Although young adults are faced with a diversity of life choices, they seem to be coming to terms with themselves and their lives in their 20s, says new University of Alberta research that shows psychological well-being improves after adolescence and girls improve faster than boys.
Dr. Nancy Galambos from the Department of Psychology followed a sample of the same cohort of people over a seven-year period and looked specifically at how 18-25 year olds make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Few studies have tracked changes in psychological well-being in this age group.
“I see these results as good news,” said Galambos. “We can expect the average 18-year-old to show improved mental health over the course of the next seven years. I think it is important to note, though, that these are average trends, and we cannot ignore the fact that some mental health problems first appear in the early 20s and rates of clinical depression are quite high in this age group. So a certain proportion of young people will not do well during this period.”
Another interesting finding was that improved psychological well-being reduced the gender differences first appearing in adolescence. As expected, women showed significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms and lower levels of self-esteem at age 18 than men, but on both indicators women improved at a faster rate than did men by age 25, bringing the two genders closer together.
“The fact that girls improved faster than boys–or young women improved faster than young men–was a complete surprise,” said Galambos. “I really did not know that this would happen.”
The research team, also made up of the U of A’s Dr. Harvey Krahn and Erin Barker, a PhD student at the time, looked at the effect that different backgrounds had on psychological well-being. They found that although parent education was unrelated to depressive symptoms and expressed anger at age 18, depression and anger decreased fastest among emerging adults with two university-educated parents.
“Emerging adulthood is a period during which many young people are learning to do what they are supposed to do to reach maturity–they are learning to cope with challenges in an effective manner and to handle their emotions in a healthy way,” said Galambos. “Of course, they can get thrown off by life’s losses, such as unemployment or loss of friendships, but their development can also be enhanced by life’s gains, such as getting married or establishing new friendships.”
This research appears in the current issue of the journal, Developmental Psychology.