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Clark Poll: More Than Half Of Emerging Adults In Constant Contact With Parents

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Adult children may be moving up and out of their childhood homes, but, thanks in part to new technology, the majority of young people between 18 and 29 are staying in touch with their parents on a daily basis.

The Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults found that 52 percent of so-called "emerging adults" are in contact with their parents through texting, email, phone or in person every day or almost every day. Another 27 percent said they were in contact with their parents at least a few times each week.

The nationwide poll of 1,029 18- to 29-year-olds was directed by Clark University Psychology professor Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, who coined the term "emerging adults" and has been studying the population spanning their late teens to late twenties for nearly 20 years.

"This frequent contact reflects relationships between emerging adults and parents that are generally close and harmonious," said Arnett. "Most young people still want their parents' guidance and support as they navigate their way toward adulthood."

Technology has played a role in this development. The ubiquity of cell phones, email, text messaging and social media have made it easier than ever for individuals to stay in constant contact with others, including their parents.

"The big change that I think we've all noticed is the growth of technology and the way emerging adults especially live such technology-oriented lives."

But Arnett said the close relationships between today's emerging adults and their parents are the product of a larger shift.

One reason Arnett cited was that parents today have fewer children. The birthrate today is around 1.9 children per woman, compared to 3.5 children per woman in 1960. With fewer children, parents spent more time and developed closer relationships with their offspring.

"The baby boomers changed American life in a lot of ways," Arnett said. "They didn't want to have a real strict seperation or hierarchy between parents and children the way they had with their parents when they were children. They wanted to be more like friends with their children, and I think they succeeded."

The average age of marriage has also risen from 21 in 1960 to 28 today. Many emerging adults, who already value their relationships with their parents highly, now remain single through most of their 20s rely more on their parents during the years that previous generations might have relied on a spouse.

"What has been most striking to me is how little has changed," Arnett said.

In the early 1990s, when Arnett first began studying emerging adults, the country was on its way out of a deep recession, much like today. But even during good economic times, said Arnett, emerging adults still struggle as they join the labor market, decide what kind of careers they are going to pursue and figure out how they are going to live their lives.

"It's always a struggle," he said. "That's more consistent than the ups and downs of the economy."

Arnett will be releasing a new advice book for parents in April of this year entitled "When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?" to share some of the insights he has garnered about this unique population over the past two decades.

"I wrote this book so that parents would have a guide to what is normal now and understand their kids better and help them along," he said. "It makes them less worried when they hear that really today it's normal for the 20s to be a time of upheaval."


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