Defining ‘Young Adult’

Kellie Ileto, a senior at the University of Rochester.
(Photo by Mike Crupi)


The term “young adult” is widely used to describe everyone and, simultaneously, no one at all. It has been used to describe kindergarten kids and pre-adolescents, teenagers, middle-aged singles, and just about anyone else who considers themselves young and an adult.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops can offer us some help. Their 1996 document on Young Adult Ministry, Sons and Daughters of the Light, defined young adults as “people in their late teens, twenties, and thirties; single, married, divorced, or widowed; and with or without children.” The bishops were quick to note that “more significant than age, the young adult years are best described through the various developmental tasks undertaken” and that the term “Young adult” has various meanings in different cultural traditions. It is the bishops’ definition above that should help you settle any argument from here on out.

You might be a young adult yourself or you might know young adults — perhaps a son or daughter, niece or nephew, grandchildren, or people you know from work or church — but don’t skip this section! Even though you think you might have a good idea of who young adults are, it’s good to remember that your own experience may not encompass the entire spectrum of this diverse demographic.