Pathways to Adulthood and Marriage: Teenagers’ Attitudes, Expectations, and Relationship Patterns. Contents


Young adulthood is a time of transition and change, during which romantic relationships often play an important role. Relationships are formed and dissolved. Some young adults begin living together; some marry. Earlier experiences in childhood and adolescence may set the stage for these developments, by shaping attitudes, reinforcing certain behaviors, and setting youth on particular pathways into adulthood. Characteristics and experiences in adolescence, such as family structure or expectations of marriage, may influence whether young adults marry or cohabit and whether these relationships are high quality and satisfying.

In previous chapters, we explored adolescent precursors to adult relationships, such as family composition, early relationships, and attitudes. In this chapter, we extend our analysis beyond adolescence to examine romantic relationships in young adulthood. Using the 2005 wave of the NLSY97, we follow the cohort of teens examined in Chapter II into their early 20s. We examine their rates of dating, cohabitation, and marriage as young adults, as well as the quality of these relationships.(1) We also examine which groups are most likely to form romantic relationships and how relationship quality varies by race/ethnicity and gender. We analyze the link between these adult relationships and the individual’s characteristics in adolescence to determine whether young adults’ relationship outcomes vary by their family structure or marital expectations as teenagers.

There are two cautions concerning this analysis. First, it is based on data collected when the sample members were 21 to 24 years old.(2) Most of the sample members had not yet married or cohabited and many more of them will in the coming years. Therefore, we are examining the likelihood that this cohort will marry or cohabit early in adulthood and not the likelihood that they will ever marry or cohabit. Second, although there may be links between adolescent characteristics and outcomes as young adults, this does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. Other factors may cause what we observe in both adolescence and adulthood. Nevertheless, these associations may be useful for developing and refining healthy marriage programs for high-school-aged teens. In particular, this analysis can help identify which teens are most likely to form relationships in young adulthood and may, thus, particularly benefit from participation in a healthy relationship skills program.

View full report


"report.pdf" (pdf, 404.84Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®