Developmental research has enjoyed enormous growth in the past two decades. Virtually all gauges of scientific activity – research articles published, funds generated, journals created, volumes released – indicate that the discipline's expansion in the 1980s and 1990s matches the earlier growth spurt of the 1920s and 1930s. The main difference is that contemporary progress is occurring on several fronts simultaneously. Each of the modern domains of developmental research can claim increases in scientific activity and, possibly, in influence.
Epidemiological measures of childhood and adolescent mental health tell a different story, however. They suggest decline rather than progress. During the past two decades, there have been increases in problems that have been targeted for solution by developmental researchers. These include heightened rates of arrests for violence among girls, increased drug use, more sexually transmitted diseases in adolescence, increases in unmarried teen parenthood, and increases in the rate of teenage suicide. To be sure, not all the news is bad. Over the same period, there have been increases in performance on cognitive tests, higher rates of high school graduation, and lower rates of infant mortality for children of teenage parents.
Because commonsense measures of progress in developmental research yield conflicting results, a third perspective seems called for. It is provided by persons who should know the discipline best, namely, a sample of its leading contributors.