Methods: Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N=8,984), this study examines patterns of development in emerging adulthood. The data tracks the school-to- work experiences and factors that influence this transition among a nationally representative sample of youth born in 1980 through 1984. Using Rounds 1-9 of the data, the present study explores youth experiences from ages 12-26. Latent class analysis is used to identify patterns of youth development in emerging adulthood based on education level and social outcomes, including drug use, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior, and homelessness. The latent classes are then used to identify risk and protective factors for class membership.
Results: Latent class analysis identified the following four patterns of youth development in emerging adulthood: 1) low performing in all domains(13%): youth who dropped out of high school and struggle in all social domains, 2) educationally achieving teen parents (8%): youth who became teen parents and struggle in social domains, but showed success in education with over 75% graduating from high school and almost 1/3 going onto college, 3) struggling high school graduates (19%): youth who graduated from high school and showed moderate difficulty in other domains, and 4) high performing (59%): youth who graduated from high school and showed success in most domains. Examining risk and protective factors reinforced these profiles. Female youth were overrepresented in the teen parent and high performing profiles, while black and poor youth were overrepresented in the teen pregnancy and low performing groups. Examining difficult experiences in childhood, including bullying, community violence, and foster care involvement predicted membership in all three of the struggling groups. Youth in special education or remedial courses, showed high rates of membership in the low performing and struggling high school graduate profiles. Those with learning and emotional problems showed particularly high rates of being in the low performing group. High parental support and educational level were predictive of positive outcomes.
Discussion: This study identified four specific profiles of youth in emerging adulthood based on transition outcomes. Youth who were struggling grouped into three distinct profiles with particular risk factors for membership. This type of classification allows a closer examination of risk and protective factors, and the ability to target intervention to youth in need. Moving beyond programs aimed at one outcome, this type of analysis allows youth development to be understood in terms of the multiple domains that youth are grappling with in emerging adulthood. By understanding these sets of outcomes, how they work together, and risk and protective factors, we can best serve youth in this developmental period.