Life Choices of Emerging Adults in India
and Jeffrey Jensen Arnett
Emerging adulthood is marked by important decisions about life choices. These life choices have their roots in sociocultural and
historical contexts. The present study used a mixed methodology, concept mapping, to understand the tasks that are deemed as
important by emerging adults in India. Study 1 comprised five focus group discussions with individuals between 18 and 29 years
¼23) providing insights on the range of life choices. Study 2 (N¼60, M
¼23) incorporated rating and sorting
methodologies to derive cluster maps. Eight clusters emerged. In order of importance: responsibility toward family, independence/
autonomy, financial security, education/career, parental expectations, romantic relationships, community and faith, and societal norms.
Influences on decision-making of these life choices included self, others, circumstantial, and external. Findings have implications for
adaptation to social change and overall well-being in emerging adulthood.
emerging adulthood, life choices, developmental tasks, transitions to adulthood, culture, India, concept mapping
Each period in the adult life span brings forth important
choices to be made. Decision-making of these choices often
involves a holistic and intuitive appraisal of options, amid con-
texts such as education, family, social capital, social class, and
the larger sociocultural milieu. Achievement of important
developmental goals across the life span involves appraisal
of resources and constraints (Heckhausen & Schulz, 1995).
During emerging adulthood, there are rapidly changing roles
and environments. Choices are made not only in the realm of
education and relationships but also in relation to migrating
from parents and extended family, financial independence,
spirituality, and civic responsibility (Arnett, 2015). The
choices made during emerging adulthood, in the form of per-
sonal goals, both arise from and contribute to a person’s iden-
tity and set the foundation for adult life (Masten et al., 2004;
Schulenberg, Maggs, & O’Malley, 2004). Additionally, life
choices and implementation of goals continuously adjust to fit
the ontogenetic age graded and historical dimension of time
(Brandtsta¨dter & Rothermund, 2002). While emerging adult-
hood is often seen as a time of self-focus in individualistic cul-
tures, it may be different in other cultures, such as India, where
interests of the community are placed higher than the interests
of the self (Arnett, 2011; Seiter & Nelson, 2011). The mechan-
isms that are used in making these life choices can thus be
identified on the societal and individual level (Heckhausen
& Schulz, 1993).
There is limited research investigating the implications of
the various life choices that emerging adults make during this
time of their lives. Life choices in this article are defined as
major decisions an individual makes during their current life
stage that shape the direction of their life course. The purpose
of this article is to identity the life choices deemed important
during this time of life by emerging adults in India by using
a ground-up approach. It attempts to capture the agentic role
that individuals play in shaping their life course while forming
their identity amid their personal and sociocultural circum-
stances. Choice here is defined not as a typical cognitive exer-
cise of binary options but as an exercise of choosing among
alternatives amid constraints, restrictions, and capital. Life
choices are not made in a social vacuum (Elder, 1999). Estab-
lishing culturally normative goals is important in providing a
basis for determining which behaviors are adaptive or maladap-
tive. An individual’s negotiation with various developmental
tasks during the transition to adulthood has implications on
their well-being during that time and in later life (Schulenberg
et al., 2004).
Explorations and Tasks During Emerging Adulthood
Arnett (2015) proposed that the period of emerging adulthood
is highlighted by five primary features in the United States:
Clark University, Worcester, MA, USA
Deeya Mitra, MA, Hiatt School of Psychology, Clark University, Worcester,
MA 01610, USA.
ª2019 Society for the
Study of Emerging Adulthood
and SAGE Publishing
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identity explorations, instability, self-focus, feeling in-
between, and possibilities/optimism. While individuals are
faced with challenges of finding out who they are and in which
direction they are moving, they embark on exploration of alter-
native roles, in love, work, and worldviews (Erikson, 1968).
Tasks during this phase may include a reassessment of existing
values and goals and search of options for growth within one-
self and the world (Levinson, 1986). Life choices made during
this period often have lasting implications on an individual’s
life (Arnett, 2000). When looking back, older adults consider
the choices made during their 20s as the most important events
in their lives (Berntsen & Rubin, 2004).
An important concept related to life choices is the concept of
developmental tasks. Across the life span, each period presents
a certain set of culturally specified tasks that are essential to be
accomplished. The success or failure of achieving these devel-
opmental tasks is predictive of the individual’s adjustment in
future tasks (Havighurst, 1953). These tasks are rooted in a
society’s cultural and historical expectations (Roisman, Mas-
ten, Coatsworth, & Tellegen, 2004). The tasks often broadly
encompass the various life choices individuals make during
each period of life. Havighurst (1953) conceptualized these
tasks as deriving from a multitude of interactions between the
individual and sociocultural pressures.
Havighurst (1953) identified the period between 18 and 30
years as representing eight tasks related to intimate relation-
ships (selecting a mate), learning to live with a marriage part-
ner, starting a family, rearing children, managing a home,
getting started in an occupation, taking on civic responsibil-
ity, and building a social life (finding a congenial social cir-
cle). More recently, Mayseless and Keren (2014) identified
four central categories, across diverse samples, cultures, and
methodologies, that resonate with the task of life meaning and
purpose during emerging adulthood. These are achievements/
work, relationships/intimacy, religion/spirituality, and self-
transcendence/generativity. Some of Arnett’s (2015) five
features of emerging adulthood can also be seen as develop-
mental tasks, such as identity explorations and being self-
focused. The Big Three criteria of adulthood (Arnett, 2015),
viz., taking responsibility for oneself,making independent
decisions,andbecoming financially independent,alsoreso-
nate with developmental tasks. The three criteria are tasks
emerging adults in many societies are expected to accomplish
from age 18 to 29. Markers of adulthood reflecting values of
individuality and independence are not only limited to West-
ern populations but consistently endorsed as a marker of
adulthood across other typically community-focused cultural
groups, including groups of Argentinians (Facio, Resett,
Micocci, & Mistrorigo, 2007), Mormons (Nelson, 2003), and
Israelis (Mayseless & Scharf, 2003). Internal psychological
attributes, such as autonomy and taking on responsibility,
have been repeatedly found to be more important markers
of adulthood than completion of life events and role transi-
tions (Arnett & Galambos, 2003; Facio et al., 2007; Mayseless
& Scharf, 2003; Nelson, 2003).
In a family-oriented culture such as India, life choices are often
constrained by societal expectations. Unlike many Western
middle-class cultures, Asian cultures do not promote the inde-
pendence of a “self” from family members and social contexts
(Matsumoto, 1999). Indians, with interdependent self-
construal, guide their behavior by actively responding to and
incorporating the demands of others (Matsumoto, 1999).
S. H. Schwartz (2008) has identified the culture in South Asia
to be hierarchical and allowing limited autonomy. India had a
score of 11 (M¼6.5), relatively tight, on the tight–loose cul-
ture scale in a survey conducted across 33 nations (Gelfand
et al., 2011). Tight nations typically impose higher constraints
which restrict autonomy in a range of behaviors and social
situations (Gelfand et al., 2011).
Alongside, Indian culture has also been found to have a
unique individualistic–collectivistic cultural blend. In compar-
ison to China (individualism index: 20) and the United States
(individualism index: 91), India stands at an index of 48 on the
individualism–collectivism dimension, where the range is from
1(collectivist) to 100 (individualistic; Hofstede, 2001; Hof-
stede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010). This intermediate score
indicates the coexistence of attributes from both dimensions
within the larger Indian culture. The collective dimension sug-
gests preference to belong to a larger social framework and an
inclination to the opinion of their family, relatives, and larger
social network. Concurrently, these attributes interact with
individualistic ideologies of personal responsibility toward
their lives (Hofstede, 2001).
While some studies have found Indians to have both indivi-
dualistic and collectivist attributes (Mishra, 1994; D. Sinha &
Tripathi, 1994; Tripathi, 1988), others have found India to be
primarily collectivistic (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, &
Gupta, 2004; J. B. P. Sinha & Verma, 1987). The present study
attempted to address the “unresolved dualism” (Kapp, 1963,
p.18) of Indian cultural beliefs and illuminate the role of these
beliefs in decisions about life choices among emerging adults.
It explored the influence of tightness, limited autonomy, and
coexistence of individualism and collectivism on what emer-
ging adults in India deem important life choices during this
time of their life.
Moreover, rapid economic and social changes in India may
also be changing the way emerging adults prioritize and choose
tasks. The sociocultural landscape among the urban and subur-
ban middle class in India is currently under transition. Situated
in a postcolonial euro-centric culture, Indian youth are redefin-
ing narratives of self and identity amid this changing landscape
(Bhatia, 2018). In recent years, nuclear families have become
more common in India. This has led to shifts in family ideolo-
gies allowing for greater space for a negotiated parent–child
relationship in decision-making (Bansal, 2013). As a conse-
quence of the urbanization in India in the past decade, young
people are increasingly moving to large cities for education and
work (Chhapia, 2014). Seiter and Nelson (2011) have proposed
that as the opportunities for higher education and well-paying
jobs increase, the degree of autonomy that emerging adults will
have in decision-making regarding their life choices will
become like that seen in the developed nations.
Importantly, while the phenomenon of emerging adulthood
has been studied widely in developed nations, its research pres-
ence in developing nations remains underrepresented. The cur-
rent youth bulge in India has also led to an increase in the
number of persons aged 18–29 (Rajaram, 2013). Consequently,
this study attempted to draw on the educated urban and subur-
ban middle class in India that forms a significant portion of the
population and has a vital role globally.
Examining Life Choices Through Concept Mapping
The main objective of the present study was to identify and
understand life choices that middle-class Indian emerging
adults engage in. This was done by utilizing a collaborative
group research design to build a conceptual framework. The
method of concept mapping (Trochim, 1989) allowed for a
geography of life choices presented through a map representa-
tive of the participants’ perspective of what is important. The
study aimed to answer the following questions:
(1) What are the life choices that emerging adults make
during their transition to adulthood?
(2) Which choices are perceived relatively more important?
(3) What are the factors that most influence the decision-
making across all these life choices?
Concept mapping (Kane & Trochim, 2007; Trochim, 1989)
was utilized to answer the aforementioned questions. This
mixed methodology blends a qualitative word-based and a
quantitative code-based analysis and has been used widely for
planning, evaluation, scale construction, and theory building in
the social sciences (Conceic¸a
˜o, Samuel, Biniecki, & Carter,
2017; Kane & Trochim, 2007). The study was conducted
in two parts. Study 1 was the qualitative component, and
Study 2 was the quantitative component. The focus groups in
Study 1 provided inductive qualitative input that was supported
and followed in Study 2 by the multivariate deductive metho-
dological analysis of the derived statements after being cate-
gorized into groups and rated.
This study used a mixed-methods research design. The specific
method used was concept mapping (Kane & Trochim, 2007; Tro-
chim, 1989), a type of structured conceptualization that can be uti-
lized to develop a framework to guide a variety of purposes, such
as evaluation, planning, theory building, scale development, and
translating research into practice. There are six stages in concept
mapping; the first two stages comprised Study 1.
The first stage preparing for concept mapping included
selecting a group of participants to answer the research ques-
tion. The focus prompt is the cue provided to participants to
initiate generation of statements in response to the prompt to
answer the research question. This was followed by the second
stage of concept mapping, brainstorming and idea synthesis.
The participants, in a focus group setting, brainstormed a list
of statements relevant to the focus prompt. Concept mapping
requires the participants to brainstorm a set of statements rele-
vant to the focus. The resulting concept map provided a visual
representation of the perceptions and ideas of the groups, how
they are organized, and their relative importance.
Forty participants between 18 and 29years (M
¼23, SD ¼3.4;
Female ¼57%) across three cities in India (South: Bengaluru,
East: Kolkata, and Northeast: Siliguri) took part in focus group
discussions. The aim was to collect a geographically dispersed
and culturally diverse group. There was a range of demographic
characteristics reported by the participants including age, gender,
educational attainment, socioeconomic status (as measured by
mother’s education level), relationship status, and children. Table
1 provides a summary of this information. Most of theparticipants
were pursuing graduate studies (57%) and undergraduate studies
(40%). Socioeconomic status was ascertained through mother’s
level of education and participants belonged to varying socioeco-
nomic groups (43%high school or less, 19%bachelor’s degree,
38%postgraduate or more). Close to halfof the participants were
not currently in a romantic relationship (52%).
Study 1 comprised the first two stages on the concept mapping
methodology, preparing for concept mapping followed by
brainstorming and idea synthesis.
Table 1. Participants’ Demographic Information.
Demographics Study 1 Study 2
Female 57 54
Male 43 46
High school degree or less 3 2
Undergraduate degree 40 58
Postgraduate degree or more 57 40
High school degree or less 43 33
Undergraduate degree 19 41
Postgraduate degree or more 38 26
Married 5 2
Living with partner 0 3
Close boyfriend or girlfriend 33 29
Causal relationship 5 2
Occasional dating 5 7
No current relationship 52 58
No 100 98
Yes 0 2
¼60. All numbers in the table are percentages.
Mitra and Arnett 3
Stage 1: Preparing for concept mapping. Convenience sampling
was used. Participants were recruited through advertising on
social media and through universities in the selected cities
inviting individuals (emerging adults) to participate in a focus
group discussion to discuss life choices made during this period
of life and factors that influence decision-making of these life
choices. Recruiting posts with information about the study and
contact information of first author were provided. Location and
time for each focus group discussion was finalized based on
availability of participants.
There were five focus group discussions with 7–10 partici-
pants in each. The first group comprised 18- to 23-year-olds
and the second group comprised 24- to 29-year-olds. It was
expected that there would be varying topics of discussion since
these groups of individuals may be at different developmental
phases. However, there were no differences in topics discussed,
so the full age range of 18- to 29-year-olds was maintained
across the remaining three focus group discussions. All discus-
sion was moderated by the first author. Data collection was
concluded after the data reached saturation.
Stage 2: Brainstorming and idea synthesis. Each focus group ses-
sion lasted between 60 and 90 min. The prompts provided
were, “What are the important life choices that emerging adults
make during this period between 18 and 29 years of age?” and
“What are the factors that influence the decision-making of
these life choices?” The process began with gathering individ-
ual statements from the participants by instructing them to gen-
erate two lists of statements answering the two prompts.
Participants were instructed to write brief and specific state-
ments with each sentence containing a single unique life choice
or influence. These statements were expected to be related to
their experiences and their views on what could have an impact
on the decisions made by an individual of a life choice in their
emerging adulthood. Participants were informed that typically,
in concept mapping, each participant writes an average of 8–10
statements, but they could write more if deemed important. In
this study, participants wrote 10 sentences, on average, in
response to each prompt and, in some cases, supplemented
these with examples from their lives.
The intention was to have participants respond to the prompt
individually and then bring their statements to a group-level
discussion. A brainstorming process helps facilitate responses
from participants that they may have not thought of in an indi-
vidual setting. Further, each individual participant was also
requested to provide a written list of statements in response
to the focus prompts to ensure that their perspectives were
noted. Participants were requested to read out their statements
and asked to refrain from criticism or discussing legitimacy of
statements. Each participant read out statements of choice,
based on their level of comfort to share, to the group to initiate
brainstorming with the goal of developing a final list of life
choices and factors. The final list comprised all responses (indi-
vidual and discussed in group setting). The focus group ses-
sions were recorded to provide clarity and reliability for
content analysis during later stages of the study.
Statements from all participants and five focus group discus-
sions were combined to create two comprehensive lists of state-
ments pertaining to the two prompts. The first list consisted of
the important life choices and comprised a total of 266 state-
ments across all focus group discussions. The second list per-
tained to the influences that impact decision-making of these
life choices and comprised 220 statements. This was followed
by the researchers editing lists of statements, based on their
similarity, from all participants to create one comprehensive
list of statements relevant to the focus group prompt. The repe-
titive statements were discarded leading to a list of unique
statements relating to the research questions.
These lists were then again edited by the first author in col-
laboration with a subgroup of participants after all the focus
groups were completed. Sentences were edited based on key
words. Key words were highlighted in the recorded ideas to
identify sentences that were potentially repetitive. One state-
ment from each idea was retained to ensure there was no redun-
dancy. If required, sentences were edited or split for clarity and
comprehension. Through this method, the number of state-
ments was reduced to 40 statements for life choices and 20
statements for influences on life choices.
Findings of Study 1 revealed a range of life choices experi-
enced by emerging adults in India. The methodology allowed
for identifying choices that are perceived important by emer-
ging adults themselves rather than utilizing a preexisting list
The list of 40 statements reflecting life choices is presented
in Table 2. While most of the items were consistent with previ-
ous research (Havighurst, 1953; Mayseless & Keren, 2014;
Schulenberg et al., 2004), statements about meeting parents’
expectations and responsibility toward family were discovered
as new and unexplored life choices.
The results of the second list of 20 statements are presented
in Table 3. The list of 20 perceived influences on life choices
was grouped under four broad categories: self, relationships,
circumstantial,andexternal influence. For example, “self”
comprised influences such as personality, life experiences,
and religious and spiritual affiliation. Influences such as par-
ents, siblings, friends, and teachers fell under “relationships.”
Marital status, parenthood, andjobsatisfactionwere
“circumstantial,” while examples of “external” were political
situation and popular culture. These findings will inform
future research pertaining to decisions around life choices and
Study 2 comprised the last four stages of concept mapping. The
third stage, structuring of statements into categories, entailed
participants individually sorting the list of 40 statements into
groups based on their conceptual similarity. The participants
then rated each of these statements on a response scale based
on importance of the statements in their lives. Representation
of statements in the form of a concept map, the fourth stage,
involved running statistical analyses to create a concept map
of these sorted statements. Finally, the last two stages interpre-
tation of the map and utilization were used to manage the inter-
pretation process of the map after viewing the resulting concept
map and relating it to the groupings and ratings. The utilization
stage is primarily to determine where the map is going to be
used—evaluation, planning, or theory building.
Sixty participants between 18 and 29 years (M
¼23, SD ¼
3.2; Female ¼54%) from across five cities in India (New
Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Siliguri) were
recruited to complete the Life Choices Rating Scale and sort-
ing. Cities were selected based on geographical distribution
and convenience. Bangalore is a cosmopolitan city in southern
India which has seen the largest influx of population in India
since the information technology boom in the 1990s. Kolkata,
in eastern India, used to be the capital pre-independence from
the British and is largely influenced by the colonial rule. New
Delhi, the current capital, represents Northern India, while
Mumbai widely captures the culture of Western Indian states.
Siliguri was selected to represent as closely the northeastern
part of India as it comprises a diverse representation from var-
ious suburban middle-class communities in India.
The participants in this study were asked the same range of
demographic questions as in Study 1. Study 2 comprised 60
persons; about half of these participants were enrolled in under-
graduate studies (51%). Participants belonged to range of
socioeconomic groups as determined by mother’s education
level (33%high school or less, 41%bachelor’s degree, and
26%postgraduate or more). Most participants were not cur-
rently in a romantic relationship (58%) and only one was a par-
ent (2%). Table 1 provides a summary of this information.
Table 2. Clusters With Items and Mean Rating Values in Order of
Cluster: Responsibility Toward family
40. Being responsible for the well-being of my parents (M¼3.67)
32. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (M¼3.62)
30. Selecting a spouse by myself (M¼3.35)
4. Seeing/socializing with my family and friends on a regular basis
39. Being responsible for my family’s finances (M¼3.07)
38. Choosing my own hobbies and interests (M¼3.78)
18. Becoming financially secure before getting married (M¼3.70)
21. Commuting independently within the city (M¼3.43)
13. Being independent of my parents (M¼3.23)
10. Choosing where to live on my own (M¼3.18)
26. Living in a house or flat independent of my parents. (M¼2.55)
Cluster: Financial security
34. Making independent financial decisions towards savings and
22. Traveling to learn about other cultures (M¼3.30)
27. Investing my money in real estate (M¼2.22)
Cluster: Exploring education and career
5. Pursuing a job that complements my skills and interests
8. Finding an educational path that will lead to the career I would
like to have (M¼3.40)
24. Pursuing higher education beyond a college degree (M¼3.27)
33. Working after graduating to save money to fund further
37. Moving to a new city within the country for educational pursuits
16. Having a part-time job to gain life experience (M¼2.78)
28. Moving to a new city within the country for work pursuits
29. Deciding between a government college and a private college
for higher education (M¼2.68)
35. Moving abroad for educational pursuits (M¼2.65)
36. Moving abroad for work pursuits (M¼2.60)
25. Moving abroad instead of staying in my home country
Cluster: Parental expectations
20. Meeting my parent’s expectations for my career (M¼2.48)
Cluster: Romantic relationships
9. Getting married (M¼2.23)
31. Engaging in casual romantic relationships (M¼2.22)
17. Gaining some sexual experience before marriage (M¼2.12)
Cluster: Community and faith
3. Incorporating spirituality into my lifestyle (M¼2.47)
6. Upholding the values, norms, and expectations of society
2. Incorporating my community’s traditions and culture in my daily
14. Upholding religious beliefs and practices (M¼1.90)
Cluster: Societal norms
11. Engaging in charity and/or community service (M¼3.07)
19. Deciding my views on political issues (M¼2.45)
23. Deciding how patriotic or nationalistic I want to be (M¼2.37)
1. Working for my family to ensure the continuation of our family-
15. Consuming alcohol (M¼1.52)
12. Having children as soon as I am married (M¼1.42)
7. Experimenting with drugs (M¼1.32)
Table 3. Perceived Influences on Life Choices as Identified by
Self Relationships Circumstantial External
Desire for self-
Parents Education type
Age Siblings Socioeconomic class Popular
Personality Friends Career
Life experiences My partner Job satisfaction
Mitra and Arnett 5
The study used same method of recruitment as in Study 1. The
Life Choices measure for rating and sorting was administered
in person by the first author. The 40 items in the measure were
based on the statements identified in Study 1. Participants
responded to the items on a 4-point Likert-type scale (1 ¼not
important to 4 ¼very important).
After completing the Life Choices measure, participants
completed a sorting task that is a part of stage three of concept
mapping. The purpose of having participants sort each of the
statements into categories was to derive an understanding of
the interrelationship of life choices from the participant’s view.
Each of the 40 statements from the measure was printed on sep-
arate index cards and administered individually to each partici-
pant. They were instructed to sort the cards into groups based
on conceptual similarity—that is, in a way that made most
sense to them. Participants were reminded all statements could
not be grouped into a single pile, a single sentence cannot be its
own pile, and that each sentence could only be used in one pile.
Ariadne 3.0 (Severens, 1995), a software for computing con-
cept maps, was utilized for data entry and analysis. It combines
multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis to understand
relationships between statements and how they are prioritized
among participants. Concept mapping integrates the focus
group processes with several multivariate statistical analyses
such as multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster anal-
ysis (Trochim, 1989). Each participant’s sorted data was repre-
sented using a matrix of binaries which were then
superimposed to form a group matrix incorporating responses
from all participants. This was done through a two-
dimensional nonmetric scaling of the similarity matrix through
the aggregated data. This group matrix was used to run a hier-
archical cluster analysis that calculates the distances between
items. As depicted in Figure 1, the items within clusters indi-
cate statement number of life choices, whereas numbers at the
end of each streak are indicative of participant code numbers.
Stage 3: Structuring of Statements Into Categories
Structuring statements through sorting provided a collective
view of the participants’ perceptions of interrelationships of
life choices. Eight clusters were observed from the data. These
were responsibility toward family, independence/autonomy,
financial security, education/career, parental expectation,
romantic relationships, community and faith, and societal
norms. Statements within each of the clusters are presented
in Table 2.
This was followed by analyzing the ratings of importance.
Scores on each statement were averaged to represent perceived
importance of each cluster. The mean values on each item and
clusters are presented in Table 2.
Stage 4: Representation of Statements in the Form of a
Eight clusters were derived from the 40 statements. Each item
from the Life Choices measure is represented through the state-
ment number (within the cluster boundaries) on the map. The
proximity of the items on the map is an indicator of the associ-
ation between them and the strength of that association. Items
that are closer together were grouped together by participants.
Hence, clusters are indicative of how this group of participants
Figure 1. Cluster and rating map of life choices.
perceived the relationship among life choices. The x-axis ranges
from items pertaining to society and community on the left to
more individualistic goals on the right. As presented in Figure
1, participant directions indicate highest importance for responsi-
bility toward family (M¼3.33), independence/autonomy (M¼
3.29), and financial security (M¼2.96).
Stages 5 and 6: Interpretation of the Map and Utilization
Items that are adjacent to each other are those that have been
grouped together by participants. Streaks indicate general trend
of participants in rating a life choice as being important. The
thickness of the region boundaries of clusters denote perceived
importance of those clusters. For example, responsibility
toward family was rated relatively higher than community and
faith and this is represented through the region boundaries as
depicted in Figure 1. Clusters on the right side of the map
focusing on individualistic goals were consistently marked as
being more important. Similarly, the general trend in rating
of the participants, as determined by perceived similarities in
how participants groups items, was also toward items within
these clusters in the lower right quadrant.
This article adopted a descriptive approach in the interpretation
of decisions about life choices, focusing on normative explora-
tions among emerging adults from India. Across societies, as an
adult, one is expected to become responsible for the attainment
of goals through successful navigation of society and culture
(Hauser & Greene, 1991). Findings provided insight on devel-
opmental processes, adjustments, and reorganization of ideolo-
gies and principles during the period of emerging adulthood in
The concept map results provided theoretical support to the
existing body of literature on life choices during emerging
adulthood. The ratings showed the saliency of these choices
in this population. Additionally, sorting of statements into cate-
gories by the participants reflected their conceptualization of
these events into larger task domains. Overall, the results offer
insights into the influence of these expectations within the
Diverse Influences on Life Choices
Family obligations have long been recognized as a central
expectation for people in eastern, collectivist countries such
as India (Bejanyan, Marshall, & Ferenczi, 2014). Responsibil-
ity toward family averaged at 3.33, indicating it was the most
important perceived influence on their life choices. This is
reflective of the rather large commitment that emerging adults
in India feel toward their parents. It shows that an individual’s
personal life choices will not inhibit their ability to care for
their parents. Responsibility toward family members posits
being responsible for the well-being of one’s parents and for
their finances, as well as maintaining any assets they may have.
Similarly, parents also provide support and expect to have
influence in all aspects of their children’s lives, from emotional
to financial, throughout the life span. A similar finding was also
reported for emerging adults in China who continue to maintain
close relationship with their family during this period and
involve parents in life decisions (Badger, Nelson, & Barry,
It is clear from the above that traditional value systems and
familial expectations play a role when considering decisions
around life choices. However, the results here suggest that high
priority is also placed by emerging adults in India on exploring
their own identities and becoming self-sufficient. The indepen-
dence/autonomy cluster had an average of 3.29, suggesting that
autonomy is valued and implemented when making important
life decisions. This resonates with two of the Big Three criteria
for adulthood (Arnett, 2015)—responsibility for oneself and
making independent decisions. Items in this cluster included
independent living, decisions to live independently of parents,
financial security, and commuting independently within the
The importance of being responsible toward the family
while also requiring autonomy, as depicted above, addresses
the “unresolved dualism” (Kapp, 1963) in this culture that is
indicative of the presence of both individualistic and collecti-
vist attributes in this population. The findings endorse previous
observations (e.g., Allendorf & Pandian, 2016; Bansal, 2013)
of the importance, among Indian youth, of establishing conti-
nuity of family values and traditions while seeking and explor-
ing identities to enhance their sense of their individual self.
This is also reflective of findings of research conducted in
China (Nelson, Badger, & Wu, 2004) where the beliefs and atti-
tudes of emerging adults were found to be highly influenced by
the culture. For example, 89%, in comparison to 16%of Amer-
ican emerging adults, stated “become capable of supporting
parents financially” was important to achieve adult status (Nel-
son et al., 2004; also see Arnett, 2003).
The results for the financial security cluster, averaging at
2.96, show that there is a clear need to become financially inde-
pendent, also familiar from previous studies as one of the Big
Three criteria of adulthood (Arnett, 2015). This cluster was
defined by items such as making investments in real estate and
making independent financial decisions toward savings and
investment. Future research could explore the influence of
socioeconomic status of the immediate family and what kind
of impact this could have on young Indians. This can be related
back to the individualism/autonomy cluster, as both clusters
stem from a place of need for their own independence.
The exploring education and career cluster averaged at
2.87. This domain comprised items pertaining to moving
abroad for education, working after graduating to save money
to fund further education, and moving to a new city within the
country for educational pursuits. Additionally, it also covered
work-related items such as moving abroad for work pursuits,
pursuing a job that complements their skills and interests, and
having a part-time job to gain life experience.
Similar to the European education system, Indian college
education is directed toward one specific career path (Seiter
Mitra and Arnett 7
& Nelson, 2011). This does not leave much room for explora-
tions in college courses, but emerging adults move to cosmopo-
litan cities across the country to explore prosperous job
opportunities (Chhapia, 2014). There has been widespread
migration to big cities as India has progressed toward more
advanced degrees and individualistic ideals. Depending on the
resources available to these individuals, they may choose to
pursue an advanced degree in their preferred specialization.
In India, there is a strong emphasis on family values and devel-
oping to follow through with family roles (Verma & Saras-
Parental expectations, with a mean of 2.48, was a 1-item
cluster as categorized by participants. It captured the duty that
individuals feel to meet their parents’ expectations for their
career path. This resonates with findings from other studies
conducted in India (Bansal, 2013; Fouad, Kim, Ghosh, Chang,
& Figueiredo, 2016) that have indicated the key role that family
plays in shaping career decisions by emerging adults in India in
the form of family obligations. Research has found that work
volition (Duffy, Diemer, Perry, Laurenzi, & Torrey, 2012) is
strongly related to family relationships (Fouad et al., 2016).
It can be inferred that parental expectations play a significant
role in the life choices of emerging adults in India.
The romantic relationships cluster consisted of items that
entail engaging in casual romantic relationships, gaining sexual
experience before marriage, and getting married. Preservation
of family lineage is greatly valued in the larger Indian culture
(Netting, 2010) which makes marriage an important goal to be
achieved during this time of life. However, contrary to expec-
tations, romantic relationships were seen at an average of 2.19,
suggesting they are only slightly important as a life choice dur-
ing emerging adulthood. One explanation for this shift could be
that middle-class emerging adults in India are focusing on pur-
suing higher education and well-paying jobs (Seiter & Nelson,
2011), leaving romantic choices for later. Additionally, there
has been a shift of arranged marriages as individuals are
becoming more active in choosing their spouse. With increas-
ing hybridization of Western and Indian practices in Indian
marriages, research has depicted a rising trend of individuals
having more autonomy relationship choices in selection of
partners (Allendorf & Pandian, 2016). However, it may also
be that most of them expect to have their parents help arrange
a marriage for them when the time comes, so at this point they
are not seeing this as an important domain of life choices.
Community and faith as a cluster comprised statements
focusing on individual’s sense of spirituality, religiosity, and
incorporating community’s tradition. The participants in the
study averaged at a mean of 2.1, indicating this being only a
slightly important domain for them. The items that comprised
this cluster includes incorporating the community’s traditions
and culture in their daily life; upholding the values, norms, and
expectations of society; upholding religious beliefs and prac-
tices; and incorporating spirituality into their lifestyle. The
findings may be indicative of the middle class, relatively highly
educated sample for this study and pave way for exploration in
ideologies across various social classes.
In adhering to societal norms, participants endorsed this
cluster the least (M¼2.02) among all life choices. The every-
day practices and social life practices of urban Indian youth
have largely been transformed as a result of globalization.
Increasingly, middle-class emerging adults have been found
to follow a more global culture than Indian culture (Bhatia,
Overall, the findings of this research bring to light the socio-
cultural influences of globalization leading to reorganization of
cultural norms. These are consistent with previous research on
life choices and markers of adulthood in Western cultures
(Arnett, 2015; Berntsen & Rubin, 2004; Havighurst, 1953;
Schulenberg et al., 2004) and among emerging adults from
other cultures (Arnett & Galambos, 2003; Facio et al., 2007;
Mayseless & Scharf, 2003; Nelson, 2003). As presented in the
figure, the general trend in participant ratings were toward clus-
ters that represent individual goals of independence and auton-
omy, financial security, establishing a career, and
responsibility toward family. The clusters on the left quadrants
of the concept map, that were more community and other-
focused, were not endorsed strongly as those pertaining to the
individual and their parents. This is key factor in recognizing
this time of life to be crucial for developing a stable identity.
It would be interesting to see what a map may look like in a dif-
ferent sample of emerging adults in other cultures.
These findings should be understood in the backdrop of the
range of perceived influences of decision-making of life
choices; viz. self, relationships, circumstantial, and external
influences. The influences would vary depending not only on
the nature of the life choice but also individual and family dif-
ferences. Previous research (J. B. P. Sinha & Verma, 1987) has
suggested that with respect to decisions about everyday situa-
tions (such as accepting a person as a friend, job preference,
making social calls, and voting in an election), parents, spouse,
friends, relatives, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances
have an impact in decreasing order of influence. In light of
findings from this study, for example, the influence of one’s
parents, relationships, may be more influential in the context
of choices relating to choosing a career but not necessarily
when it comes to religious faith. However, the results here pro-
vide a starting point to understanding concrete experiences and
narratives of what it means to be an emerging adult in India.
Further, the use of concept mapping created a collaborative
approach to understanding what life choices are deemed impor-
tant by young Indians and how they perceive the interrelation-
ships among various choices.
Limitations of the Study
Despite the contributions of the present study, it must be con-
sidered within the context of its limitations. The study followed
a concept mapping methodology that involves group-level par-
ticipation in data analysis. As depicted in Table 2, some items
may not entirely fit the cluster—as these categorized were
based on conceptions made by the participants and not the
researcher or the statistical relationships among the variables.
For example, the items under romantic relationships seem well
suited to the cluster; however, “maintaining a healthy lifestyle”
under responsibility toward family is not indicative of the
theme of the cluster. Further, some items may be perceived
more as a value or goal than a choice, such as working for
my family to ensure the continuation of our family-profes-
sion/business. Parental expectations was a 1-item cluster, and
the item would have perhaps fit better in responsibility toward
Additionally, the findings of this study may not reflect the
views of many young Indians who still live in rural agricultural
villages as it particularly focused on the middle- and upper-
class educated population of 18- to 29-year-olds across cities
in India. This generation grew up in a socioeconomic context
quite different from the previous generations and from most
of their rural peers—with access to education, health care, and
globalization. Both studies included fairly small self-selected
samples. Another possible limitation could be that participants
with more social power would dominate the conversation;
however, this was avoided by encouraging everyone to partic-
ipate. Replicating this study among emerging adults from a
similar socioeconomic background but from rural settings
would provide a broader understanding of this population.
Emerging adults from India are experiencing compounding
challenges because of the demands of globalization, increasing
urbanization, and changing social climate. This leads to an
interplay of inertia arising from age old traditions and the flux
of pressures of change (Bansal, 2013). It is indispensable,
therefore, to develop skills to negotiate between costs and ben-
efits, amid these sociocultural demands, to the task of continu-
ing to be a well-functioning adult (Suchday, 2015). This has
radically changed the experience of transitioning to adulthood
in developing countries (Fatusi & Hindin, 2010). With a large
proportion of the world population being from developing
countries, research is necessary on their social, emotional, and
physical well-being. These findings resonate with Arnett’s
(2015) features highlighting this time to be for self-focus. How-
ever, with the existence of an “unresolved dualism” (Kapp,
1963), this negotiation between maintaining the traditional
roles while also imbibing autonomy when making life deci-
sions may be challenging for the individual.
Implications of the findings specifically for this population
are manifold. The main objectives of this study were to identify
and understand important life choices that emerging adults
engage in making during this period of transition to adulthood.
Achievement, or the lack thereof, of these choices has been
found to have long-term implications on mental health and
well-being (Hutteman, Hennecke, Orth, Reit, & Specht,
2014; Roisman et al., 2004; S. J. Schwartz, Coˆte´, & Arnett,
2005). This necessitates understanding the processes involved
in this decision-making. This study provides an initial under-
standing of life choices and overarching perceived influences
on the decision-making processes. It lays the foundation for
future studies to reveal more clearly the influences in decisions
about life choices, implications on later life, and build a pre-
ventive–intervention model that would help individuals make
effective decisions. We hope that the results of this study can
be used to guide future research of emerging adulthood in
D. Mitra contributed to conception, design, acquisition, analysis, and
interpretation; drafted the manuscript; critically revised the manu-
script; gave final approval; and agreed to be accountable for all aspects
of work ensuring integrity and accuracy. J. J. Arnett contributed to
conception and interpretation, critically revised the manuscript, gave
final approval, and agreed to be accountable for all aspects of work
ensuring integrity and accuracy.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
Deeya Mitra https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8818-5342
Data and materials for this study have not been made publicly avail-
able. The design and analysis plans were not preregistered.
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Deeya Mitra is a doctoral student in the Department of Psy-
chology at Clark University, MA.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is a senior research scholar in the
Department of Psychology at Clark University, MA.
Mitra and Arnett 11