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Spending habits in college predict onset of adulthood

By Brooks Hays
Spending habits in college predict onset of adulthood
Research suggests college seniors who demonstrate positive financial behaviors are more likely to think of themselves as adults in the years after graduation. Photo by UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

July 22 (UPI) -- When do young people begin to see themselves as "adults?" New research suggests the onset of adulthood is predicted by college spending habits.

"We found that financial behaviors during that fourth year of college continue to have positive implications for emerging adults more than half a decade later," Melissa Curran, an associate professor of family studies and human development at University of Arizona, said in a news release.

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Curran and her research partners tracked the financial habits -- spending, saving, budgeting and borrowing -- of young adults intermittently over a six-year period, beginning with their senior of college. During post-grad followups, researchers also asked study participants to rate their level of agreement with a series of statements, like "I feel that I have matured fully."

"We asked them to reflect on whether they think they've already reached adulthood and whether others around them see and treat them as adults," said lead study author Xiaomin Li, a doctoral student in family studies and human development at the University of Arizona.

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Because previous studies have shown romantic partners have a significant influence on the financial behaviors of their boyfriends and girlfriends, researchers recruited study participants that were in committed relationships.

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Students whose significant others had good financial habits were more likely to view themselves as adults.

By the end of the six-year study, 80 percent of the study participants were married and 20 percent had children.

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"The emerging adults we focused on are at a special developmental phase, and in this period, they have the need for intimacy," Li said. "It's a stage when they become independent from the family but more dependent on their partner, so researchers need to regard intimate relationships' effects on development in this stage of emerging adulthood."

In reviewing the participants' answers to followup survey questions, researchers found those who demonstrated positive financial behaviors were less likely to experience symptoms of depression and report greater relationship satisfaction, both of which were correlated with stronger feelings adult identity.

Authors of the new study -- published Monday in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology -- hope their findings inspire colleges to put a greater emphasis on financial literacy and behavior.

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"Other stakeholders should develop some programs to help young adults keep accumulating more responsible financial behaviors even after they've graduated from college," Li said.

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