A New Lens on Emerging Adulthood: Fluidity as the Path to Settling Down

Shmuel Shulman

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


In recent years fewer young people make a smooth and linear transition to adulthood, and their lives seem to be characterized by instabilities and lack of commitment. However, when approaching the age of 30, the majority of young people are likely to have settled down. The major aim of this book is to understand how this gap between the instabilities and fluctuations of the 20s and the settling down when approaching the 30s is bridged. Based on a 12-year longitudinal study that followed 185 emerging adults from age 23 to age 35, with five assessments and two in-depth interviews, a different understanding of the journey that young people take is proposed. Reading career stories of emerging adults showed that the majority struggle to find their way in a changing world. A few progressed directly toward their goals, while others experienced difficulties and setbacks along the way but were able to find their way and readjust their goals over the years. Even those who had difficulties pursuing and achieving their dream were still struggling to keep jobs they did not necessarily like. Similar processes also characterized romantic development. Periods of romantic instabilities were found to serve as an arena for learning about relationships Conceptualized within the developmental systems theory, the author suggests that emerging adulthood instabilities and back-and-forth movements reflect progress toward developmental reorganization. Furthermore, fluidity and instabilities do not necessarily reflect getting lost but, rather, navigation aimed at developing new ways to make a successful transition to adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages302
ISBN (Electronic)9780190841867
ISBN (Print)9780190841836
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2024.


  • career development
  • developmental systems theory
  • evolutionary approach
  • fluidity
  • goal-directed
  • instability
  • journey to adulthood
  • personality development
  • romantic development
  • self-organization


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