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Adult Developmental Stages: Adults in Their 20's

Updated on April 23, 2015

Early Adulthood

The twenties are a time for establishing long-term intimate relationships, choosing a lifestyle and adjusting to it, deciding on a career and gaining the education and knowledge to execute chosen occupation, as well as seeking love and managing friends and family.

The possibilities in twenties make this decade especially malleable and a monumental time.

What it is Like Being in Your 20's


Being Twenty Something

Adults in their twenties are discovering themselves. The twenties are all about launching away from family of origin towards independence. According to The New York Times, sociologists define the twenties decade as marked by five milestones:

  • Completing school
  • Leaving home
  • Becoming financially independent
  • Marrying or finding a lifelong mate
  • Having a child

There are a lot of uncertainties, challenges, changes, exploring and establishing in the twenties. No doubt this makes this stage of adulthood one that is more self-focused than any other time in an adult's life. Despite the enormous period of self-discovering and carrying out one's life, the twenties also embody anxiety, uncertainty, heartache, frustration, and loneliness. With the dialectic positive and negative changes the twenties are truly a decade of ambivalence and stress.

Defining the Decade: Why Your 20's Matter

  • Move away from home
  • Graduations
  • Finding a job
  • Establishing a career
  • Finding love
  • Social life
  • Instability
  • Taking Risks
  • Explore identity
  • Self focus
  • Defining self
  • Choosing a life partner
  • Marriage
  • Begin a family

The Twenty Years

Emerging adulthood demands 20-something year olds to try out various possibilities. In this age of possibilities, optimism flourishes as emerging adults see themselves as having opportunities to transform their lives. At the same time, external struggles can sabotage dreams. This struggle of acquiring dreams and feeling defeated by dreams is part of the process all twenty year olds go through. In love, career, school, and living the twenties require a certain amount of emotional growing pain. Instability and the transient nature of the twenties begin to build a foundation for later adulthood. Learning how to cope with emotional pain, heartache, and disappointments develop coping skills that can be applied in the future.

Fallin in Love


What do you think?

What do you believe is the common stress level for most 20-something year olds?

See results

Searching for- Who Am I?

Searching for, “Who am I?” forges adult identity through a considerable amount of trial and error in the twenties. Choices made in the twenties feel like they will drastically affect the rest of our lives. At times when things seem stagnate, 20-something year olds feel utterly lost and ache from hardship and lost love. It is hard not to compare what you do not have to others who seem to have it all together and are striving. However, these years of adjustment, ambiguity, and insecurity is something all emerging adults go through.

Being allowed to make wrong decisions and learning from them is an important part of this process. Emerging adults find out who they are by scrabbling through mistakes and successes, slowly growing a sense of self. By the time one leaves their twenties, they benefit from the wayward experiences accrued.

Snapshot of What it is Like to Be 20-Something

Discover: who am I
May have a series of relationships of falling in love and being broken hearted
Choose a Career
Discover: what matters most
Looking for a life long mate
Attend a University or College
Decide on a career
Worry about future
May marry and begin a family of own
Usually have little to no savings
Women are in the prime of their childbearing years
More Impulsive
Move away from family of origin
May not know how to spend and save responsibly
Body recovers more easily from illness and injuries
Work through childhood hurts and memories
May wish to search and reunite with significant family members who have been absent
May acquire debt due to major investments and purchase like eduction, car, rent
Find a place to live
Young skin quality and elasticity
Serious mental illness usually manifests in young adulthood
May feel depressed, lonely if not in a committed relationship
May still depend on parents for financial support

Emerging Adulthood

Advice for Adults in Their Twenties

The twenties are a transient decade.

According to the Huff Post, "No one beyond their youth wants to be in their twenties again. These are the most difficult years of all."

With all the significant changes one could easily argue the twenties are one of the most stressful decades to navigate through.

Here is some advice to help you manage your twenties:

  • Everyone gets jealous of other's who seem to have more- a better career, getting married already, having children when you are still struggling to find a decent job. Instead of focusing on what you do not have, focus on what you do have. Count your blessings.
  • Know you are young, you still have time to build the future you want. If you do not like where you life is heading begin to set goalsto make the necessary changes of where you want to be.
  • No one leaves the twenties without regret and making bad decisions. Learn to forgive yourself and others. Learn from your mistakes.
  • Enjoy your youth. Your body is at its prime, enjoy outdoor activities, exercise, and not having to pamper your body to get through the day.
  • Take care of your body now. Learning healthy habits in your twenties can benefit you long term.
  • Learn to manage stress.
  • Try therapy.
  • The twenties begin to teach us how to deal with difficult people and huge disappointments. Sometimes our most trying times enables us to build better coping skills and become a better person.
  • Know things move fast in your twenties. If you are having a difficult time, know it will not always be this way. Pray. Seek support and believe it will get better.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and any drug use. They make coping and getting through your twenties even harder.

Getting Married


The Average age of Marriage

According to Wikipedia the average age of adults first marriage is in their twenties in most countries. Getting married is a significant life change making the twenties a defining life altering moment for adults. Marriage is difficult for all couples, but may be more difficult for young adults who have not established themselves financially. However, the rewards of marrying young and struggling as a committed couple can strengthen the marriage, increase empathy, and a determination that says, "if we can make it through this, we can make it through anything."

Some young adults in their twenties wait to get married. Instead, they finish their education and establish their careers before they launch into a committed relationship. Other's delay marriage simply because they have not met the right person yet.

The Median Age of First Marriage

United States
United Kingdom

New Mom


The Average Age of New Moms

According to the USA Today in 2009, the average age of a new mother in the USA is 25 and in other developed countries the average age is 29. Becoming a father or mother for the first time creates a significant change in identity and future choices.

Young 20-something year old parents now have to balance parenthood, a young career, and a possible relationship with their partner as well as their ties with their family of origin, future goals, and financial restraints. This unquestionable, makes this stage in adulthood extremely stressful. Those who begin a family young may feel their peers have more money, more career opportunities, and more freedom. However, starting a family young allows for 20-something year olds to have more freedom when they get older.

Being Young


The Twenties are Significant

The twenties are a decade that sets the foundation for the future. The twenties begin for most young adults starting out in college, followed by that big twenty-first birthday, then 20-something year olds graduate from college, start a career, seek love, all while moving several times and being financially strapped. Somehow adults leave the twenties with degrees, finding or have found a lifelong partner, homeowners and possibly with kids. Not all young adults leave the twenties with degrees, married, and starting a family. It is becoming more and more common for people to wait until their thirties to settle down.

Carly Sullens 2013. All Rights Reserved.


Submit a Comment

  • CarlySullens profile imageAUTHOR

    Carly Sullens 

    4 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

    Marie Flint,

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Your input is valuable as your perspective is unique, but not uncommon.

  • Marie Flint profile image

    Marie Flint 

    4 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida USA

    Carly, I read the article because my younger daughter is now 23. With Asperger's, she's very different. Marriage is a long-shot for her, as she has no interest in men and lives in a group home with other females with special needs. Also, the house is in a rural area, so social life is diminished relative to urban settings.

    I am encouraging her to pursue a career and hoping she will begin to assert herself. While I don't feel the article fits her personality traits, I voted it "Useful."

    Thank you for sharing.

  • CarlySullens profile imageAUTHOR

    Carly Sullens 

    5 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

    Hi Gordon, thank you for your honesty. It sounds like your twenties were defiantly a challenge and difficult time for you. It sounds also that the lessons you learned helped to form the man you are today. I work with many young adults as a counselor, which inspired this hub. They struggle so much. As a way to help them feel validated I talk with them how the 20's are one of the most difficult decades in my opinion. Many of the reasons I have outlined in this hub.

    Thank you for sharing and I am glad you share so much of yourself in your writings and cooking.

  • Gordon Hamilton profile image

    Gordon Hamilton 

    5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

    A very comprehensive analysis and a period of life which is a source of much regret for me. Unfortunately, my twenties were largely spent over-celebrating escape from the Hell of school. I hated school more than anyone I've ever known and when I left it, got a job and started earning (fairly decent) money, I was largely in the pub drinking when I wasn't at work or away fishing. Most of my twenties and early thirties are pretty hazy as a result and I always try really hard to advise anyone else when I see them making the same mistake. Only in recent years looking back have I come to realise all that I missed. I'll always regret it - but can never of course change it.

  • janetwrites profile image

    Janet Giessl 

    5 years ago from Georgia country

    Very interesting hub. I'm now in my thirties and I feel more settled down and I know what I want now. Whereas in my twenties a lot of things happened: I finished my studies, left my parent's home, started to work, married, got my first child. Many of these things were stressful. Now I have two children and a lot of stress but I can better cope with this situation.

  • CarlySullens profile imageAUTHOR

    Carly Sullens 

    5 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

    I liked my thirties better than my twenties for that same reason, Chace. I knew who I was. :)

  • CarlySullens profile imageAUTHOR

    Carly Sullens 

    5 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

    aud99, I am glad you had a great twenties. There is a lot of freedom in your twenties whereas you thirties and forties you can feel more tied down.

  • CarlySullens profile imageAUTHOR

    Carly Sullens 

    5 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

    Hi teaches, yes the twenties are just the beginning of adulthood. It is interesting that when you study development phases in psychology they lump all of adulthood together. Research is now suggesting that there are different phases of adulthood, and rightly so.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    5 years ago

    The medium age for marriage in the US has risen over the years, that is a good thing. Interesting post on adult develomental stages and I have learned something new today. I remember my twenties, and looking back it was only just a beginning for my total development.

  • aud99 profile image


    5 years ago

    The twenties for me was a great time. Not much of stress during that period. I think the thirties and forties are worse as you need to struggle with kids, mortgage and finances, especially if you still have a young family.

  • NornsMercy profile image


    5 years ago from Charlotte, NC

    Geez...the twenties is a very stressful time. They say your thirties and forties are awesome because you already know who you are, what you like, and you don't have that "teenage" drama! Voted up ++


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