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Individual differences in the development of youth externalizing problems predict a broad range of adult psychosocial outcomes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2022

Allison E. Gornik*
Department of Neuropsychology, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, MD, USA Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA
D. Angus Clark
Department of Psychiatry, Addiction Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
C. Emily Durbin
Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA
Robert A. Zucker
Department of Psychiatry, Addiction Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Corresponding author: Allison Gornik, email:


This study examined how youth aggressive and delinquent externalizing problem behaviors across childhood and adolescence are connected to consequential psychosocial life outcomes in adulthood. Using data from a longitudinal, high-risk sample (N = 1069) that assessed children and their parents regularly from early childhood (ages 3–5) through adulthood, multilevel growth factors of externalizing behaviors were used to predict adult outcomes (age 24–31), providing a sense of how externalizing problems across development were related to these outcomes via maternal, paternal, teacher, and child report. Findings indicated strong support for the lasting connections between youth externalizing problems with later educational attainment and legal difficulties, spanning informants and enduring beyond other meaningful contributors (i.e., child sex, cognitive ability, parental income and education, parental mental health and relationship quality). Some support was also found, although less consistently, linking externalizing problems and later alcohol use as well as romantic relationship quality. Delinquent/rule-breaking behaviors were often stronger predictors of later outcomes than aggressive behaviors. Taken together, these results indicate the importance of the role youth externalizing behaviors have in adult psychosocial functioning one to two decades later.

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© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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Individual differences in the development of youth externalizing problems predict a broad range of adult psychosocial outcomes
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