Know any 20-something-year-olds who don’t seem to be acting their age? It might not be in your head.

According to Jeffrey Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, there is a quiet revolution taking place across the world in which people in their 20s are taking longer to settle down. He calls it "emerging adulthood" and has been studying the subject for more than a decade, interviewing hundreds of 20-something-year-olds about how and why their road to adulthood is a longer route than their parents.

FOX Business sat down with Arnett to discuss this phenomenon and what it means for everyone's bottom line.

What is emerging adulthood?

Emerging adulthood is a new life stage that developed in the United States and other industrialized countries over the last half century. Fifty years ago people used to go from adolescence to young adulthood at about age 20. That was the age that people really entered a stable job, got married or were about to become married, and had a child or were about to have a child. Now it’s really true: 30 is the new 20.

What are they looking for in their 20s?

They are looking for the ideal job for one thing. They have very high expectations for work. They expect work to be enjoyable and self-fulfilling, and of course that’s not easy work to find. So they change jobs a lot during their 20s. The average number of job changes from age 20 to 29,  according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is seven. They are trying to find a job that suits them just right, that pays reasonably well and that they can look forward to going to in the morning.

Is this trend happening mostly in the U.S. or is there a similar phenomenon in other countries?

It’s not just the U.S. It’s all over Europe; it’s all over industrialized Asian countries, Japan and South Korea. All over you see the same phenomenon, which is that people stay in education longer and that they take longer to enter stable work. They enter marriage later. They enter parenthood later.


How do these emerging adults become more financially savvy?

Well, I don’t think they are very financially savvy right now. They are looking for something better, which is why they changed their jobs so much. But during their 20s, they don’t have much money. They want to live a good lifestyle. They want to have nice things. They want to go on vacations. So, a lot of time, they accumulate quite a lot of debt by the time they come out of their 20s.

Is there anything they can do to improve their personal finances?

Well, I think they can moderate their consumption in their 20s when they don’t have much money. Probably the other thing would be to get some good financial advice from their parents and other adults who may know better than they do about the things to avoid.

You say nearly half of emerging adults will move back in with their parents. Do their parents need to plan for this?

I don’t think the parents really need to plan. Although it may postpone the transition for them to moving to a smaller house as many of them wish to do once their children leave. But other than that the children aren’t likely to be a great financial burden in their 20s.


So parents don’t need to start factoring this as part of their long term plan?

I think parents do need to factor it in terms of when they are going to make the transition to a smaller household and perhaps to retirement as well because it does require some money for them to sustain their emerging adults through their 20s. At least ideally, most of the emerging adults will be able to rely at least somewhat on parental support while they really need it in their 20s, but it’s really up to parents how much support they want to provide.

These emerging adults, do they need to be coddled more by their parents?

I don’t think there is a whole lot of coddling to be honest. For one thing by the time emerging adults get to their 20s, they really don’t want their parents’ financial help by and large. For two reasons: They want to feel like they are self-sufficient they want to feel like they can handle their own affairs and that means being financially independent. The other thing is parents’ financial help almost always comes with strings attached. It means they can’t decide for themselves what car to buy, where to live, whom to live with.... And most of them would rather live in a lower standard of living and be financially independent than be financially dependent on their parents, even if that means they could live slightly better.

Now this statistic is staggering to me. You say someone in their 20s is likely to change jobs 7 times. Does that include internships and summer jobs?

It’s a U.S. Department of Labor statistic and it may include short-term jobs of the kind that you described. But we all know, I think, from knowing people in their 20s, that they do change jobs very frequently and it’s mainly based on the fact that they have this ideal of the perfect job that they want that’s going to pay well and that’s going to be personally fulfilling and that’s very difficult to find. By the end of their 20s, they basically take the best that they can get and then stick with it for longer. But they spend most of their 20s trying to reach that ideal of just the right job.

And what does that mean for those who employee these emerging adults?

Well it means they need to get used to a lot of turnover. But it also means that they need to find ways to engage their emerging adults more effectively. I think a lot of times when these employers hire these low-level employees, they don’t take them seriously. And they don’t involve them in very much. They give them the lowest level work that no one else wants and that’s understandable because they come into the work place not knowing very much. But, for their employers, who want to keep their young employees around longer and develop them into longer term employees it’s important to give them something engaging from the beginning.

Does all the economic distress play into why the emerging adult is staying home longer?

It does but only slightly. Over the last fifty years, it’s been a very steady pattern through boom and bust of longer education, longer time to settle into the work place later marriage and later parenthood. Obviously, it does make a difference to have the unemployment rate now be 10% instead of 5% as it was a few years ago because whatever it is for the adult population at large, it’s always about twice that high for emerging adults. So that means right now, with the unemployment rate being about 10%, it’s about 20% for emerging adults. And that’s of course very stressful for them and makes it very difficult to make a smooth transition to the work place

So are these 20-something-year olds are they good with balancing a checkbook?

Well they are about as good as their parents are which is to say not very good. They are just getting their feet wet in terms of running their own finances. They are bound to make mistakes, both in terms of balancing the checkbook as well as what credit to take out and what interest rates to look for….There is a lot of trial and error that goes on in their 20s.

What is the positive of these emerging adults? What’s the positive for the employer? What’s the positive for the parents?

Well, the positive for the parents is that the emerging adults like them a lot more than they typically did in adolescence. They get along a lot better. And usually it’s because they don’t live together anymore and it’s a lot easier to get along with somebody you don’t see every day and you don’t have to have arguments about who left the wet towel on the floor and who ate the last doughnut…. But it’s also [true] because emerging adults really are different than adolescents. 

They see their parents differently. They are a lot nicer to them. They take their perspective a lot better and they like being together often, from one adult to another. And, that’s something that is gratifying to both the emerging adult and their parents.

For employers I think that the bonus here is that emerging adults really do have a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. [There’s] a lot of optimism when employers can find a way to channel that and make use of it which can be a very powerful resource.

Anything to add, Professor?

Just that I hope that people can learn to see the upside to [emerging adults]. There is a lot of complaining about them, a lot of criticism of them being lazy and unmotivated and sponging off their parents. I don’t think that stereotype is true of most of them and I know because I have interviewed many hundreds of them, there really is a lot of good to them. They really are very optimistic and idealistic and they have a lot to be developed by the right employer.