Ado­les­cents who express uncer­tainty about living past young adult­hood are sig­nif­i­cantly more likely than opti­mistic indi­vid­uals to face harsh socioe­co­nomic real­i­ties more than a decade later, according to a new study con­ducted by a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity researcher.

The find­ings — which dove­tail with Northeastern’s focus on use-​​inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity and sus­tain­ability — were reported on April 3 in the online edi­tion of the journal Social Sci­ence & Medicine.

Quynh Nguyen, lead author and data ana­lyst for the Insti­tute on Urban Health Research in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, ana­lyzed data from a nation­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive cohort of approx­i­mately 19,000 ado­les­cents in grades 7 through 12. The teens were sur­veyed in the National Lon­gi­tu­dinal Study of Ado­les­cent Health in 1995 and then again in 2008.

Ado­les­cents who ini­tially reported a 50 per­cent chance or less of living to age 35 had a 73 per­cent greater chance of obtaining only a high-​​school edu­ca­tion than their more opti­mistic peers.

Nguyen found that ado­les­cents who ini­tially reported a 50 per­cent chance or less of living to age 35 had a 73 per­cent greater chance of obtaining only a high-​​school edu­ca­tion than their more opti­mistic peers. She also found that ado­les­cents with low per­ceived sur­vival expec­ta­tions were sig­nif­i­cantly more likely to make less money.

The find­ings are sig­nif­i­cant because they iden­tify a novel and effi­cient pre­dictor of future adult out­comes, inde­pen­dent of other impor­tant back­ground char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Nguyen said, noting that the study con­trolled for char­ac­ter­is­tics such as sex, race and self-​​rated health. “Screening for these per­cep­tions early in life, along with other psy­choso­cial char­ac­ter­is­tics, may assist in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of at-​​risk youth.”

The study high­lighted a dis­crep­ancy in sur­vival expec­ta­tions between black and white par­tic­i­pants: Approx­i­mately 25 per­cent of African Amer­ican ado­les­cents reported uncer­tainty about living to age 35 com­pared to only 10 per­cent of their white, non-​​Hispanic peers.

Other cor­re­lates of lower sur­vival expec­ta­tions included living in an impov­er­ished neigh­bor­hood, being involved in vio­lence and expe­ri­encing depres­sive symptoms.

Placing ado­les­cents in healthy envi­ron­ments in which they could thrive could boost sur­vival expec­ta­tions, Nguyen noted. “One way to opti­mize their future out­look is to con­nect them to role models through intern­ships and summer pro­grams that allow them to explore their inter­ests and poten­tial careers,” she said. “Where you start says a lot about where you will end up.”