Adult Development Theories: Erikson’s and Arnett’s Theories

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The time of the beginning of adulthood is a controversial measurement for defining this stage of one’s life. The reason for it is the difference of approaches of different scholars to the problem. The traditional specialists who developed stage theories with their specificities and struggles, such as Erik Erikson and his Stages of Psychosocial Development, intended to strictly determining the age and its characteristics. On the contrary, recent approaches are more oriented towards the description of events, whereas time limits remain vague. One of such ideas is the concept of emerging adulthood, as per Arnett’s theory. Therefore, the consideration of these two methods of examining adult development will be beneficial for understanding the related processes.

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Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Adult development from the perspective of personality formation implies passing through particular crises. This phenomenon of the creation of identity through interaction with other people is well-studied, and one of the scholars who pioneered this area was Erik Erikson. In the 1950s, he proposed the division of this process into stages based on the works of Sigmund Freud but with a focus on social dynamics (Orenstain & Lewis, 2020).

The sequence of eight periods used for this purpose is conditional upon a variety of factors affecting one’s progress. In other words, the decisions made by individuals at different times foster their development and allow classifying them accordingly (Orenstein & Lewis, 2020). At first, Erikson described the early stages of life, which included infancy, early childhood, preschool, school age, and adolescence (Cherry, 2020). The conflicts corresponding to them were trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, and identity vs. role confusion (Cherry, 2020). In this way, the formation of adults happens only after acquiring the knowledge and skills as per these struggles.

The consequent progress of individuals in life is explained by three stages, which are passed in sequence. They are referred to as young adulthood (19 to 40 years), middle adulthood (40 to 65 years), and maturity (65 years to death) (Cherry, 2020). These periods are also accompanied by a number of conflicts. Thus, young adulthood is described as the time when one learns to build relationships with other people, while failure in this aspect might lead to loneliness (Cherry, 2020). Middle adulthood presents the task of making a long-term impact on the world, such as having children or working for the benefit of the community (Cherry, 2020).

In turn, maturity is the time of reflection when people assess their lives and define their degree of happiness (Cherry, 2020). All of these stages play a significant role in the development of adults and help analyze their problems at different times.

Arnett’s Theory of Emerging Adulthood

The theory described above partially correlates with another approach developed by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett. It was created in 2000 and intended to describe the new phenomenon attributed to the age of 18 to 29 years (“What is emerging adulthood,” n.d.). The so-called theory of emerging adulthood was added to the previously examined stages because of the change in society contributing to the appearance of another category of adults, which was not included in other frameworks. This event was triggered by the promotion of individualism in industrial societies and the emphasized need for personal expression and self-realization (Wood et al., 2018).

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This population group was characterized by scholars as people of the specified age category who are willing to pursue education and other goals instead of entering the previously identified adult roles (“What is emerging adulthood,” n.d.). Due to this shift in society, they are considered as individuals who have not been affected by the struggles corresponding to the traditional stages of adulthood.

The difference between these citizens and full-fledged adults is in a variety of transitional events, which happened only for the latter. In general, they imply marriage and children for women and the responsibility for their families for men (Woods et al., 2018). First, emerging adults tend to live with their parents longer, and they also take more time to find a job they like (“What is emerging adulthood,” n.d.). Consequently, their financial independence is postponed, and this situation does not evoke any concerns in them. Second, they are less willing to take responsibility for themselves, and this fact leads to their inability to maintain long-term relationships with others (“What is emerging adulthood,” n.d.). In this way, the representatives of the identified population group do not possess any characteristics of adults in a traditional sense and, therefore, should be considered separately from them.


In conclusion, the examined theoretical approaches to describing adult development emphasize varying characteristics, which allow classifying people. For Erikson, they include the age groups of young and middle adulthood and maturity, which correspond to specific struggles. In turn, Arnett’s ideas are connected to the lack of independence in citizens of corresponding age due to societal shifts. The orientation of individuals on their personal goals emerging as a result of the highlighted importance of education and career creates a new category of adults. Thus, the consideration of the population’s trends cannot be thoroughly examined when using a single model, and the inclusion of varying views allows demonstrating a precise picture.


Cherry, K. (2020). Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Very Well Mind. Web.

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Orenstein, G., & Lewis, L. (2020). Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. StatPearls. Web.

What is emerging adulthood. (n.d.). The University of New Hampshire. Web.

Wood D., Crapnell, T., Lau, L., Bennett, A., Lotstein, D., Ferris, M., & Kuo, A. (2018). Emerging adulthood as a critical stage in the life course. In N. Halfon, C. Forrest, R. Lerner, & Faustman, E. (Eds.), Handbook of life course health development (pp. 123-143). Springer.

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PsychologyWriting. (2022, July 19). Adult Development Theories: Erikson’s and Arnett’s Theories. Retrieved from


PsychologyWriting. (2022, July 19). Adult Development Theories: Erikson’s and Arnett’s Theories.

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"Adult Development Theories: Erikson’s and Arnett’s Theories." PsychologyWriting, 19 July 2022,


PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Adult Development Theories: Erikson’s and Arnett’s Theories'. 19 July.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Adult Development Theories: Erikson’s and Arnett’s Theories." July 19, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Adult Development Theories: Erikson’s and Arnett’s Theories." July 19, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "Adult Development Theories: Erikson’s and Arnett’s Theories." July 19, 2022.