The transition to adulthood is a highly formative period for the crystallization of psychological orientations relating to work, leisure (Inglehart 1990), and politics (Glenn 1980). Alwin and colleagues’ (1991) study of a panel of Bennington college women from the 1930s to the 1980s reports extraordinary persistence of political attitudes formed while in college over an approximately fifty-year period (a stability coefficient of .781).
Work orientations also become more stable following early adulthood (Lorence and Mortimer 1985; Mortimer et al. 1988). Three explanations have been put forward to account for this pattern: The first implicates the environment; the second, features of the person; the third combines both elements. According to the first line of reasoning, the relatively dense spacing of major life events during the transition to adulthood generates external pressures to form new attitudes or to change previous views (Glenn 1980).
While similar events can occur later in life (e.g., a job or career change, remarriage, or entry into an adult education program), they are usually spaced more widely and are like those experienced previously, rather than wholly new circumstances requiring adaptation. Similarly, experiences at work generally assume greater constancy after an initial period of job instability (Osterman 1980).
Primary relationships that provide support for attitudes are often in flux during the transition to adulthood; thereafter, stable primary groups may provide continuing support for previously crystallized attitudinal positions (Sears 1981; Backman 1981; Alwin et al. 1991). According to this perspective, there may be continuing capacity to change throughout life (Baltes et al. 1980), but if environments become more stable after the adult transition, there will be less impetus for such change (Moss and Susman 1980).