Identity processes during the transition to adulthood:
Culatta, Elizabeth Tomlin
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What does it mean to be an adult? How do views of self as an adult affect health behaviors? How does the perception of others’ expectations for what it means to be an adult affect mental health? The transition to adulthood is a pivotal point in the life course for establishing individuals’ trajectories for both family and career. This study contributes to our understanding of how identity and feedback from significant others affect health outcomes for young adults. Using an original sample of over 500 18 to 29 year-olds in the United States, I explore how identity processes shape health outcomes. I draw from social psychological theory on identity, a life course theoretical framework, and empirical data on health during the transition to adulthood. In particular, I seek to establish if the adult identity serves as a resource to limit participation in health risk behaviors of marijuana use, problem alcohol use, and inebriated sex. Consistent with theoretical predictions, I find that viewing oneself as an adult is associated with lower levels of participation in these health risk behaviors. Additionally, I explore how the source of feedback about meeting adulthood expectations affects anxiety and depression. Overall, as expected, there is a positive relationship between falling behind others’ expectations and psychological distress even while controlling for own expectations about at what age one should accomplish markers of adulthood. In particular, I find that falling behind perceived expectations of peers regarding markers of adulthood is associated with anxiety and that falling behind the perceived expectations of parents and society regarding markers of adulthood is associated with depressive symptoms. Substantive, theoretical, and policy implications of these findings are discussed.