The period between adolescence and adulthood represents a critical developmental transition. Diversity in life paths becomes more clearly manifest during this transition (Sherrod, Haggerty, & Featherman, 1993), and interindividual variability in the timing and content of developmental milestones increases. This greater diversity is due to the realization of life path preferences established before the transition as well as to the creation of newpaths as a function of experiences during the transition. The emergence of new roles and social contexts provides increased opportunities for successes and failures, which in turn may set the stage for potential discontinuity in functioning between adolescence and young adulthood (e.g., Aseltine & Gore, 1993; Petersen, 1993; Schulenberg, Wadsworth, O'Malley, Bachman, & Johnston, 1996).
At the broader societal level, there is relatively little institutional structure to facilitate the transition to young adulthood (Hamilton, 1990; Hurrlemann, 1990). For example, there is far less institutionally and culturally imposed structure on the roles, experiences, and expectations of young people when they make the transition out of adolescence compared with when they make the transition into adolescence. This relative lack of structure is undoubtedly developmentally beneficial for some older adolescents. For others, however, the lack of structure creates a developmental mismatch that adversely influences their health and well-being (see, for example, Eccles et al., 1997; Lerner, 1982; Schulenberg, Maggs, & Hurrelmann, 1997).
Moreover, as Clausen (1991), Elder (1986), Mortimer (1992), and Schuman and Scott (1989) have shown, decisions and experiences during this transition can have powerful reverberations throughout the course of one's adulthood.