The role of adolescent identity in romantic and sexual relationships during emerging adulthood
Sullivan, Molly Kathleen, 1981-
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This study uses the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to investigate continuity in early adolescents’ romantic and sexual identity and family and union formation patterns during emerging adulthood. The sample included participants who were aged 12 to 15 at Wave I and aged 18 to 22 with valid sampling weights at Wave III. Early adolescents’ identity was measured through reports of their ideal romantic relationships. Based on their expectations of an ideal relationship, participants were grouped into classes using latent class analysis (LCA). Four distinct classes emerged from early adolescents’ expectations and were compared across gender, age, race, and romantic and sexual experience. Family and union formation outcomes during emerging adulthood were regressed on latent class membership for early adolescent expectation patterns. Principal differences in union and family formation patterns depended on early adolescents’ expectations of sexual behaviors. Individuals with sexual expectations during early adolescence were more likely to report marriage, cohabitation, pregnancy, and sexual initiation during emerging adulthood. They were also likely to report more cohabiting relationships, more sexual partners, and younger age at sexual debut. Overall, sexual expectations during early adolescence are a risk factor for family and union formation patterns during emerging adulthood. This study provides evidence for continuity in romantic and sexual experiences. Framing romantic and sexual relationships in a developmental context provides great explanatory opportunities. Future directions and limitations of this study are also discussed.