A Person-Centered Approach to the Study of Psychological Well-Being in Emerging Adulthood

Neshat J Yazdani, Fordham University


Background: The theory of emerging adulthood (EA) was generated to better account for development in the context of changing social norms in industrialized societies (e.g., delayed marriage, increased college attendance). EA theory describes ages 18 to 29 as being characterized by five features: identity exploration, feelings of instability, self-focus, being in-between adolescence and adulthood, and possibility for the future. Thus, EA may be a sensitive period for changes in well-being. This study sought to test the relationships between these experiences and emerging adults’ well-being, including by assessing the role of natural mentors, or non-parental supportive adults, as resources promoting well-being. Methods: A cross-sectional sample of 1,149 emerging adults from the U.S. completed an online survey measuring the features of EA, six facets of psychological well-being (autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance), and the characteristics of their natural mentoring relationships. They also completed questionnaires measuring aspects of ill-being (e.g., stress), reported sociodemographic data, and completed open-ended questions regarding perceived adulthood status. Results: Latent profile analysis identified five profiles of EA experiences: early transition, stalled/instable transition, negative transition, transitional time, and positive transition. The composition of these profiles differed in terms of participants’ race/ethnicity, immigrant-origin status, socioeconomic status, and postsecondary educational experiences. Participants in the more negative profiles (i.e., the stalled/instable and negative transition profiles) reported universally low well-being. Among participants in the stalled/instable transition profile, those with at least one natural mentor reported significantly higher personal growth and purpose in life than those without a mentor. Conclusion: Findings from this study suggest that there are at least five unique profiles of EA, defined by qualitatively different experiences of the features of EA, and that race/ethnicity, immigrant-origin status, socioeconomic status, and postsecondary educational experiences partially differentiate these profiles. Results showed clear links between EA experiences and well-being, and suggest that emerging adults in specific profiles may benefit from the support provided by natural mentors. Altogether, these findings contribute to our understanding of how diverse emerging adults in the U.S. experience EA, and provide insight into the effects of this normative life transition on well-being.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Psychology|Social psychology|Public health

Recommended Citation

Yazdani, Neshat J, "A Person-Centered Approach to the Study of Psychological Well-Being in Emerging Adulthood" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30427017.