emerging adulthood, conceptions of adulthood, adulthood, development, cultural diversity


The beginning of adulthood may well be the most nebulous transition of the life course. It is fair to say that no clear-cut universal marker indicates the beginning of adulthood, leading to widespread cultural and individual diversity in the beliefs of you people aged 18–29 regarding what it means to be an adult and how the transition into adulthood should occur. This chapter examines this complexity. The authors review the literature exploring the conceptions of adulthood of young people begging at age 18 and continuing through the third decade; examining how these conceptions have been linked to beliefs, behaviors, and relationships during the third decade of life; (c) recommend numerous areas of inquiry needed to better understand factors related to young people's conceptions of adulthood; and (d) provide some thoughts on the implications of the extant research for those who work with young people.

Original Publication Citation

Nelson, L. J., & Luster, S. S. (2015). "Adulthood" By Whose Definition? The Complexity of Emerging Adults' Conceptions of Adulthood. In J. J Arnett (Ed.), Handbook of Emerging Adulthood, pp. 421-437. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Oxford University Press




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor