- In 2008, the “Great Recession” gained its momentum and quickly grew into a global crisis that led to massive gross domestic product declines and job losses in countries around the world. Relative to prior economic downturns, young adults were greatly affected by the Great Recession. This likely placed a premium on the need for adaptation and strategic goal setting in order to successfully launch into adulthood in a competitive economic climate. This dissertation is comprised of two quantitative studies that examined change and stability in German young adults’ personal goals over the Great Recession years. Both studies utilized a sample of young adults aged 18-29 in 2008, drawn from the German Socio-Economic Panel (N = 3,292; 52.3% women). Young adults’ personal goal appraisals at the onset of the recession in 2008 were then compared to goal appraisals during the recovery phase in 2012.
Study 1 utilized a micro-analytic lens to emphasize interdependencies of personal goals across multiple life domains such as family, work, leisure, and self-fulfillment. In light of economic strain arising from the Great Recession, young adults were expected to adjust and adapt appraisals of personal goals across life domains from the beginning of the recession to its recovery. Using latent transition models, two profiles of personal goal adaptation were extracted, which primarily differed in the endorsement of family formation goals (low vs. high). Only a small share of individuals transitioned between the profiles over time. Females, older participants, and partnered and employed respondents were more likely to be classified into high family formation profile. Surprisingly, the results did not point toward a drastic rejection of family formation in favor of higher endorsements of self-fulfillment and work goals, or vice versa. The high degree of stability in profiles of goal appraisals indicated that: (1) holding on to family formation goals seemed to be important for emotional well-being; and (2) maintaining high aspirations on multiple goals was a protective factor in times of economic strain.
To complement the micro-analytic perspective of Study 1, the second study utilized a macro-analytic lens. It examined whether the availability of community resources—so-called local opportunity structures—buffered young adults from, or exposed them to, the effects of the recession in ways that altered their personal goals. Because men were more heavily affected by the recession than young women, as were certain geographical areas, this study focused on the effects of gender, community type (i.e., rural, urbanized, and urban), and regional indicators across federal states on change in appraisals of personal goals across life domains. Multilevel models revealed a decrease in work goals and an increase in family formation and pro-social goals. Regional indicators did not directly relate to goal appraisals, except the importance of having children, but rather amplified gender and community type differences in the rate of change in appraisals. Results suggested that (1) local opportunity structures served as intermediate institutional filters through which macro-level effects of the recession were transmitted to individuals; and, (2) reproductive goals seem particularly prone to contextual influences.
Taken together, the two studies focused on recession-related changes in young adults’ personal goal appraisals and were informed by distinct but complementary analytical and theoretical traditions. Study 1 took a more holistic, group-centered approach, which leaned more heavily on theories affiliated with life span psychology. Study 2, in contrast, applied a variable-centered methodology, which drew heavily on life course sociology. Findings across both studies suggested that (1) family formation goals were highly salient despite potential influences of the recession and could be a protective factor; (2) goal appraisals may have been resistant to macro-level economic pressures because they largely followed age-normative patterns; and (3) intermediate institutional filters, such as local opportunity structures, play an important role in explaining the link between macro-level recession effects and micro-level goal adaptation.