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Chapter: Psychology: Development

Adulthood and Older Age

The start of adolescence is typically defined by the onset of puberty.



The start of adolescence is typically defined by the onset of puberty. The end of adolescence, in contrast, and the entry into adulthood are not well marked. This is evident, for example, in the wide variety of ages that different countries (and different states) use for deciding when someone is eligible for “adult privileges” such as buying tobacco products or alcohol, voting, marrying, or serving in a nation’s armed forces. Many of these privileges arrive at dif-ferent ages, highlighting the uncertainty about when adulthood begins.


Even when young adults have cleared all these hurdles, though, development contin-ues. Young adults need to develop a capacity for closeness and intimacy through love. In many cases, they prepare for the commitments of marriage and then the joys and burdens of parenting. They learn how to manage the social and financial obligations of adulthood and settle into their careers. They may have to cope with responsibilities both for their children and for their aging parents. Eventually, as they age, they must come to terms with their own lives, accepting them with a sense of integrity rather than despair. Erikson (1963) eloquently sums up this final reckoning: “It is the acceptance of one’s own and only life cycle as something that had to be and that, by necessity, permit-ted of no substitutes”.


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