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The Road Taken: Social Mobility in the Transition to Adulthood


The dissertation builds upon motivational and developmental theory regarding how societal and individual agency factors are associated with developmental outcomes in young adulthood. In particular, the dissertation increases our understanding of how young adults' beliefs systems are related with their career-related motivational strategies and progress or setbacks toward attaining their career goals through the construction of a theoretically grounded and empirically validated model. This model is developed through an examination of the following research questions. (1) How do young adults believe that socioeconomic status is attained in America by people in general, and for themselves personally? (2) How are young adults' beliefs about the fairness of the world related to their beliefs about how socioeconomic status is attained by other people in American society, and how are these beliefs subsequently related with the factors they identify as causal to their own socioeconomic status attainment? (3) How do young adults' beliefs about socioeconomic status attainment relate to their engagement with career- related goals? (4) How are young adults' career-related motivational strategies related to career development? and (5) How does an individual's career development influence her/his subsequent beliefs about socioeconomic status attainment?

Data are drawn from two longitudinal studies of young adults during the university to post-university transition. Study 1 includes 140 participants, roughly half of whom are juniors and half seniors at the first assessment. Participants are assessed approximately every six months, for a total of four assessment points. Study 2 includes 282 participants who had just graduated from university at the first assessment. Participants are assessed roughly every two and a half months, for a total of four assessment points.

The dissertation findings highlight the congruency of individuals' beliefs with their motivational strategies and career-related development. In addition, the results emphasize the adaptive flexibility of young adults' belief-motivation-development system, which allows individuals to engage with the pursuit of opportunity-congruent career goals and disengage when these goals appear unattainable. These findings build upon motivational and developmental theory, and provide an empirically validated model through which future research can further examine how young adults navigate the school-to-work transition.

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