Established Adulthood

What is Established Adulthood?

Established adulthood is the period of development from age 30-45. It is fully outlined in our recently published theoretical paper, published in American Psychologist. A brief description, taken from the paper is below.

Established Adulthood: A Developmental Theory of Ages 30-45

Over the past half-century, increased research attention has been paid to adulthood (e.g. emerging adulthood, older adulthood). However, one period of adult development is under-defined and under-explored – the age period from 30-45. While the later years of this period (40-45) are often combined with midlife, we believe that ages 30-45 is a unique developmental period and should be studied as such. Consequently, our research lab is developing theory and conducting research on Established Adulthood, highlighting this period’s uniqueness from other developmental periods across the lifespan. We are also investigating its historical and cultural variations, and making theoretical and empirical arguments for why this period of development deserves increased attention from researchers and theorists. 

What Makes Established Adulthood Special?

For many people in developed countries, the rise of emerging adulthood (the developmental period that takes place roughly between ages 18-29) has resulted in the postponement of enduring commitments in work and relationships until the thirties and forties. Consequently, established adulthood is an eventful and important period of the lifespan during which intense focus and energy is directed toward the formation and maintenance of a long-term committed partnership, progressing in a chosen career, and for those who become parents, raising young children. Because of the convergence of these developmental tasks during established adulthood, established adults may experience heightened stress as they struggle to manage multiple demands in work and relationships. However, for many, this period also brings with it a number of rewards such as stability in career and relationships, good health, and pride in achievements.

Why do we Need a Theory of Established Adulthood?

There are a number of reasons why a theory of established adulthood is needed.

First, there is no current common terminology for this period of the lifespan. It has sometimes been referred to as “young adulthood,” but this term has been applied as young as age 18 and as old as age 45 (Arnett, 2015). It is sometimes referred to as part of “middle adulthood,” but midlife theory and research more often focuses on ages 40 to 60 and can extend as high as age 65 (Lachman, 2004; Lachman et al., 2015).Without an agreed upon term for the period after emerging adulthood and before midlife, it is hard to compile the research base necessary to gain a complete understanding of this period.

Second, while there has been abundant research on separate domains of work, marriage, and parenthood during established adulthood, this research has been domain specific and has not yet been unified in a theoretical conception of development. Consequently, our work on established adulthood seeks to pull from and integrate multiple domains of research to outline the ways in which established adulthood is distinct from other periods of the lifespan demographically, psychologically, and socially.

Finally, we believe that it is imperative to build a developmental theory of this period because as noted above, in developed countries the years from 30 to 45 are often the most intense and demanding years of adult life with numerous obligations in both work and family domains. Additionally, successes or difficulties in handling the intensity of the intersection of these developmental tasks may profoundly influence the direction of a person’s adult life. As such, better understanding this period of the lifespan may help us support established adults through policy programs or therapeutic interventions.

Interested in Helping us Investigate Established Adulthood?

If you are are an established adult, you can participate in our research study! We are currently interviewing people from all walks of life on their experiences of this period of development, Interview are conducted via zoom, and take anywhere between 1 – 2 hours, depending on how much you have to say. Your interview will not be linked to your identity – we promise to protect your anonymity! If you choose to participate in this research your experience will shape how we think about and study established adulthood! To participate please email: lifespanlab@emmanuel.edu

If you are a researcher, looking to collaborate on established adulthood research, please contact Dr. Clare Mehta at mehtac@emmanuel.edu