Sociology today distinguishes more developmental stages of growing up than just childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, as commemorated in Leo Tolstoy’s trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. For the past two decades, sociologists have been exploring the concept of emerging adulthood, a transitional stage that occurs between adolescence and early adulthood. Researchers at the HSE Institute of Education have discovered that in Russia, one out of every two young respondents, with females more frequently than males, falls within the emerging adult category. The study findings have been published in Emerging Adulthood.
The study was carried out as part of the Strategic Project 'Social Policy for Sustainable Development and Inclusive Economic Growth' of HSE University's 'Priority 2030' programme.
Emerging adulthood (EA) is a relatively recently identified phase of life, believed to be associated with an increase in life expectancy and a slowdown in psychological maturation. The term, introduced by Jeffrey Arnett in 2000, refers to a period which begins in late adolescence, around the ages of 15 to 19, and can extend until the age of 30.
Emerging adults leave their family homes, try new experiences, and gradually progress toward important life choices such as whether to get married, have children, and what career path to follow. This period is also characterised by a specific mindset: emerging adults perceive their life as a time for identity exploration, experimentation, opportunity, and self-focus.
The Inventory of the Dimensions of Emerging Adulthood (IDEA) proposed by the American researcher Alan Reifman includes five distinctive features of this stage: identity exploration; negativity/instability; self-focus; feeling in-between; and experimentation/possibilities. Researchers of HSE University used the inventory to examine the phenomenon of emerging adulthood in Russia.
There are reasons to believe that the EA theory is applicable to Russia. An increasing number of young people continue their education at higher educational institutions. Furthermore, people are getting married and having children at progressively later ages. As a result, many young individuals postpone the transition to traditional adult roles.
According to data from 2021, 68% of high school graduates in Russia continue their education at a higher educational institution, up from 62% in 2001. The average age of marriage increased from 22 for women and 24 for men in the mid-1990s to 25 for women and 28 for men in 2016. In 2019, only 47% of men and 56% of women in Russia got married before the age of 30.
The average age for having the first child for women has also shown a significant upward trend in the past two decades, reaching 26 in 2020, up from 22.3 years in the early 1990s.
The researchers used data from the Russian Longitudinal Panel Study of Educational and Occupational Trajectories (TrEC), an ongoing survey that has been following more than 3,000 young people from 42 Russian regions since 2012. The questions relevant to EA were included in the tenth wave of the survey (autumn 2021), when the respondents were between 24 and 26 years old.
Emerging adulthood was measured using three items from the IDEA scale: identity exploration, self-focus, and experimentation/possibilities.
Unfortunately, we were not able to include all the items from the IDEA scale. TrEC is the only longitudinal survey in Russia that has a nationally representative sample of young adults, making it a valuable resource for studying life trajectories. Every year, numerous research centres express interest in having their questions incorporated into the survey; therefore, the number of items that can be added to the questionnaire is strictly limited.
More than 65% of respondents answered positively to EA-related questions. Furthermore, there is a significant correlation between answers to each of the items. This suggests that the majority of the sample identify with this life stage.
The study findings indicate that the perception of emerging adulthood varies among the study participants and is influenced by a range of factors. Participants with higher social and economic status, a higher subjective assessment of their family's material well-being, and those with higher education, tend to score more highly on the IDEA scale.
Additionally, marital and parental statuses are important, as unmarried and childless respondents are more likely to identify with EA. However, these factors only explain 13% of the variance.
The more educated and financially secure you are, the longer you can delay the onset of adulthood. Accordingly, less socially privileged individuals can only experience a shorter period of emerging adulthood before they assume the responsibility for their family's well-being.
It is noteworthy that women, on average, score higher on the IDEA scale than men. This finding contradicts some earlier studies in which no gender differences were observed. For additional analysis, the researchers performed a statistical test and found a significant gender difference in the self-discovery item, with women scoring higher than men. This suggests that women may place more importance on self-discovery during this stage of their lives.
In comparison with other countries, the presentation of EA in Russia is similar to that of the USA, Japan, Greece, Ghana, Philippines, and Poland. In these countries, most young people of a similar age perceive this life stage as the time for identity exploration, self-focus, and experimentation/possibilities.
According to the researcher, data that reflects the willingness of young people to make life choices and to take responsibility for themselves and their country can assist in predicting the labour market situation and prove valuable when designing educational programs that cater to the needs of young people. Moreover, this data can be used to develop support measures and select suitable social interventions, acknowledging that the process of maturing and attaining the subjective status of an adult is influenced by income, gender, marital status, and other subjective and objective individual variables.