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Unrealized educational expectations do not always lead to frustration and anxiety

June 04, 2019

Reynolds and Baird used two national studies of youth, the National Longitudinal Study and the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health), both of which track respondents over a period of time, to test whether unrealized expectations are associated with depression in adulthood. Using data from more than 4,300 respondents, they compared the count of symptoms of depression for those who did and did not achieve their earlier educational plans and found little difference.

Those with lower levels of education did have more depression, but the depression was associated with the lower attainment, not any gap between plans and attainment, Reynolds said. Previous research has established that more educated individuals report better mental and physical health.

The researchers theorize that many young adults who did not reach their educational goals develop a sort of "adaptive resilience" that buffers them from the kind of depression that could result from feelings of failure. A dramatic increase in older undergraduates in recent years also suggests that young people do not necessarily believe they must meet their educational goals while still in their 20s.

"It may be that young adults can successfully adapt to the unexpected, focusing on the positive aspects of their transition to adulthood rather than dwelling on plans that have fallen through or have been put on hold indefinitely," Reynolds said. "They might also deal with failed plans by extending the plans forward in time as achievements still to come. Young adults with college expectations may visualize having their entire lives to realize their educational plans."

Source: Florida State University