Emerging Adults At Risk: The Contribution of Personal and Environmental Resources to their Adjustment

Naim Levi Nofar

Young adults at risk experience numerous significant challenges during their “emerging adulthood” period. This period is pivotal for their future, as various changes occur within it that have implications for the rest of their lives. On the one hand, this can create a window of opportunity for positive changes, while on the other hand, they may experience difficulties adjusting to adulthood in several areas: housing, relationships, employment, and education.

The aim of the present study is to examine the factors that contribute to the adjustment process of young adults at risk, in view of their history of risk. We focused on the personal and environmental resources at their disposal and the way these resources mediate and moderate the relationship between their background of risk and their process of adjustment. Firstly, we looked into the participants’ past, including socio-demographic characteristics, level of risk and traumatic experiences, and how all these relate to a loss of resources. Secondly, we examined the personal resource (self-esteem) as a moderating factor, and the environmental resources (social support, belonging to a community) as a mediating factor between the background variables and adjustment indices (personal well-being, future perception, and loneliness). This is based on the theoretical understanding that the level of resources derives from one’s background, and that these resources are essential to the adjustment process. Finally, we examined the participants’ risk behaviors and the way they are related to the study variables, as well as the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study’s theoretical framework is based on a model that combines two theories, both deriving from the ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994): one is the Conservation of Resources Theory (Hobfoll, 1989), which refers to the dynamics among the study variables and argues that a background of risk leads to a loss of resources in a way that harms their adjustment. The second theory, the General Systems Theory (Chetkow-Yanoov, 1997), constructs the hierarchy of the research variables, according to which a 3-tier model was constructed, as follows: 1. Inputs – background variables, traumatic events, level of risk, the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and risk behaviors; 2. Conversion processes – personal resources (self-esteem), environmental resources (social support, belonging to a community); and 3. Outputs – adjustment (loneliness, sense of personal well-being and perception of the future).


The study population included 398 at-risk emerging adults, aged 18-25. The study was conducted at a single point in time using online self-reporting questionnaires, which were based on tools for evaluating the adjustment indices and resources, and additional questionnaires that collected information about demographics, traumatic events and risk behaviors. After the first COVID-19 lockdown in Israel, the questionnaire was distributed once again among other emerging adults, with an added questionnaire about feelings of fear of COVID-19.  The questionnaires were distributed among emerging adults participating in the "Yated" program, which provides support to emerging adults at risk in all matters related to fulfilling their rights and needs and related to both personal and community development, at the personal, familial and occupational level (Yated, 2016). To analyze the data and examine the relationships and differences among the variables, the Pearson correlation coefficient, variance analyses and hierarchical regression were conducted. To validate the research model, analyses of both moderation and mediation were carried out.


This study examined the participants’ environmental resources as mediating factors, and their personal resources as a moderating factor. In addition, differences were examined between the young adults who participated after the pandemic period and a control group that included young adults who had participated before the pandemic. The findings show that background variables that indicate risk (traumatic experiences, level of risk) are associated with a loss of environmental resources (social support and belonging to a community). Moreover, differences were found between some categories of background variables associated with having fewer environmental resources: women, alumni of out-of-home placement, and those with divorced or single parents. The background variables that indicate risk (traumatic experiences and level of risk) were found to be more highly correlated with negative adjustment.

Significant correlations were found between the environmental resources of social support and belonging to a community, and all indices of adjustment; the personal resource of self-esteem was found to be positively correlated with well-being, although a positive correlation was also found between self-esteem and loneliness. 

The study, which examined the research participants’ risk behaviors, is the first to look into online risk behaviors among emerging adults at risk. A number of groups were found to have a higher propensity for risk behaviors: men, immigrants to Israel, and out-of-home placement alumni. Additionally, out-of-home placement alumni had a higher propensity for online risk behaviors. It was found that high self-esteem surprisingly leads to a higher incidence of online risk behaviors, while a low level of social support is correlated with a higher incidence of risk behaviors. Moreover, risk behaviors were found to be correlated with a negative future perception. Online risk behaviors were found to be negatively correlated with well-being, and positively correlated with loneliness. 

The mediation analyses revealed some of the key findings of the study, indicating that environmental resources (social support and a sense of belonging to a community) mediate between the risk level and the adjustment process. Thus, a high degree of risk leads to both low social support and a low sense of belonging to a community. Later on in life, this results in poor adjustment (low levels of well-being, future perception, and a high level of loneliness). The moderation analysis found that the personal resource of self-esteem moderates the relationship between level of risk and perception of the future, whether positive or negative. It shows that only among people with moderate and low self-esteem higher levels of risk are associated with a more negative future perception. Additionally, among people with low and moderate self-esteem, it was found that the higher the risk level, the lower the level of positive perception of the future.

The study indicates that the situation of the young adults worsened following the first pandemic lockdown: a high percentage of the participants accrued financial debts and some even suffered the loss of permanent housing after the pandemic period. Moreover, the background variables that examine the occurrence of traumatic experiences and level of risk were found to be high. As for environmental resources, there was a decline in social support and in the sense of belonging to a community. Finally, the adjustment difficulties became more severe, manifested in a lower sense of well-being, a more negative future perception, and a stronger feeling of loneliness which were observed following the lockdown. We also analyzed a questionnaire that evaluates feelings of fear of COVID-19, which found that stronger feelings of fear were associated with a greater degree of risk behaviors. In addition, a correlation was found between feelings of fear and indices of adjustment, such that a stronger fear of COVID-19 was correlated with lower well-being and a more negative perception of the future.   

Discussion and study implications

In the discussion we present the characteristics of emerging adults at risk, and the way their environmental resources contribute to their adjustment, despite preconditions that indicate a potential risk for experiencing adjustment difficulties. The discussion of these findings leads to practical conclusions regarding a number of socio-demographic characteristics that are associated with higher risk. Moreover, it indicates that environmental resources are of central importance; therefore, focusing on these resources in intervention programs may contribute greatly to the adjustment of emerging adults at risk. The understanding that young adults who are children of divorced or single parents are at greater risk underscores the importance of involving parents and other family members in intervention programs.

This study is one of very few on the subject that focus on emerging adults at risk within the community, as well as out-of-home placement alumni. Moreover, it is the first study to examine online risk behaviors among young adults at risk, and thus makes a new contribution with regard to the implications of such behaviors on this population. Furthermore, with regard to Internet use among emerging adults at risk, and in particular among out-of-home placement alumni, the study demonstrates the need to update procedures and conduct further research on this subject. In addition, it shows that the sense of belonging to a community is of utmost importance for emerging adults at risk, similar to the importance of social support.

From a theoretical perspective, the study expands the limited existing knowledge about the at-risk emerging adults' population, as well as the understanding of the implications of their background, including their traumatic experiences and level of risk, and the manner in which their resources contribute to their adjustment. Moreover, the study brings to the surface the main issues resulting from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on emerging adults at risk. In practical terms, the study contributes to the understanding of the unique characteristics of emerging adults at risk, making it possible to discern the risk factors that are significant to their adjustment as well as the factors that contribute to it. Such insights are important in order to assist professionals in designing and developing preventive and corrective interventions in the work with young adults at risk.

Last Updated Date : 06/09/2023