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Resources and resilience in the transition to adulthood: Continuity and change


Patterns of continuity and change in competence and resilience over the transition to adulthood were examined in relation to adversity and psychosocial resources, with a focus on adaptive resources that may be particularly important for this transition. Variable-focused and person-focused analyses drew on data from the Project Competence longitudinal study of a school cohort followed over 20 years from childhood through emerging adulthood (EA) into the young adulthood (YA) years with excellent retention (90%). Success in age-salient and emerging developmental tasks from EA to YA was examined in a sample of 173 of the original participants with complete data on adversity, competence, and key resources. Regressions and extreme-group analyses indicated striking continuity in competence and resilience, yet also predictable change. Success in developmental tasks in EA and YA was related to core resources originating in childhood (IQ, parenting quality, socioeconomic status) and also to a set of EA adaptive resources that included planfulness/future motivation, autonomy, adult support, and coping skills. EA adaptive resources had unique predictive significance for successful transitions to adulthood, both overall and for the small group of individuals whose pattern of adaptation changed dramatically from maladaptive to resilient over the transition. Results are discussed in relation to the possibility that the transition to adulthood is a window of opportunity for changing the life course.This article is based on data collected as part of the Project Competence longitudinal study, which was initiated under the leadership of Norman Garmezy, and was supported through grants to Ann Masten, Auke Tellegen, and Norman Garmezy from the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Science Foundation (SBR-9729111), the National Institute of Mental Health (MH33222), and the University of Minnesota. Preliminary results of this study were presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence in Baltimore (March 2004). The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions to this study by the participants, who shared their lives over time to benefit others, and by the many research team members, students, and faculty, who added ideas and data to this endeavor over the years. The authors particularly want to acknowledge the role of Doug Coatsworth in designing the emerging adulthood assessments pertinent to this article and the current members of the Project Competence research team who improved this article through their thoughtful critiques and comments as the analyses and writing progressed.

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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Ann Masten, Institute of Child Development, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455; E-mail:
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Development and Psychopathology
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