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Developmental properties of transactional models: The case of life events and mastery from adolescence to young adulthood



That behavior reflects ongoing transactions between person and context is an enshrined proposition of developmental theory, although the dynamic properties of these transactions have not been fully appreciated. In this article, we focus on reciprocal links between the Pearlin mastery scale and life events in the transition to adulthood, a strategic relationship given that control orientations are thought to mediate links between stressors and a range of indicators of distress, and given that life events become increasingly likely in young adulthood. Drawing on 12 waves of data from the Youth Development Study, spanning ages 14–15 to 26–27, we examine a series of growth curve models that interrelate mastery and life events. Results for females reveal that mastery during the senior year of high school predicts life events for the following 4-year period, which in turn predicts mastery over the 5-year period spanning ages 21–22 to 26–27. For males, mastery during the senior year (and perhaps the sophomore year) predicts subsequent life events, which in turn have short-term implications for mastery. Thus, transactions between life events and mastery are observed, although the temporal patterns of these exchanges are complex. These findings are discussed in terms of the developmental properties of transactions between person and context.The Youth Development Study is supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD44138) and the National Institute of Mental Health (MH42843). Support for the research reported in this article comes in part from a subcontract to the first author (“Role configurations and well-being in the transition to adulthood”). The authors thank Lance Erickson and Sondra Smolek for helpful assistance.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Michael J. Shanahan, 212 Hamilton Hall, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599; E-mail:


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