Distinguishing Features of Emerging Adulthood: The Role of Self-Classification as an Adult


emerging adults, criteria for adulthood, identity, risk behaviors


Research reveals that most 18- to 25-year-old individuals do not consider themselves to be adults. This time period between adolescence and adulthood has been newly defined as emerging adulthood. The purpose of this study was to (a) attempt to identify perceived adults and (b) explore whether differences in adulthood criteria, achievement of those criteria, identity issues, risk-taking behaviors, and depression are based on perceived adult status. Findings from 232 college students’ responses revealed that there was a small group of perceived adults, and when compared to their emerging-adult peers, they(a) did not differ on the adulthood criteria they used; (b) believed they had achieved more of the adulthood criteria; (c) had a better sense of their overall identity, as well as what type of person they wanted as a romantic partner; (d) were less depressed; and (e) engaged in fewer risk behaviors (e.g., illegal drug use and drunk driving).

Original Publication Citation

Nelson, L. J., & Barry, C. M. (2005). Distinguishing features of emerging adulthood: The role of self-classification as an adult. Journal of Adolescent Research, 20, 242-262.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Adolescent Research




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor