This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Using a life course perspective to study significant life events as contexts of development and change




Harcourt, Kate Taylor

Type of Degree



Human Development and Family Studies


This dissertation utilizes life course theory by examining components of the theory (transitions, trajectories, durations, and turning points) and their influence on individual and relational well-being within two at risk populations. Each of the studies offers novel contributions to the literature through their use of theory, methodological advances, and implications for policy and future research. Additionally, both studies highlight differing experiences within groups. The first study examined detailed cumulative family structure spanning birth through emerging adulthood and its influence on individual outcomes using a sample of young adults (N=536). Latent class analysis was used to determine profiles of cumulative family structure experiences based on measures of family structure measured at five time points, duration in current family structure, the total number of parent relationship transitions, and the total number of sibling transitions. We found two distinct stable groups, two distinct mostly stable groups (i.e., experienced early instability and later stability, or experienced early stability and later instability), and one highly unstable group. Ethnic minority respondents and those with less educated mothers were most likely to have experienced family structure trajectories characterized by early instability. Current levels of depressive symptoms differed by groups such that those in the stable classes as well as those who experienced early instability reported lower levels of depressive symptoms. The second study examines the impact of relationship education on prisoners’ individual outcomes and whether change from pre- to post-test is moderated by demographic characteristics and contextual variables using a sample of incarcerated adults (N=111). The study found improvement in all three domains of functioning (couple, individual and parental). Specifically, results indicated change on six of the eight outcome variables examined. Overall, we find both similarities and differences among program participants at start and on changes from pre- to post-test. For the majority of outcomes, the positive impact of the program emerged regardless of the demographic and contextual variables.