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From Teen Dreams to Adult Achievements: Early Goals Shape Success

Summary: A new study reveals how adolescents’ life goals evolve into young adulthood and significantly impact their educational and occupational outcomes. The study found that high aspirations in prestige and education during adolescence are strong predictors of higher income, job complexity, and occupational prestige twelve years later.

This longitudinal study, which followed two cohorts of Icelandic youth, underscores the importance of maintaining and developing focused educational and prestige goals. The research highlights that while some adolescent dreams may fade, those centered around education and career success tend to drive significant life achievements.

Key Facts:

  1. The study demonstrated that adolescents with high educational and prestige goals are likely to achieve higher educational levels, earn more, and attain more complex and prestigious jobs as adults.
  2. Life goals related to family, relationships, and community also tend to remain stable and grow in importance as adolescents transition into adulthood.
  3. This research is the first to investigate how the development of life goals from adolescence affects educational and occupational outcomes later in life.

Source: University of Houston

“Where is my life going?” “Who do I want to be?”  

As future-thinkers, adolescents spend significant time contemplating these types of questions about their life goals.

A new study from the University of Houston shows that as people grow from teenagers to young adults, they tend to change the importance they place on certain life goals, but one thing is certain: The existence of high prestige and education goals, as well as their positive development, can drive success. 

These goals might become even more significant as people get older. Credit: Neuroscience News

“Adolescents who endorsed higher levels of prestige and education goals tended to have higher educational attainment, income, occupational creativity, occupational prestige and job complexity after 12 years,” reports Rodica Damian, associate professor of psychology in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The paper’s first author, Andreea Sutu, is a former graduate student of Damian’s. Also on the team are former UH assistant professor Kevin Hoff and Sif Einarsdóttir of the University of Iceland.  

No prior studies have investigated associations between life goal development and educational or occupational outcomes. 

Damian and colleagues found that goals fluctuate – some dreams and goals of youth fall away while some, related to family (like being close to your relatives), relationships (like having good friendships or a romantic partner) and community (like being involved in your neighborhood or helping others) stay strong. These goals might become even more significant as people get older. 

“Life goals are expected to change over time and these changes are expected to have consequences for future life outcomes, including occupational outcomes,” said Damian.

“By understanding how changes in life goals relate to educational and occupational outcomes (above and beyond adolescent levels), we show how changes within individuals may also predict desired educational and occupational attainment.” 

The study examined how life goals developed with age and how adolescent levels of goals, and their development through young adulthood, related to educational attainment and occupational outcomes in young adulthood.

The study used two nationally representative samples of Icelandic youth followed longitudinally across 12 years from late adolescence to young adulthood.    

“For educational attainment, the strongest effects were found for education goals. Both initial levels and slopes of education goals were positively associated with educational attainment in both samples,” said Damian.

“This indicates that adolescents with higher education goals, and those who showed a more positive change pattern in education goals, had higher educational attainment in young adulthood.” 

Education and prestige goals emerged as the most consistent predictors of later income and that changes in these goals across time were the most consistent predictors of later occupational prestige and complexity. 

“Our work highlights the importance of better understanding sources of goal development in adolescence and young adulthood. Overall, our focus on life goal development, educational attainment and occupational outcomes informs theoretical and practical understanding about the importance of life goals for real-world outcomes,” said Damian.   

About this neurodevelopment and psychology research news

Contact: Laurie Fickman – University of Houston
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
“” by Rodica Damian et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


Life goal development, educational attainment, and occupational outcomes: A 12-year, multisample longitudinal study

Life goals play a major role in shaping people’s lives and careers. Although life goals have prior documented associations with occupational and other life outcomes, no prior studies have investigated associations between life goal development and occupational outcomes.

Using two representative samples of Icelandic youth (Sample 1: n = 485, Sample 2: n = 1,339), followed across 12 years from adolescence to young adulthood, we examined life goal development and associations with educational attainment and a wide range of occupational outcomes.

We found that life goals had relatively high rank-order and profile stability across the 12 years.

Most life goals decreased in importance during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, except for family- and community-related goals, pointing to a continued focus on building social relationships in young adulthood.

We also found meaningful variation in change at the item level within certain goal domains.

Furthermore, adolescent levels of life goals, as well as changes in certain goals, predicted educational attainment and occupational outcomes in young adulthood. T

his suggests that life goals motivate career behaviors beginning at an early age and that subsequent changes in certain life goals also matter for educational and occupational outcomes.

Dominance analyses revealed that education and prestige life goals were generally the strongest predictors of future outcomes.

Overall, these results highlight the importance of life goal development in predicting later educational attainment and occupational outcomes.