If you spend any time on the Internet these days, you’ve probably seen the word “adulting” come up on your feed several times. It refers to the process of acting like an adult—having a job, paying your bills, and making yourself dinner instead of just ordering takeout—and has gained a lot of traction among Millennials in recent years, probably because they’re more likely to still be living with their parents and actively avoiding marriage than previous generations were at their age.
The term has therefore opened up a discussion in recent years about what “being an adult” really means, especially since psychologists have added “emerging adulthood” to the list of life phases in order to describe people in their twenties who feel like they’re not teenagers anymore but aren’t quite “adults” yet either. And while, legally, you become an adult at the age of 18, scientists now say that you don’t really become fully adult until you hit 30, which is the age when your brain concludes its three-decades-long development.
“What we’re really saying is that to have a definition of when you move from childhood to adulthood looks increasingly absurd,” Peter Jones, Professor of Psychiatry and Deputy Head of the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC. “It’s a much more nuanced transition that takes place over three decades.”
Jones admits that the age at which someone becomes an “adult” is different for everyone, but indicates that it would be inaccurate to call someone in their twenties an adult because they’re still going through a lot of brain development. “There isn’t a childhood and then an adulthood. People are on a pathway, they’re on a trajectory,” he said.
Of course, being an adult on a neurological level and feeling like one on an emotional level are two very different things. In light of the news, Bloomberg recently asked some people in their late twenties and early 30s if they feel like adults, and they all had very different answers.
“I think the surest sign of feeling like you’re an adult is maybe wishing you weren’t one,” responded Charlie, 28. (Which, let’s face it, is right on the money).
“[I’ll feel like an adult] when I can afford to live on an island and have like a private jet and go on holidays,” said Fiona, 26, perhaps setting the bar a little too high.
When asked what the surest sign of being an adult was, one 30-year-old just stared blankly at the camera for what felt like a lengthy period of time. All of which is to say that, if you don’t know what being an adult really means, don’t worry, because neither does anyone else. And for more news you can use, check out The Surprising Thing That Can Make You Less Likely To Vote.