Life Goal Development, Educational Attainment, and Occupational Outcomes: A 12-Year, Multisample Longitudinal Study

Andreea Sutu, Kevin A. Hoff, Chu Chu, Sif Einarsdóttir, James Rounds, Rodica Ioana Damian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Life goals play a major role in shaping people’s lives and careers. Although life goals have prior documented associations with occupational and other life outcomes, no prior studies have investigated associations between life goal development and occupational outcomes. Using two representative samples of Icelandic youth (Sample 1: n = 485, Sample 2: n = 1,339), followed across 12 years from adolescence to young adulthood, we examined life goal development and associations with educational attainment and a wide range of occupational outcomes. We found that life goals had relatively high rank-order and profile stability across the 12 years. Most life goals decreased in importance during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, except for family- and community-related goals, pointing to a continued focus on building social relationships in young adulthood. We also found meaningful variation in change at the item level within certain goal domains. Furthermore, adolescent levels of life goals, as well as changes in certain goals, predicted educational attainment and occupational outcomes in young adulthood. This suggests that life goals motivate career behaviors beginning at an early age and that subsequent changes in certain life goals also matter for educational and occupational outcomes. Dominance analyses revealed that education and prestige life goals were generally the strongest predictors of future outcomes. Overall, these results highlight the importance of life goal development in predicting later educational attainment and occupational outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • educational attainment
  • goal development
  • life goals
  • occupational outcomes
  • young adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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