Goal Construction, Reconstruction and Depressive Symptoms in a Life-Span Context: The Transition From School to Work


  • Jari-Erik Nurmi, Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä and Katarina Salmela-Aro, Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki. This study is part of the ongoing Helsinki Transition to Work (HTW) Study, and was funded by a grant from the Finnish Academy (41044). We are grateful to Jutta Heckhausen and Katja Kokko for their helpful comments on the drafts of the article.

Correspondence concerning the article should be addressed to Jari-Erik Nurmi, Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, P.O. Box 35, 40351 Jyväskylä, Finland, or NURMI@PSYKA.JYU.FI .


ABSTRACT This study focused on investigating the kinds of personal goals young adults have when they are faced with the transition from school to work; the extent to which they reconstruct these goals as a consequence of their success in dealing with this transition; and how their goals influence their depressive symptoms. In order to investigate these research questions, 250 young adults who were facing a transition from school to work were studied at three points of the transition process: while they were still at school; 8 months after their graduation; and 1.5 years after it. At each measurement point, they were asked to complete the Personal Project Analysis, a revised form of Beck's Depression Inventory, and the Work Status Questionnaire. The results revealed that the outcomes of young adults' efforts to deal with the transition from school to work had consequences for the ways in which they reconstructed their goals: Those who were successful in this transition showed a decline in the number of personal goals that did not relate to the next stages of this particular developmental trajectory, whereas those who had problems turned to goals that concerned other life domains, as an alternative, compensatory control strategy. The results also revealed that the impact of personal goals on depressive symptomatology was moderated by individuals' life situations following the transition: Work-related goals reduced individuals' depressive symptoms only among those who had been able to find a job, whereas self-related goals decreased it in a moratorium-type of life situation.