Young and Emerging Adults


The term “young adult” can refer to anyone in their teens or early 20s. Generally, a young adult is someone in the years following adolescence, though different definitions of this age classification exist and vary in scope. Two common age ranges considered to define “young adulthood” are 18 to 22 and 18 to 25 years old. “Emerging adulthood” is another general term for the period of life between the ages of 18 and 29 and is usually defined by certain transitional events, like leaving home, finishing education, and finding employment. Referring to people by their age group or generation (people in their 20s, Generation Z, etc.) is one way to be more specific when discussing or referring to young and emerging adults. Because there are many terms for age and life stage, terminology is a matter of individual preference and should be treated as such.


The United States is home to over 30 million young and emerging adults. Americans entering adulthood are doing so under unique circumstances: during a period marked by a global pandemic, political polarization and unrest, economic instability and increasing economic inequality, low social mobility, and increasing costs of living and education. Navigating these challenges while also making important life decisions, becoming financially independent, and developing a personal identity places physical, mental, and emotional stress on young people. 


Despite the common belief that people in this life stage are at their healthiest, young and emerging adults experience a variety of unique physical, mental, and behavioral health challenges. Compared to other age groups, young adults are the most likely to die or be injured from motor vehicle accidents, homicides, mental health problems, sexually transmitted infections, and substance abuse. Young adulthood is also a period of psychological vulnerability. The onset of many psychological conditions, like schizophrenia, mood disorders, and substance use disorders, often occurs during young adulthood. Behavioral health is an especially salient topic when discussing young and emerging adults. Young adulthood is the life stage where many risky behaviors emerge and/or peak. As adolescents age into their 20s, they are more likely to smoke, binge drink, use drugs, and engage in unsafe sexual behaviors. Young adults also have lower rates of healthcare utilization compared to other age groups. The lack of utilization of and access to mental healthcare among young and emerging adults is particularly troublesome—75% of young adults experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder do not receive treatment or support services, and the portion of young adults that do receive care are more likely to drop out of or discontinue treatment than older adults and adolescents. 


Some health and well-being indicators have been improving among young adults, despite these challenges; recent reviews have shown decreased rates of suicide, gonorrhea, and cigarette use, but not all young people have reaped the benefits. Systemic racism, discrimination, and prejudice puts young people of color at particular risk for poor health outcomes. Experiencing bias and discriminatory behavior has been linked to worse educational and employment outcomes, poor physical and psychological health, and undue amounts of stress. For example, young Black and Hispanic/Latinx people are overrepresented among those who drop out of high school, an event which is strongly associated with poor future outcomes, like joblessness and chronic disease. Differential treatment of young people of color in school, particularly in disciplinary practices, is also  associated with poor outcomes later in life. Almost 50% of Black males have been arrested once by age 23. Additionally, young and emerging adults that are economically poor, disabled, LGBTQ+, and/or of color experience compounding marginalizations and are overall more likely to struggle to thrive. 


Achieving health equity and justice for young and emerging adults requires continued dedication to their well-being. It is important to remember that many of the negative health outcomes that young and emerging adults face are preventable. Special attention should be paid to marginalized groups, especially young adults of color, in order to improve their access to opportunities, care, and health equity. Institutionalizing and operationalizing equity and justice throughout education, employment, government, and health care systems/programs for young adults will require organizations, allies, and systems to deeply center and follow the leadership of people with lived experience. Community-led processes, self-representation, and centering the perspectives and voices of young and emerging adults are a few effective tactics communities can leverage to advance equity and well-being.


Resources & Tools


Staff Pick!
First page of Well-Being Assessment (Youth)
Well-being Assessment (Youth)
Resource - Assessment
Brought to you by IHI
Bold letters
Priority Populations Channel
Resource - Data Bank/repository
Brought to you by Community Commons
Staff Pick!
First page of Well-Being Assessment (Adult - 24 items)
Well-being Assessment (Adult 24 - items)
Resource - Assessment
Brought to you by IHI
Photo of author's mother, Debra Bond-Yancey: A smiling woman with shoulder-length gray hair leaning on an old green gate in front of green fir trees
Reflecting on My Mom’s Death: Moving Toward A More Complex Understanding of Health, Disability, And Dying
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 03/28/2023
Illustration of six people standing side-by-side, each with a different color shirt (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple) and their pronouns written across their chest.
Beyond Inclusion: Pronoun Use for Health and Well-Being
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
young couple in shadow profile Photo by Jake Dela Concepcion on Unsplash
Bright Spot: Reducing the Risk
Resource - Model Policy
Brought to you by 100MHL
Cover page of A Review of the Domains of Well-Being for Young People report
A Review of the Domains of Well-Being for Young People
Resource - Report
Brought to you by Urban Institute
PDF Cover: Conversation Guide: Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Renewal for Youth
Conversation Guide: Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Renewal for Youth
Resource - Guide/handbook
Brought to you by Living Room Conversations
youth skateboarding Photo by Daria Tumanova on Unsplash
Bright Spot: Seeking Safety for Adolescents
Resource - Model Policy
Brought to you by 100MHL
Screen capture of State Laws to Support Youth Experiencing Homelessness webpage
State Laws to Support Youth Experiencing Homelessness
Resource
Brought to you by SchoolHouse Connection
two men talking Photo by NONRESIDENT on Unsplash
Bright Spot: Applied Suicide Prevention Skills (ASIST)
Resource - Model Policy
Brought to you by 100MHL
Screen grab of Ask an Advocate
Ask an Advocate
Resource - Podcast
Brought to you by APHA
PDF Cover: My Body, Whose Choice? A Call to Advance Reproductive Justice in Pediatric Training
“My Body, Whose Choice?” A Call to Advance Reproductive Justice in Pediatric Training
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by American Academy of Pediatrics
First page of Age of Onset of Mental Disorders: A Review of Recent Literature
Age of Onset of Mental Disorders: A Review of Recent Literature
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Wolters Kluwer
Screen capture of Adult Population by Age Group in the United States
Adult Population by Age Group in the United States
Resource - Data Bank/repository
Screen capture of article photo: Types of Cyberbullying
Types of Cyberbullying
Resource - Website/webpage
Screen grab of Young People and Long COVID
Young People and Long COVID
Resource - Website/webpage
Brought to you by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
First page of Young Adults and Public Health brief
Young Adults and Public Health
Resource - Policy Brief
Staff Pick!
Cover page for the ACHA NCHA Reference Group Executive Summary
two Black teens talking Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash
Bright Spot: Becoming A Responsible Teen (BART)
Resource - Model Policy
Brought to you by 100MHL
First page of Indiana SB 234: High School Equivalency Pilot Program Health Note
Indiana SB 234: High School Equivalency Pilot Program
Resource - Report
Brought to you by Health Impact Project
Screen shot of the homepage
Developmental Relationships Framework
Resource - Guide/handbook
Cover page of Investing in the Health and Well-Being of Young Adults
Investing in the Health and Well-Being of Young Adults
Resource - Report
Brought to you by NAP
Screen grab of Teen Cyberbullying and Harassment: Laws by State
Teen Cyberbullying and Harassment
Resource - Website/webpage
Screen capture of What is Emerging Adulthood
What is Emerging Adulthood
Resource - Website/webpage
First page of Indiana SB 158: Indiana Youth Service Program Health Note
Indiana SB 158: Indiana Youth Service Program
Resource - Report
Brought to you by Health Impact Project
two young women arm in arm for support Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Bright Spot: The Seven Challenges
Resource - Model Policy
Brought to you by 100MHL
Screen capture of article table: The State of Online Harassment
The State of Online Harassment
Resource - Report
Cover page of Defining Young Adulthood
Defining Young Adulthood
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by USFCA
Screen capture of Impacts of Adolescent and Young Adult Civic Engagement on Health and Socioeconomic Status in Adulthood webpage
Impacts of Adolescent and Young Adult Civic Engagement on Health and Socioeconomic Status in Adulthood
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Screenshot of The Role Youth and Young Adults Play in Mental Health Legislation
The Role Youth and Young Adults Play in Mental Health Legislation
Resource - Blog
Brought to you by Active Minds
Screen shot of Gun Violence Becomes Leading Cause of Death Among Us Youth, Data Shows
Gun Violence Becomes Leading Cause of Death Among Us Youth, Data Shows
Story - Written
Brought to you by The Guardian
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Young Men of Color
Story - Written
Brought to you by Community Commons
Screen capture of The Story of FYRE Youth Center video
The Story of FYRE Youth Center
Story - Video
Brought to you by YouTube
Published on 05/03/2023
Screen shot of Ask an Advocate: DermaTeens
Ask an Advocate: DermaTeens
Story - Video
Brought to you by APHA
The College Dropout Crisis
The College Dropout Crisis
Story - Written
Screen capture of We See You: Why America Must Invest in Young Adults of Color
We See You: Why America Must Invest in Young Adults of Color
Story - Written
Brought to you by SSIR
Screen capture of When the Biggest Student Mental Health Advocates Are the Students article
When the Biggest Student Mental Health Advocates Are the Students
Story - Written
Brought to you by NYT
Published on 02/06/2024
Photo of an unhappy young boy looking at a laptop. On the right, emojis and random text are floating in the air.
Youth, Young Adults, and Digital Abuse
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Screen capture of Young Adult Migration webpage
Young Adult Migration
Tool - Data/mapping Tool

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