Early Adulthood
Social & Personality Development

Prepared by Ethel Cantu

Based on Development Across the Lifespan, 2nd Ed

by Robert Feldman, Prentice-Hall


Social & Personality Development in Early Adulthood

•        Relationships

•        Lifestyles

•        Family Life

•        Career


•        Erikson: identity vs isolation

–      Need to make deep personal commitments to others: sacrifice and compromise

•     Love in close friendships, marriage, children

–      Difficulty in this stage leads to loneliness, isolation, & fear of relationships

•        Erikson excludes single, celibate, childless, and homosexual lifestyles as healthy



•        Intimacy

–     close, warm, communicative experience

•     self-disclosure, sense of belonging

•        Friendship

–     based on mutual interests and values

–     women’s friendships are more intimate

•     share confidences

–     men’s friendships are less intimate

•      share activities



•        Sternberg’s triangular theory of love

–      Passion

•     intense, physiological desire for another person

–      Intimacy

•     self-disclosure leading to connection, warmth, trust

–      Commitment

•     staying with a person through thick and thin


Patterns of Loving

•        Nonlove

–      absence of all three components

•        Liking

–      intimacy, but no commitment or passion

•        Infatuation

–      passion, but no commitment or intimacy

•        Empty Love

–      commitment, but no intimacy or passion


Patterns of Loving

•        Romantic Love

–      intimacy and passion, but no commitment

•        Fatuous Love

–      commitment and passion, but no intimacy

•        Companionate Love

–      commitment and love, but no passion

•        Consummate Love

–      commitment, intimacy, and passion


Patterns of Loving

•        Patterns change as the partners change

–      Typical patterns:

•     passion peaks early, declines, then stabilizes

•     intimacy & commitment increase if relationship is satisfying



•        Cross-cultural similarities

–      Men prefer physically attractive women

–      Women prefer industrious & ambitious men

•        Social evolution theory explains this as part of our evolutionary history

•        Social construction theory explains this as a result of socialization into gender stereotypes


Nonmarital Lifestyles

•        Single

–     Numbers increasing:postpone or avoid marriage

–     More acceptance, less social pressure to marry

–     Most are active, secure, fulfilled

•        Homosexual

–     Coming out difficult, strong societal disapproval

–     Seek love through long term relationships

–     Satisfaction levels are similar to heterosexual relationships


Nonmarital Lifestyles

•        Cohabitation

–     unmarried couple in a sexual relationship live together in consensual union

•     becoming more prevalent as earlier sexual maturation is coupled with longer preparation time for employment

–     lack commitment to marriage

•     tend to have lower quality marriages and greater likelihood of divorce

•     may reflect characteristics of people who choose cohabitation, rather than cohabitation itself



•        Meets fundamental needs for belonging, sex, emotional growth, happiness….

•        Best way for raising children

•        Positively correlated with better physical, mental and financial well-being

•        Differing expectations for marriage

–      women expect sharing feelings and confidences

–      men expect sharing activities, especially sex



•        Divorce rate highest in early adulthood

–      Half of marriages end in divorce

•     Characterized by high levels of conflict

–      Communication problems is #1 reason

•        Predictors of divorce

–      Low in affection & “we-ness”

–      High in negativity & disappointment


Family Life

•        Becoming parents

–      Desire for children is almost universal

•     Fulfills psychological needs for close bonds

•     Strong societal norm- 90% have a child

–      Nuclear family is not universal

–      Unwanted pregnancies more likely among younger, poorer, less educated


Family Life

•        Trends in western cultures

–      Smaller families and starting families later

–      More single women having and raising children

–      Most mothers work for pay

–      More fathers are primary caregivers

–      More blended families due to remarriage

–      More homosexual parents


Marriage Satisfaction

•        Marital satisfaction follows a U shape

–     declines during child-raising years

–     rises from middle to late adulthood

•        Decline in satisfaction attributed to stresses of parenting

–     financial resources and number of children

–     division of home responsibilities

•        Marital satisfaction increases when grown children depart if marriage is good


Career Development

•        Vaillant

–      Establishment

•     Autonomy, basic life decisions

–      Consolidation

•     Career, marriage, not questioning

–      Transition           

•     Questioning to examine “world within”

•        Early adulthood is time of career consolidation

–      Time & energy is centered on career development


Career Development

•        Based on male normative model; women’s life structures are more variable

–      gender splitting: rigid divisions between men’s and women’s roles limit women’s development

–      torn between two selves: traditional homemaker and working/career woman

–      difficult to combine both