Cohort Differences in Personal Goals and Life Satisfaction in Young Adulthood: Evidence for Historical Shifts in Developmental Tasks

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This study investigated the influence of changing socio-historical conditions on personal goals in young adulthood. It was hypothesized that socio-historical changes related to individualization have resulted in shifts in goal pursuit. Participants from three birth cohorts reconstructed their important goals when they were 20 years old. Members of the oldest cohort were born between 1920 and 1925. Members of the middle cohort were born between 1945 and 1950. Members of the youngest cohort were born between 1970 and 1975. Goal content, the degree to which goals were perceived as being shared by members of the same cohort (social sharedness), perceived control over goal attainment, success in attainment, and life satisfaction at age 25 were measured in a retrospective study. Results show consistent shifts over time. Whereas members of older cohorts mentioned goals related to classical developmental tasks, members of younger cohorts mentioned more individualistic, self-related goals and goals related to education. The processes through which goal pursuit influenced life satisfaction also changed. Perceived social sharedness of goals was a direct predictor of life satisfaction for the oldest cohort. For the younger cohorts, perceived control over goal attainment influenced success which in turn influenced life satisfaction. These changes support the contention that developmental tasks and processes are historically variant.

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