Clark Poll findings offer myth-busting evidence for stereotyped emerging adults

Clark Poll 2015 logoAs millions of college students break from classes to spend time with their families, a common conversation they may hear at holiday gatherings will focus on perceptions about their generation, insisting that emerging adults are impatient, lazy, entitled, not loyal, and inseparable from social media. Not so, according to the recent Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults: Work, Education and Identity, which offers myth-busting new data that can help millennials refute some long-held stereotypes about their generation. The 2015 Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults provides research on the views of a thousand 21- to 29-year-olds and reveals their perspectives on higher education, employment and identity. These millennials were asked their opinions on such topics as career fields, ideal jobs and realities, education, on-the-job social media habits, work-life balance and more.

Clark University Research Professor of Psychology and Clark Poll Director Jeffrey Jensen Arnett Clark University Research Professor of Psychology and Clark Poll Director Jeffrey Jensen Arnett: Society is still adjusting to the “new normal.”


“In the twenty-plus years I have been researching emerging adults (ages 18 to 29) I have been confronted again and again with the negative stereotypes about them: that they are lazy and selfish, and they never want to grow up. What makes these stereotypes especially puzzling is that none of them are supported by the evidence,” says Clark University Research Professor of Psychology and Poll Director Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D., who coined the term “emerging adulthood”— the phase of the life between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood. What’s at the root of these long-held generalizations?  Arnett says the main reason for the negative stereotypes is that a lot has changed in a short time, and society is still adjusting to the "new normal." “Adults today in their 50s and 60s see today's emerging adults taking longer than they did to get a stable job and enter marriage and parenthood, and they conclude mistakenly that something must be wrong with them. In fact, later adult transitions can be positive in some ways,” Arnett adds. “I think most people would agree that we would all make a better choice of marriage partner at 30 than at 20, and be better parents in our early 30s than in our early 20s. But few people recognize these advantages to a later entry to adulthood.” Here are some of the myth-busting Clark Poll findings: Myth grphx for RELArnett notes a major new stereotype about emerging adults: that they are "always staring at their phones." It's true that emerging adults rely more on their devices and spend more time on social media than older adults do, he notes. “However, our new devices and new media have changed ALL of us, young and old. Arguably, we ALL spend too much time in this era staring at our phones.” The generational stereotypes can be hard on emerging adults, Arnett says. “It's already a stressful and confusing time of life, and it doesn't help them to be ridiculed as a generation, on top of what they already have to deal with.

“Over the past century, as a society, we have gradually abandoned previously acceptable stereotypes about women, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, and most recently, gays and lesbians. Bashing the young seems to be the last acceptable prejudice. It’s time for this one to go, too.” ~ Jeffrey Jensen Arnett

Clark University is a thought leader on the impact of higher education on emerging adults and this latest Clark Poll offers insights into four main topics: emerging adults’ reflections on how education impacts their lives as they transition into the workplace; how emerging adults form their identity and seek identity-based work that makes the best of their talents and interests; insight into the stereotypes associated with emerging adults; and current work life and how emerging adults envision their future. The Clark Poll launched its first survey of emerging adults (ages 18-29) in 2012, followed by a poll of their parents in 2013. In 2014, the poll questioned established adults (ages 25-39).

The full 2015 Clark Poll report is available online. For past reports, news releases, videos, media coverage, commentary by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and more about emerging adults, visit here.

Founded in 1887 in Worcester, Massachusetts, Clark University is a liberal arts-based research university addressing social and human imperatives on a global scale. Nationally renowned as a college that changes lives, Clark is emerging as a transformative force in higher education today. LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) is Clark’s pioneering model of education that combines a robust liberal arts curriculum with life-changing world and workplace experiences. Clark’s faculty and students work across boundaries to develop solutions to complex challenges in the natural sciences, psychology, geography, management, urban education, Holocaust and genocide studies, environmental studies, and international development and social change. The Clark educational experience embodies the University’s motto: Challenge Convention. Change Our World.