Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

June 1995


Published in PATHWAYS THROUGH ADOLESCENCE: Individual Development in Relation to Social Contexts, Edited by Lisa J. Crockett & Ann C. Crouter, LAWRENCE ERLBAUM ASSOCIATES, 1995. Copyright © 1995 Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Used by permission.


Much remains to be done to illuminate the processes shaping adolescents' developmental paths. Influences affecting adolescents' day-to-day behavior, as well as their decisions at specific turning points, need to be elucidated. The reciprocal influences operating between adolescent and environment, and the fact that selection processes (both passive and active) are likely to increase the correlation between individual and environmental characteristics, further complicate the task of disentangling causal processes. Furthermore, understanding adolescents' developmental pathways requires more than identifying the dynamic processes in operation at key turning points and in the settings the person enters subsequently. It requires examining the chain of events, or "series of contingencies" (Rutter, 1989)) that build on each other in the developmental process, producing distinctive life paths. For example, attending poor schools appears to affect later job success indirectly--by leading to poor school attendance, which, in turn, increases the probability of early school leaving and a failure to acquire key academic credentials. The lack of academic credentials then increases the probability of erratic employment and of working in unskilled jobs (Gray, Smith, & Rutter, 1980). Such findings suggest that, in order to understand developmental pathways, the sequence of "key decisions" needs to be identified for groups of individuals, and the contingencies operating between them need to be elucidated. Although it may be useful to focus initially on small segments of time, examining the processes operating at particular turning points, ultimately the task is to place these smaller segments into the broader context of the adolescents' emerging life course.