He did a B.S. in Psychology, at Michigan State University in 1980. Five years later, he finished an M.A. in Developmental Psychology at University of Virginia. He finished his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, in the same field as his M.A., in 1986. From 1986-89, he was an Assistant Professor of Psychology, at Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, Georgia. From 1989-92, he was a Research Associate at the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago. From 1989-92, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Northwestern University Department of Psychiatry and the Committee on Human Development at the University of Chicago. From 1992-1998 he was an Associate Professor at the University of Missouri. From 1998 to 2005, he was a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, Department of Human Development and Department of Psychology. He was awarded tenure in 1996.
He authored a book on heavy metal subculture and teens, entitled Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation (1996, Westview Press). He also authored a textbook entitled Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach (Prentice Hall). In May 2013, he published a book (with Elizabeth Fishel), entitled Getting to 30: A Parent's Guide to the 20-Something Years'.
Emerging adulthood is a phase of the life span between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood, proposed by Arnett in a 2000 article in the American Psychologist. Emerging adulthood also encompasses late adolescence and early adulthood. It primarily applies to young adults in developed countries who do not have children, do not live in their own home, or do not have sufficient income to become fully independent in their early to late 20s.
Arnett says emerging adulthood is the period between 18 and 25 years of age where adolescents become more independent and explore various life possibilities. Emerging adulthood is a new demographic, is contentiously changing, and some believe that twenty-somethings have always struggled with "identity exploration, instability, self-focus, and feeling in-between".
Arnett suggests that there are a few reasons why the term young adulthood is not fit to describe the developmental period of the late teens and early twenties. First, the term "young adulthood" suggests that at this developmental stage, adulthood has already been reached. Arnett states that most people in this developmental stage believe they have not yet reached adulthood. Instead, they believe they are slowly progressing into adulthood, and thus the term "emerging adulthood" is much more appropriate.
What is more, if the years 18-25 are classified as "young adulthood," Arnett believes that it is then difficult to find an appropriate term for the thirties and that it is nonsensical to combine the late teenage years, twenties, and thirties together because the 18‑25 age period and the thirties are very distinct from one another. He says that while most 18- to 20-year-olds in the United States don't see themselves as adults and are still in the process of obtaining an education, are unmarried, and are childless, most people in their thirties in the United States see themselves as adults, have settled on a career, are married, and have at least one child.
Currently, it is appropriate to define adolescence as the period spanning ages 10 to 18. This is because people in this age group in the United States typically live at home with their parents, are undergoing pubertal changes, attend middle schools or junior high schools, and are involved in a "school-based peer culture". All of these characteristics are no longer normative after the age of 18, and it is therefore considered inappropriate to call the late teenage years and early twenties "adolescence" or "late adolescence". Furthermore, in the United States, the age of 18 is the age at which people are able to legally vote.Arnett, J. J. (2010). Adolescence and emerging adulthood: A cultural approach (4th ed.). Boston: Prentice Hall.
Arnett, J. J. (2008). The neglected 95%: Why American psychology needs to become less American. American Psychologist, 63(7), 602-614.
Arnett, J. J. (2008). From “worm food” to “infinite bliss”: Emerging adults’ views of life after death. From theory to research (pp. 231–243). PA: Templeton Foundation Press.
Arnett, J. J. (Ed.) (2007). International encyclopedia of adolescence. New York: Routledge.
Arnett, J. J. (Ed.) (2007). Encyclopedia of children, adolescents, and the media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Arnett, J. J. (2007). Adolescence and emerging adulthood: A cultural approach (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Arnett, J. J., & Tanner, J. L. (Eds.) (2006). Emerging adults in America: Coming of age in the 21st century. Washington, DC: American Psychogical Association.
Arnett, J. J. (2004). Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties. New York: Oxford University Press.
Arnett, J. J. (2002). The psychology of globalization. American Psychologist, 57, 774-783.
Arnett, J. J. (1991). Heavy metal music and reckless behavior among adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 20.6, 573-592.