Adult identity and risk behavior: Establishing psychosocial maturity as a protective factor for sexual minorities


Grix, Timothy Jared (2015). Adult identity and risk behavior: Establishing psychosocial maturity as a protective factor for sexual minorities.


Prior research suggests that sexual minorities [e.g., lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) identified individuals] are more susceptible than their heterosexual peers to behaviors such as substance use, criminality, and suicidality during both adolescence and young adulthood. Such scholarly work has examined the underpinnings of this association (Marshal et al. 2009; Fedewa & Ahn 2011; Safren & Steimberg 1999). Perhaps the most prominent explanation, minority stress theory suggests that due to discrimination and stigma, subjective age (i.e., one's sense of maturity) is increased by membership in the disadvantaged sexual minority group, while psychosocial maturity (i.e., the mental and emotional competence that accompanies genuine adult development) is stunted in sexual minority groups. Subjective age and psychosocial maturity, both aspects of adult identity, have been shown to influence adolescents' risk behavior and young adults' mental health (Galambos et al. 1999; Benson 2014). Yet no research links these two components of adult identity to risk behavior during the transition to young adulthood. Additionally, little work has been done to consider whether sexual minority youth's increased probability of risk behavior is due to differing levels of adult identity formation. Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (n=11,404; 53.6% female; ages 18 to 26 years), this study explores how two key components of adult identity, subjective age and psychosocial maturity, influence levels of substance abuse, criminality, and suicidality. This study further examines whether subjective agep psychosocial maturity differ between sexual minority young adults and their heterosexual peers, and additionally explores whether the relationships between subjective age and psychosocial maturity and risk behavior vary by sexual minority status. Results from ordinal and logistic regression analyses indicate that psychosocial maturity is significantly associated with reduced odds of all three risk behaviors. While the strength of these associations is similar for both sexual minority and heterosexual respondents, sexual minority status is associated with greater odds of reporting a higher subjective age and lower odds of reporting higher psychosocial maturity. These results are consistent with previous work on minority stress and adult identity and suggest successful adult psychosocial development hasa pronounced protective effect against risk behavior for sexual minority young adults.


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Grix, Timothy Jared

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Ohio State University

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