Search for Schools

Early Adulthood Developmental Psychology

Learn about early adulthood development and careers in this area...

early adulthood development

The life stage called early adulthood defines individuals between the ages of 20 and 35, who are typically vibrant, active and healthy, and are focused on friendships, romance, child bearing and careers. Yet serious conditions, such as violent events, depression and eating disorders, can negatively impact young adults.

Physical Changes

Females reach their adult heights by age 18, and, except for some males who continue to grow in their early 20s, most have reached their adult heights by the age of 21. However, muscles continue to gain mass - especially among males, and both genders continue to add body fat. Average weight gain for both women and men is about 15 pounds.

Death rates due to disease are low in this life stage, but the rate of violence-related deaths is high. A 2005 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Violent Death Reporting System states that violent death is highest for people ages 20 to 24, and overall, men are more likely than women to die violently. Violent death includes homicide, suicide and motor-vehicle deaths. The CDC reports that of approximately 50,000 violent deaths in the United States each year, more than 56 percent of those deaths are suicide, and 30 percent are homicides.

Another area of concern for people in this age group is eating disorders, which include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 percent to 10 percent of individuals with anorexia die within 10 years after contracting the disease, and 18 percent to 20 percent die after 20 years.

Cognitive Changes

Debate among developmentalists center on whether or not to assign a formal cognitive stage to early adulthood. Earlier life stages result in dramatic and critical changes, whereas in early adulthood essential brain growth already has taken place, and individuals are now applying and using their knowledge, and analytical capabilities.

However many researchers point to continued changes, such as those taking place in the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex of the brain, which are areas where judgment, planning, speaking, and moving muscles are localized. Brain growth in this area only reaches final development in the early 20s.

Additionally, many theorists, such as Jean Piaget (1896-1980) noted a significant difference between adult and adolescent thinking. Adults have more flexibility in their thought patterns, understanding that there are multiple opinions on issues, and that there is more than one way to approach a problem.

Young adults are able to assimilate and synthesize complex and contradictory situations and arguments, and unlike adolescents, aren't set on finding absolute truths. They are focused on developing their careers and achieving independence from their families - a crucial requirement for balanced, well functioning adults.

Emotional Changes.

Theorist Erik Erikson (1902-1994) maintained that individuals develop in psychosocial stages, and that early adulthood marks the time when individuals seek to form intimate relationships. And Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) argued that a healthy adult is one who can "love and work." Simply stated, this developmental stage is characterized by relationships and work.

Intimacy can be actualized through close friendships, romantic relationships, starting a family, or all three. Erickson argued that a firm sense of identity, gained in earlier developmental stages, was integral to entering intimate relationships, and research has supported this argument. Studies repeatedly find that those lacking a strong sense of identity have less satisfactory relationships, and they tend to be more emotionally isolated, lonely and depressed.

And depression is a major concern for individuals in their 20s to mid-thirties: most people diagnosed with major depression receive a diagnosis in this life stage. Depression is linked to violence, especially suicide, and eating disorders.

The Eating Disorder Foundation asserts that "eating disorders are not just about food and weight. They are an attempt to use food intake and weight control to manage emotional conflicts that actually have little or nothing to do with food or weight." The Foundation reports that eating disorders affect more women than men, about 10 million U.S. women, but the rates in men are rising. Approximately 1 million U.S. men suffer from an eating disorder, a number that has doubled in the last ten years.

And episodes of mild or severe depression in earlier developmental stages should not be minimized. A 2009 article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found a link between mild adolescent depression and depression in early and later adulthood. The article cited a study that started in 1983, and followed teenagers, identified as having mood, anxiety (see Anxiety) and eating disorders, disruptive behaviors, and substance abuse problems, into their 20s and 30s. These teens reported significant, major depression in adulthood - and they were more likely to suffer from anxiety and eating disorders as adults.

Developmental psychology professionals are often involved in designing programs that enhance social problem-solving and coping skills, and skills dealing with stressful life events. They work to develop programs designed to help adults with a host of issues, including eating disorders, depression, and other conditions that affect daily living. They also research and study intimacy issues, and develop programs that help individuals find rewarding and suitable careers.

If you are interested in helping young adults lead fulfilling personal and vocational lives, you should consider a career in the Developmental Psychology field. In most cases, a master's degree is required, and a PhD in psychology or a related field is required for positions that involve research and teaching responsibilities.

Also, learn more about the psychology career licensing processes and what the requirements for licensure are: Psychology Career Licensure.

Developmental Psychology Schools & Colleges

Searching Searching ...

Matching School Ads
5 Program(s) Found
University of Phoenix , Online (campus option available)
  • Phoenix Career Services™ help students find careers that match their interests & map out a personalized career plan.
  • Mentorships & networking opportunities available through Alumni Association of 800,000+ graduates.
  • Flexible start date and class schedules.
  • 100+ locations and online options.
  • Offers special military rates and special advisors who have a military background.
  • Students can earn credits for applicable military training and education.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
5 Program(s) Found
  • According to a Walden-sponsored study, 88.2% of graduates are very satisfied or satisfied with their education and more than 85% of students are likely or very likely to recommend the school to others.
  • In that same study, 88% of graduates said their education helped them enhance their professional performance.
  • Students can save 15% on tuition over the lifetime of their program if they are active-duty military, a veteran, or an employee of the Veteran’s Administration.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
5 Program(s) Found
Argosy University , Online (campus option available)
  • Formed in 2001, it has 28 locations across the United States.
  • Offers customized blend format of online and campus classes.
  • Extensive activity in the local campus communities.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
4 Program(s) Found
  • Ranked #8 in the 2013 Best Online Undergrad Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
  • 70% graduation rate– significantly higher than the national average of 59%. 
  • Ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. 
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations that accredit public and private colleges and universities in the United States.  
  • Has a network of 26 campuses.
Show more [+]
5 Program(s) Found
  • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor's Programs in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Implements a one-to-one teaching model, partnering one student with one faculty member in each course.
  • 100% of faculty members hold doctoral degrees.
  • No physical residency requirements, allowing students to pursue their degree online.
  • Committed to innovation, diversity, excellence, and accountability since its founding in 1996.
  • Offers several programs in business, education, psychology, and more.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
5 Program(s) Found
  • Features 43 degree programs and more than 142 specializations.
  • Offers several ways to save on tuition, including multiple grant and scholarship opportunities, low-cost credits, accelerated programs, and more.
  • Reduced tuition, transfer credits, and other benefits are available for all military service members and veterans.
  • Allows students to preview a free, one-week mini course to give an accurate impression of the student experience.
  • Accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association (NCA).
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
2 Program(s) Found
  • The main campus is located in Fort Lauderdale, with campuses located throughout the State of Florida and internationally.
  • Transfer credits from non-U.S. colleges/universities are evaluated and granted on a course equivalency basis.
  • Department of Student Services and resources assists students with résumé preparation, interviewing skills coaching, mock interviewing, professional development workshops, and more.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
5 Program(s) Found

• Founded in 1949, Grand Canyon University is a premier, private, accredited, nondenominational Christian university located in Phoenix, Arizona
• Its student-faculty ratio is 16:1 and 33.9% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.
• As a Christian university, the school encourages students to find their purpose in Christ, with an emphasis on applying Christian values and ethics to the workplace.
• 65% of students have cars on campus, and alcohol is not permitted for students of legal age.

Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
1 Program(s) Found
  • Online MBA program ranked 6th in the USA by CEO magazine. 
  • In a university-sponsored survey, 4 out of 5 alumni reported being satisfied with their experience.
  • #1 Online School for military veterans according to Military Times.
  • 75,000+ graduates across all industries offer extensive networking opportunities. 
  • My Unique Student Experience (M.U.S.E.) lets students watch, view, read, or hear content. 
  • Smartphone app available for on-the-go learning. 
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
2 Program(s) Found
  • Average class size is 25, allowing for more one-on-one time with instructors.
  • Has a 97% employment rate among available graduates.
  • All  graduates receive Lifetime Employment  Assistance—free and forever.
  • Michigan's largest independent college.
  • Most instructors are working professionals in the fields they teach.
  • Programs are continuously updated to ensure classes are career-relevant and in sync with what's needed in the industry
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses