Stability and Change in Personality Traits and Major Life Goals From College to Midlife

Olivia E. Atherton, Emily Grijalva, Brent W. Roberts, Richard W. Robins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The association between personality traits and motivational units, such as life goals, has been a long-standing interest of personality scientists. However, little research has investigated the longitudinal associations between traits and life goals beyond young adulthood. In the present study (N = 251), we examined the rank-order stability of, and mean-level changes in, the Big Five and major life goals (Aesthetic, Economic, Family/Relationship, Hedonistic, Political, Religious, Social) from college (age 18) to midlife (age 40), as well as their co-development. Findings showed that personality traits and major life goals were both moderately-to-highly stable over 20 years. On average, there were mean-level increases in the Big Five and mean-level decreases in life goals over time. Patterns of co-development suggest people formulate goals consistent with their personality traits, and conversely, investing in goal-relevant contexts is associated with trait change. We discuss the results in light of Social Investment Theory and the developmental regulation literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-858
Number of pages18
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Big Five
  • adulthood
  • goals
  • personality development
  • self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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