence. The journal has averaged 175 submissions per year, and Sage has informed us that they have requested an impact factor for EA. This is quite an accomplishment for a journal that is finishing only its fourth year of publication!

    Now SSEA is starting a series of new initiatives. One of these is a small grant program targeting scholars from outside North America. It is essential that we facilitate research on emerging adulthood around the world, and the small grant program will provide “seed money” to start (and continue) such research.

    It has been an honor to share this journey with all of you, and with the new members who have been joining us along the way. We look forward to continuing to serve as the international authority on the emerging adult life stage, and as the professional home for scholars who study this phase of life.

    Seth J. Schwartz, SSEA President
    Elizabeth M. Morgan, SSEA President-Elect

  • July 10, 2016 3:13 PM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)


    The Vast Potential of Our Work – Or, Why are We Really Doing What We Do

    Those of you who are old enough to have watched the Rocky & Bullwinkle show will remember that each episode had two alternative titles, each of which could easily have been the theme of the episode. So, here, we have chosen two alternative titles that are intended to highlight the importance of the work we do, and that will hopefully lead all of us to question how our work can be used to inform public policy.

    The standard currencies in academia are grants, journal articles, books, and the occasional award. Sometimes, as we have been fortunate to have happen to us, we have the opportunity to serve in professional organizations like SSEA. But, for most of us, that’s as far as it goes. We get funded – by granting agencies, or by our universities – to conduct research, and the endpoint of much of the work that academic researchers do is a series of journal articles or book chapters.

    Many times, the furthest we go into the real-world implications of our work is a few sentences or paragraphs toward the end of an article that briefly review some implications of our findings. Often these are implications for future research, occasionally they are for practitioners, and much less often they are for policy.

    Indeed, academic research typically has little impact on policy. Most of the journals we publish in are read primarily by academics, full of jargon and with an obtuse writing style that is often impenetrable to anyone without a master’s or doctoral degree. Academic books also cater primarily to academic audiences. For this and other reasons, it is evident that research findings rarely succeed in influencing policy decisions. Can you imagine a legislator, lobbyist, or judge getting through the results sections of the articles we publish?

    It is because of this common disconnect that the International Consortium of Developmental Science Societies (ICDSS), of which SSEA was one of nine founding societies, has chosen to focus on fostering collective efforts to synthesize developmental science research with the aim of contributing to effective policy. Recognizing that effective communication efforts will require working with multiple stakeholders, honestly brokering summaries of multidisciplinary knowledge, and reliance on evidence from the highest quality research, a primary preliminary aim of ICDSS is to develop research statements to help inform global policy.

    The location of 8th biennial SSEA conference (Washington D.C.) has pushed us to consider how the amazing work that SSEA members do can be influential for public policy. Further, even a cursory examination of the recent Orlando massacre reveals a strong tie to our work – the shooter, Omar Mateen, was an emerging adult, as were most of the victims and the other people in the Pulse nightclub. So how can our research speak to issues such as the Orlando massacre? As President and President-Elect, we would like to start this conversation by taking an inward look at some of our own research areas and how they are applicable to current policy decisions in the United States and beyond.

    SETH: My interests are primarily on the intersection of personal and cultural identities, and how these (and other) identities predict psychosocial and health outcomes during adolescence and emerging adulthood. I focus on both majority and minority ethnic groups, with the understanding that the increasing diversity of our world is prompting most people, regardless of their ethnic background, to understand themselves personally, culturally, sexually, spiritually, morally, and so on.

    Multiple accounts suggest that Omar Mateen was struggling to reconcile his ethnic, religious, and sexual identities. He may have been bisexual, and the shooting may have been a way for him to reconcile his religious faith with confusion about his sexuality. In an article that we have under review, my former PhD student and I argue that the intersection of identities is a critical issue for everyone – as it likely was for Mateen. Will our knowledge about, and understanding of, intersectionality be used to help identify and support people who are struggling to reconcile conflicting identities?

    ELIZABETH: My research primarily explores sexual identity development during emerging adulthood, specifically focused on the ways in which individuals of all sexual orientations make sense and meaning out of their sexual and romantic experiences. This development occurs within social contexts – many of which are unfortunately replete with both overt and covert sexual prejudice and discrimination. Might Omar Mateen have been influenced by this kind of discrimination? Might that, along with what he saw as the demands of his religious faith, kept him from being more comfortable with his sexuality?

    Policies are an important factor in constructing these social contexts. There are vast differences in the policies that directly impact sexual minority emerging adults within the United States and across countries. These range from criminalization of same-sex sexual behavior and affiliation with sexual minorities to inclusive equal access to reproductive technologies and parental leave policies. Given that emerging adulthood is a time of sexual exploration, how can we urge societies to create safe spaces for such exploration and to encourage responsible freedom of sexual expression?

    Indeed, as we learn more about how sexual minority emerging adults navigate social contexts in the process of developing their identities (sexual and otherwise), we become acutely aware of the ways in which policies can impede or enhance positive development for these emerging adults. In addition to the policies that directly empower or threaten sexual minority individuals, there are a number of other direct and indirect ways in which policies impact sexual minority emerging adults. For example, institutions of higher education that explicitly protect the rights of sexual and gender minorities offer safer and more inclusive climates within which these people can more freely pursue their education. Because emerging adults are such a diverse group, it is essential to enact policies to ensure that they are not discriminated against in the job force, housing, health care, or in seeking other services. Given that many immigrants are also sexual minorities, immigration and asylum policies also directly impact many sexual minority emerging adults from across the globe in terms of pursuing opportunity and escaping persecution.

    These are just examples from our own work regarding how the study of emerging adulthood carries critical policy implications. As President and President-Elect of the society, we would like to issue a call for you - SSEA members and affiliates - to engage in a close examination of how your work can be used to better our societies through informing policy decisions. Let’s move beyond our comfortable roles as academics and practitioners and make our research more accessible to policy audiences and forge more effective research-practice-policy relationships. As the 2017 Washington DC conference draws closer, we look forward to more submissions establishing this critical link.

    Seth Schwarz, President

    Elizabeth Morgan, President Elect

  • April 25, 2016 12:50 PM | Elizabeth Morgan (Administrator)

    We are pleased to announce that the dates and location for the 2017 SSEA conference are now set. The conference will be held in Washington D.C. at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, between November 2nd-4th, 2017. Preconference workshops will occur during the morning of November 2nd, and the full conference program will run from the afternoon of Thursday the 2nd through the evening of Saturday the 4th.

    The conference hotel is about a 5-minute walk from Capitol Hill and a short Metro ride from the museums and monuments. The hotel is also about 5 blocks from Union Station, which is both a Metro station and one of the primary stations for Amtrak trains coming from other U.S. cities.

    We are excited to build on the considerable momentum from the 2015 Miami conference. We had a record number of attendees in Miami and fully expect to have even more at the Washington D.C. conference. The invited program is currently being assembled, and the call for submissions will go out in the fall. We will provide travel awards for attendees from outside of North America so that we can maintain the internationally diverse membership for which SSEA has become famous.

    Look for more updates from us soon, but we wanted to share the good news about the location and dates for our next meeting. We look forward to seeing everyone in Washington D.C. in November 2017!!


    Seth J. Schwartz, SSEA President

    Elizabeth M. Morgan, SSEA President-Elect

  • September 25, 2015 8:39 AM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)

    The 7th Conference on Emerging Adulthood is upon us! In less than 3 weeks, we will be getting together for what should be the best SSEA conference yet.

    As of September 23rd, we already have more paid registrations for this year’s conference than we had attendees at the Chicago conference. We have so many people coming that we twice had to ask the hotel to increase the number of rooms for our conference attendees. Even Friday night, after the conference ends, is completely full. We have more countries represented than ever before. SSEA is over 500 members for the first time ever. These are exciting times for our organization. 

    We now have a new President-Elect, Elizabeth Morgan from Springfield College in Massachusetts. Elizabeth will now become part of the SSEA executive leadership, including Jeff Arnett and myself. As I transition from President-Elect to President, I will focus even more strongly on growing the organization, on linking with other societies, and on important policy issues where our expertise is needed. 

    One of the important links we have established is with the Society for Prevention Research (SPR). SPR focuses on interventions to prevent disease and problem outcomes, as well as to promote positive development, among many age groups (including emerging adults). Our conference program includes an SPR Presidential Symposium, chaired by Richard Catalano from the University of Washington. This symposium will focus on prevention research with emerging adults. Additionally, Michael Cleveland, a prevention scientist who is a member of both SSEA and SPR, is presenting a preconference workshop on latent class and latent transition analysis.

    Speaking of preconference workshops, these workshops are filling up quickly. We would like to ask that everyone please register for preconference workshops by Wednesday, September 30th. Because some of these workshops include lunch, workshop leaders need to have an accurate count of how many people are attending. After September 30th, we will close registration for preconference workshops. This means that onsite registration will not be available for preconference workshops.

    Some of you are probably coming early or staying late so that you can enjoy our tropical sunshine and beaches here in Miami. You can also take a tour of the Florida Everglades, ride in an airboat, and see lots of alligators (from a safe distance, of course). The Florida Keys are only an hour or so away, and Orlando is a 3-hour drive from here. For those of you looking for nightlife, I recommend South Beach (there is a free taxi from the hotel) and Coconut Grove (you’ll need a taxi to get there). I encourage you to enjoy our sights and activities if time permits.

    Just a few words about the weather here for those of you who are not familiar with tropical climates: If you are going to spend time at the beach (or even at the hotel pool), make sure you put on sunscreen every 2 hours. The sun is very strong here and can burn you in less than 30 minutes. You can get a sunburn even if it’s cloudy! And the sun is actually stronger when you're underwater – so make sure your sunscreen is waterproof. Also watch out for heavy rain and lightning, which can appear and disappear very quickly.

    I am looking forward to seeing all of you here next month!

  • March 05, 2015 7:04 PM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)

    Over the last several years, there has been an increasing movement to biologize the social sciences (Bandura, 2008; Kagan, 2013; Satel & Lilienfeld, 2013), and this has important implications for those of us who study emerging adulthood. The development of new biological tools in fields such as neuroscience and genetics appears to have been equated with a mandate that these tools must be used in as many studies as possible. Nancy Eisenberg (2014), past president of the Association for Psychological Science, observed that psychology and other social science departments are increasingly hiring researchers who study biological phenomena, or who focus on cognitive processes with direct links to neuroscience. Much of this biologically based hiring is likely a direct result of funding agencies that emphasize biological research, sometimes to the exclusion of social-science work. Many of these funding agencies are directed by medical doctors and biologists who do not appear to recognize the importance of social-science research. Even a brief perusal of the priorities and strategic plans enumerated by these agencies – such as the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse – yields the conclusion that the logical endpoints of these priorities and strategic plans involve advances in medical care and the development of pharmaceutical drugs.

    In other words, social scientists need not apply.

    Although few people would say this publicly, funding agency directors – and, increasingly, academic departments – are saying it implicitly: If it cannot be neuroimaged, genotyped, or assayed, it is not important enough to study. Social-science phenomena are only important if they can be mapped in the brain, associated with genetic polymorphisms, or linked with biomarkers for stress, obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, et cetera. For example, psychological well-being was once considered as an endpoint in itself. Someone who was happy, motivated, and felt a sense of mastery would be considered healthy (Waterman, 2008). But now, psychological well-being is important not necessarily because it feels good and helps us to live successful lives, but more so because it is associated with lower levels of diabetes-related biomarkers (Ryff, 2013). Again, the endpoint is medical care, rather than life success. “Health” is defined narrowly – and medically.

    What does this have to do with emerging adulthood? Well, if the pillars of emerging adulthood – regardless of whether one agrees with Arnett’s five criteria – are social-structural, economic, and cultural, how can we continue to study them as the social sciences are becoming increasingly biologized? How can we convince the funding agencies that support our work, and the departments that hire new researchers, to continue investing in research on successful emerging adulthood and on ways to help emerging adults to succeed in their lives? Biological discoveries and tools are certainly important, but they do not obviate the need to continue with social-science research on this critical time of life.

    Let’s take friendships and family relationships for example. Research has examined the neural mechanisms through which friendships in adolescence can protect against sensitivity to future peer rejection (e.g., Masten, Telzer, Fuligni, Lieberman, & Eisenberger, 2011), and this finding likely applies to emerging adulthood as well. However, even without neural evidence, would we not still know that supportive friendships are good for young people? Friendships nurture young people emotionally and expose them to new ideas and belief systems that they might never have considered before. Many of these experiences occur at “higher” levels of processing that cannot simply be reduced to neurons firing in the brain. Trying to reduce people to brain cells, as some funding agencies would have us do, is not a wise idea. At a certain point, we lose the humanity in the person and are just looking at a bunch of cells. Even if we are considering the effects of environmental and developmental factors on brain functioning, we still miss a lot of we attempt to reduce the person to just a brain.

    Concerning Gene X Environment interactions – another “hot” area being promoted by funding agencies – there is some evidence that the effects of the family environment, for example, may differ between young people with different genetic profiles (Schermerhorn, D’Onofrio, Turkheimer, Ganiban, Spotts, Lichtenstein, Reiss, & Neiderhiser, 2011). However, this does not mean that family environment doesn’t affect quality of life for all adolescents and emerging adults. The finding of fairly modest moderating effects of genetics in links between family relationships and life outcomes is potentially important, but does it mean that social-science research on family relationships should not be conducted unless genetic moderation is examined? What do these genetic moderation effects really tell us in terms of practical applicability? That is, what should we do differently for those adolescents and emerging adults who do versus don’t have a specific genetic polymorphism? The fact that Gene X Environment studies with behavioral outcomes rarely report effect sizes should tell us something. Maybe some of these effects are “sexy” because they’re biological, but they don’t always tell us as much as we might think they would.

    Finally, let’s revisit the biomarkers-as-outcomes research that has gained popularity in recent years. In some ways, this research is extremely important – for example, studying how the body reacts to stress is helping us to understand how health disparities develop, and why people from certain social groups tend to be sicker and die younger compared to people from other social groups. With that said, however, do we always need biomarkers to tell us what is good for us and what isn’t? Do we need cortisol levels to tell us that it hurts to be discriminated against? If we didn’t know that well-being was linked with lower levels of diabetes biomarkers, would we not know that being happy and connected is good for us?

    I should emphasize that I am not against biological research, and I am not against research that includes biological variables along with social-science variables. What I am against is funding-agency priorities and departmental hiring practices that are focused almost entirely on medical care and pharmaceutical drugs, to the exclusion of important social-science outcomes that are not (and do not need to be) medical. If immigrants are moving to new countries and having a hard time getting adjusted, do we need to develop drugs to give them? Or do we need to change the way they are being received in their new homelands? If emerging adults are under stress because they cannot find work, do we need to link this stress to a medical outcome that can be treated with drugs or doctor visits? Or do we need to help these young people to develop skills that they can use to find jobs? If emerging adults are satisfied in their relationships with their parents, friends, and romantic partners, shouldn’t we just celebrate that – rather than trying to find some kind of disease that it protects against?

    Let’s hope that funding agencies and academic departments in our respective countries get the message. Social-science research on emerging adulthood is important and needs to continue – regardless of whether biological variables are included.



    Bandura, A. (2008). Reconstrual of “free will” from the agentic perspective of social cognitive theory. In J. Baer, J. C. Kaufman, & R. F. Baumeister (Eds.­), Are we free? Psychology and free will (pp. 86-127). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Eisenberg, N. (2014). Is our focus becoming overly narrow? Retrieved October 15, 2014 at http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2014/september-14/is-our-focus-becoming-overly-narrow.html

    Kagan, J. (2013). Equal time for psychological and biological contributions to human variation. Review of General Psychology, 17, 351-357.

    Masten, C. L., Telzer, E. H., Fuligni, A. J., Lieberman, M. D., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2011). Time spent with friends in adolescence relates to less neural sensitivity to later peer rejection. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7, 106-114.

    Ryff, C. D. (2013). Eudaimonic well-being and health: Mapping consequences of self-realization. In A. S. Waterman (Ed.), The best within us: Positive psychology perspectives on eudaimonia (pp. 77-98). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Satel, S., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2013). Brainwashed: The seductive appeal of mindless neuroscience. New York: Basic.

    Schermerhorn, A. C., D’Onofrio, B. M., Turkheimer, E. C., Ganiban, J. M., Spotts, E. L., Lichtenstein, P., Reiss, D., & Neiderhiser, J. M. (2011). A genetically informed study of associations between family functioning and child psychosocial adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 47, 707-725.

    Waterman, A. S. (2008). Reconsidering happiness. A eudaimonist’s perspective. Journal of Positive Psychology, 3, 234-252.

  • December 03, 2014 10:30 PM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)


    Most of us think of emerging adulthood as a time for identity work, but are we clear on what that means?  When people are exploring or reconsidering their identities, what exactly are they doing?  And what specific areas of life are they doing it in?

    What Is Identity?

    There has been much debate regarding exactly what identity is, and how it operates.  Is identity something that we hold onto and that is largely stable, or is it something that changes almost randomly?  This is more than a theoretical question – it serves as a compass in terms of what we think emerging adults are doing.  Are they constructing (or discovering) something long-term about themselves, or are they just winging it from one situation to the next?  Or could it be both?

    We all play different roles in different areas of our lives.  We are a son or daughter to our parents, a partner and confidant to our significant other, a sounding board (and many other things) to our friends, a parent to our children, an employee to our boss, and a professor to our students – among many other things.

    Do we enact the same “identity” in all of these relationships and situations?  And do these various roles mean the same thing to everyone?  Does everyone even play all of these roles in their lives?

    If you have children, then you get to act out the identity of “parent.”  If you don’t have children, then in most cases you won’t play the role of parent.  If you have a partner, then you will play that role – but if you don’t have a partner, then that is probably not a role you’re playing at this specific time in your life.

    Our “identity” is actually the sum-total of our various roles and commitments – along with the ways in which we act out these commitments.  (I, and others, call this “doing identity.”)  All aspects of our identity are developed and maintained within the context of relationships with other people – and these other people have important effects on the roles and commitments we hold and on how we act them out.  So none of us develop our identities by ourselves.

    Identity is developed and maintained in many different content areas.  These include career/work, committed relationships, ethnicity, nationality, religion/spirituality, gender and sexuality, politics, and morality.  Clearly, not everyone engages in identity work in all of these domains – for example, some people don’t care about politics and don’t think much about it – but everyone does identity work in several domains. 

    Are All Forms of Identity Addressed During Emerging Adulthood?

    One of the central tenets of emerging adulthood theory is that EA is a time of identity exploration.  However, is this true for all content areas?  Do career, relationship, ethnic, national, religious/spiritual, gender, sexual, political, and moral identities all get addressed in the late teens and twenties?  If so, is this true for everyone?

    A study by my mentor Dick Dunham and several of his colleagues indicated that, in most cases, if emerging adults were actively thinking about their identities at all, they were doing so in only one or two content areas.  If you think about it, this makes perfect sense.  Exploring new identity choices requires at least loosening (or preparing to loosen) one’s current commitments. Someone who loosens or discards too many of their commitments won’t have much to hold onto. So, by definition, exploration usually occurs in only one or two content areas at a time. 

    Sometimes we can “package” different identity domains together and explore them simultaneously. For example, as Elli Schachter has found in his work with Orthodox Jews in Israel, one’s religious beliefs might constrain the relationship or sexual options that one can consider. But clearly it is difficult to explore in more than a couple of areas at a time.

    So, again, are all identity domains addressed during emerging adulthood?  Although we undoubtedly need more longitudinal research examining this, the answer is likely to be “it depends.”  It depends on the specific person, her/his life situation (broadly defined), and the cultural context in question.  Because we don’t know exactly when emerging adulthood ends, we don’t know whether a given person who is thinking about identity issues within a given area is still an emerging adult.  If we say that someone is no longer an emerging adult once she/he has entered adult roles such as committed partnership and gainful employment, then by definition some people will leave emerging adulthood at 25, some will do so at 30, and others may not do so until close to 40.  This leaves a lot of leeway for identity issues to be addressed at different points in time, some of which may be beyond the time when the person is no longer an emerging adult.

    Concluding Thoughts

    What can we take from all of this?  Well, if we define the end of emerging adulthood as having made enduring commitments in career and committed partnership (and even this definition is slippery, because some people remain single or are not consistently employed), then for most people these two domains “should” be addressed during emerging adulthood.  Other domains, such as religion/spirituality, ethnicity, and nationality, may never be engaged – again depending on the person in question.  Domains such as sexuality may be engaged differently by different groups of people – for example, people from sexual minority groups will probably spend more time thinking and talking about their sexual identities than heterosexual people will.  But if we expand our definition of “sexual identity” to include the specific sexual practices and acts in which a person prefers (and does not prefer) to engage, then most people likely do consider their sexual identities at some point in time. Most people are sexually active during emerging adulthood, but does this mean that someone who is engaging in sexual behavior has considered her or his sexual identity?  Further, in societies where sexual expression is constrained, how is sexual identity developed?  Does it develop during emerging adulthood?  If not, when (and how) does it develop?

    Finally, if we take into account that emerging adulthood may not exist in all cultural contexts, when (and how) do different aspects of identity develop in these types of contexts?  For example, in societies where careers and romantic partners are assigned rather than chosen, how do other aspects of identity (such as sexuality, ethnicity, and morality) develop?  What role do social contexts (personal relationships, as well as political and religious environments) play in identity development?

    We have much work to do before we can make broad and strong statements about identity in emerging adulthood.  I hope that I have sketched out some of the empirical questions that remain to be examined, and that some of you will pursue these (and other) ideas concerning how people come to understand themselves.

  • October 14, 2014 10:05 PM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)

    For my second blog entry as President-Elect, I would like to focus on expanding the borders of emerging adulthood. There is a great deal of diversity in the 18-29 year old age range, and our task in the coming years is to explore more and more of that diversity and how it impacts young people.

    Many of the critics of EA theory claim that the theory doesn’t capture enough of the diversity of this age group. A couple of years ago, I attended an SRCD conference on the transition to adulthood. The term “emerging adulthood” was not used in any of the talks that I attended. When I approached one of the invited speakers and asked her why she didn’t use the term EA, she said that it referred to privileged college students and other individuals who had the financial resources to delay the onset of adult responsibilities. A colleague of mine who has an editorial role with one of the adolescent journals refuses to accept any papers that use the term EA, because he says there isn’t any evidence that most young people actually endorse Jeff Arnett’s five criteria.

    The only way to address these critics is with empirical data. Do young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experience EA? Does getting married or becoming a parent in one’s late teens or early twenties prevent someone from being an emerging adult? Do people who have to go to work to support their families experience emerging adulthood? What about foster children who “age out” of the foster care system – do they experience EA? If these groups of people do experience EA, how do they experience it? How is EA different for them than it is for college students?

    We do know that there is something going on in the late teens and early-to-mid twenties that sets these years apart from adolescence. Brain development accelerates, risky behaviors increase, and the search for a sense of meaning and identity intensifies. These trends hold for both college students and those who don’t attend college. Our late-modern world has made it difficult to stay in one career for very long, such that even those people with no college education need to be fast on their feet. People are moving in and out of relationships more than in the recent past. Social media allow us to create online identities that often bear little resemblance to our daily lives. Although many of these phenomena are present in adolescence and in adulthood, they are experienced most intensely during the EA years.

    I know of no other society that is better positioned to address these key issues than SSEA is.  It’s time for us to put our money where our mouths are. Let’s engage in more creative scholarship regarding EA. Let’s include more diverse individuals and groups in our EA research. Let’s study people from low socioeconomic brackets and find out how they experience EA. Let’s include both college and non-college individuals in the same studies, so that we can isolate the effects of college attendance on EA-related outcomes. Let’s conduct more family research on EA’s, so that we can understand how this age period is experienced within parent-child relationships. Let’s look into what normative emerging adult development looks like for different groups of people, as well as what abnormal emerging adult development looks like. Let’s include the EA criteria as variables in our work so that we can get a sense of how they play into the experience of this life period. And finally, let’s engage with our critics, respect their views, and dialog with them about how we can improve our approaches.

    It is an honor to be your President-Elect, and I look forward to embarking on these adventures with all of you.

  • September 09, 2014 6:30 AM | Lisa Gaudette (Administrator)

    This is the first of a series of blog entries that I’ll be posting during my time in office as President-Elect (and later as President) of SSEA. The purpose of these blogs is to start a conversation with the SSEA membership about who we are and where we want to go as a professional society. But my first blog entry will be more personal – to introduce myself and give you a sense of what I’m about.

    Some of you know me as a friend or colleague, many of you know me as an acquaintance, some of you have heard me speak or read my work, and some of you don’t know me at all. Regardless of which group you fall into, I would like each of you to get to know me better. I am very eager to start working with all of you, and I believe that the best way to start our collaboration is to give you a sense of who I am and how I came to SSEA.

    My original research interest, dating back to the early 1990s, was in identity development. Some of you who have known me for a long time might remember my early days as a graduate student at Florida State University and later at Florida International University. My mentor, Dr. Richard (Dick) Dunham, introduced me to identity research in January 1991, and I was hooked. I still have my master’s thesis dataset that I gathered at Florida State back in 1994 and 1995.

    When I moved to Miami to attend Florida International University for my PhD, I experienced a serious case of culture shock. Going from Tallahassee (a small, Southern American town) to Miami (an international, multicultural city) was like moving to another planet. It was hard for me to believe that so many emerging adults still lived at home with their parents! I left home when I finished high school, and I never went back – and I always thought that everyone followed that path. Boy, was I wrong.

    One of the most important things I’ve learned during my 18 years living in Miami is the importance of culture.  Living in such a diverse place taught me that my own cultural orientation was just that – my own cultural orientation. Watching people from so many different countries and backgrounds interact with each other, become friends with each other, and even marry each other was fascinating to me. Clearly, there was more to identity than just one’s own goals and plans. The cultural behaviors, beliefs, and attachments that each person carries are part of that person’s sense of self as well.

    So I became a cultural identity researcher, which is probably how most people know me now. I study immigrant adolescents, emerging adults, and families because I am fascinated at how people adapt to a new cultural environment (usually without losing their core sense of self). I’ve known people who risked everything they had – sometimes even risking their lives – to move to a new country with more opportunities for themselves and their families. I’ve seen young people thrive in spite of challenges that I couldn’t even imagine having to face. And even though some of my research interests are in risky behaviors, I’ve always maintained an optimistic view of human nature. Everyone is capable of doing well and contributing to society – regardless of their gender, ethnic group, national background, or sexual orientation. I believe in the greatness of the human spirit – I’ve seen too many people overcome the odds to believe otherwise.

    I stayed in Miami after finishing my PhD. I met the love of my life and married her just after defending my dissertation, so I found a position at the University of Miami medical school. I have now been at UM for 14 years and became a full professor at the beginning of June. One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced during my years as a faculty member – aside from raising my two daughters – has been mentoring young scholars. I got into academia because I wanted to do for others what Dick Dunham did for me. I wanted to get young people started and help them establish a research program for themselves. Dick gave me the confidence that I could succeed as a researcher, and passing that gift on to others is an amazing experience. Watching one of my mentees publish a paper or write a grant is like watching one of my kids say their first words or take their first steps. The satisfaction I get from mentoring and encouraging others is a major reason why I wanted to be president of a young, growing organization like SSEA.

    I’ve also worked with a lot of colleagues from other countries, and that is another reason I was attracted to SSEA. I was at the first SSEA meeting at Harvard University in October 2003, and the society was international even then. Jeff Arnett and Jenn Tanner worked hard to reach out to people from outside the United States, and their efforts have paid off. None of the other societies I belong to place such a strong emphasis on being international and on incorporating culture into their culture – and given how important culture is to my work, I knew SSEA would be my academic home as soon as I attended that first conference 11 years ago.

    I’m looking forward to the next conference in Miami – where I will be the host as well as the incoming president. I’m proud to live here and to call this city home. The cultural diversity in Miami is amazing – my kids have friends from so many different countries – and it reminds me of how important culture is in everything we do. I can’t wait to share this wonderful city with all of you next year. And I’m really excited to start our work together in SSEA.


    Seth J. Schwartz, President-Elect