Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology


Clinical Psychology



First Advisor

Mark L. Robbins


Young adulthood is a period of transition during which individuals could greatly benefit from health promotion tools. Civic engagement has been touted as one potential form of health promotion given its association with positive well-being. However, researchers have primarily examined civic engagement as a health promotion tool among older adults and adolescents, and less is known about its mental health implications for young adults. Additionally, findings are more mixed among women and those from lower-socioeconomic populations perhaps because civic engagement is conceived as an extra burden. Less-educated individuals are less likely to civically engage and more likely to demonstrate mental health needs. More information is needed to disentangle relationships between civic engagement and well-being, particularly among young adult women and those from lower educational backgrounds.

Study 1 provides a systematic review of the literature examining relationships between civic engagement and mental health among young adults to clarify the current state of the literature, for application purposes, and to inform future directions in the field. This review identified 54 articles for inclusion. The current literature suggests that civic engagement has a heterogeneous relationship to well-being. This review provides direction for future research to focus on the explanatory pathways for positive, negative, and null correlations particularly among historically marginalized young adults.

Study 2 uses a qualitative approach to examine relationships between civic engagement and well-being among non-college young adults (NCYAs). Investigators conducted semi-structured focus groups and interviews with young adults who had never attended a four-year college (N=14), and coders elicited six key themes: 1) types of civic activities, 2) promoters of civic engagement, 3) barriers to civic engagement, 4) the role of self-efficacy and empowerment, 5) the role of value systems and sense of purpose, and 6) relationships between mental health and civic engagement. Participants described complex, bidirectional relationships between civic engagement and well-being. Results from this study were used to inform measure selection and item adaptation in Study 3.

Study 3 uses a quantitative approach to explore relationships between civic engagement and well-being among NCYAs. Investigators disseminated an online survey to a sample of NCYAs (N=621) to measure their civic engagement, meaning in life, civic efficacy, well-being, and sociodemographic factors. Based on an a priori model, direct, indirect, and full effects path analyses were conducted across men and women, and then the full sample. Results showed that the full effects model best fit the data with mediation by civic efficacy and meaning in life (χ2(2) =.59, p=.74; CFI=1.0; RMSEA=.00, 90%CI [.00, .06]; R2 = .42). Types of engagement (civic, electoral, activism, online) demonstrated differing relationships with well-being. Results corroborate prior findings reported among college young adults in which civic efficacy mediates the relationship between civic activity and well-being, while meaning in life mediates the relationship between activism and well-being.



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