Longitudinal and Life Course Studies
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Agency, linked lives and historical time: evidence from the longitudinal three-generation Youth Development Study

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  • 1 University of Minnesota, , USA
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Whereas Glen Elder and associates’ principles of the life course are usually articulated and investigated individually, they reference analytic distinctions that simplify their empirical coexistence and mutual interrelation. This article illustrates this complexity by focusing on the principle of agency and its intersections with ‘linked lives’ and ‘time and place’. Data are drawn from the Youth Development Study (YDS), which has followed a Minnesota cohort (G2, born 1973–74) from mid-adolescence (ages 14–15) to midlife (ages 45–46). The YDS also includes G1 parents and G3 children, the latter surveyed at about the same age as their parents were when the research began. The findings indicate that multiple agentic orientations, observed in adolescence, affect adult attainments; they are shaped by the ‘linked lives’ of grandparents, parents and children over longer periods of time than previously recognised; and their associations with educational achievement are historically specific. Whereas the ‘linked lives’ of parents and adolescents are generally studied contemporaneously, the agentic orientations of parents, measured as teenagers, were found to predict the same psychological resources in their adolescent children (self-concept of ability, optimism and economic efficacy) decades later. We also found evidence that parents’ occupational values continue to influence the values of their children as the children’s biographies unfold. Suggesting a historic shift in the very meaning and behavioural consequences of agentic orientations, optimism and efficacy replaced educational ambition as significant predictors of academic achievement.

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  • 1 University of Minnesota, , USA

The 2020 John Bynner Distinguished Scholar Award 2020 was presented to Jeylan T. Mortimer.

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