Extended Adolescence: When 25 Is the New 18

Posted on October 31, 2017

“Twenty-five is the new 18, and delayed adolescence is no longer a theory, but a reality. In some ways, we’re all in a ‘psychosocial moratorium,’ experimenting with a society where swipes constitute dating and likes are the equivalent of conversation.”

Teens are no longer in a hurry to embrace the putative joys of adulthood, an analysis by researchers at San Diego State University and Bryn Mawr College suggest. According to their findings, when compared to older generations, today’s teenagers are less likely to drive, have sex, drink alcohol, or engage in other adult activities.

The extensive research included reviews of seven national surveys which had been conducted between 1976 and 2016, and thereby resulted in data of over eight million 13- to 19-year-olds from varying racial, economic and regional backgrounds. Participants were asked a variety of questions about how the they spent their time outside of school and responses were tracked over time.
Beyond just a drop in alcohol use and sexual activity, the study authors found that since around 2000, teens have become considerably less likely to drive, have an after-school job and date. By the early 2010s, it also appeared that 12th graders were going out far less frequently than 8th graders did in the 1990s. In 1991 54 percent of high schoolers reported having had sex at least once; in 2015 the number was down to 41 percent. What’s more, the decline in adult activity was consistent across all populations, and not influenced by race, gender or location. “I’ve seen so many articles in which experts said they didn’t know why the teen pregnancy rate was going down or opining that teens were behaving in a more virtuous way…or that they were lazy because fewer were working,” recalls Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State and the lead author on the study.
“Our results show that it’s probably not that today’s teens are more virtuous, or more lazy—it’s just that they’re less likely to do adult things.” She adds that in terms of adult behaviors, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds of the past.

According to the researchers, the more likely explanation is based on the so-called “life history theory”, which suggests that exposure to an unpredictable, impoverished environment as a kid leads to faster development whereas children who grow up in stable environments with more resources tend to have a slower developmental course. The analysis found some evidence for this theory: adolescents were more likely to take part in adult activities if they came from larger families or those with lower incomes.

The explanation to the “life history theory” is that in families with means there is often more anticipation of years of schooling and career before one necessarily has to “grow up” – there is plenty of time for that later. A significant percentage of the U.S. population has on average become more affluent over the past few decades and are living longer, resulting in people waiting longer to get married and have children.

Category(s):Adult psychological development, Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Child Development, Life Purpose / Meaning / Inner-Guidance

Source material from Scientific American

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