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Identity Development in Early Adulthood: A Continuous Journey

Conference contribution
Authors Py Liv Eriksson
Maria Wängqvist
Johanna Carlsson
Ann Frisén
Published in The Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) biennial meeting. Minneapolis, USA: 12-14 April, 2018
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Subject categories Psychology


To understand how people develop their identities in early adulthood and learn more about how identity in the twenties influences later development this study investigates identity development with a longitudinal design and integrates the identity status model with a narrative approach. Three research questions guided the investigations: (1) Which patterns of identity status change and stability may be observed throughout early adulthood? (2) Which processes of change may be identified within identity narratives from individuals coded to the same identity status, with established commitments, across early adulthood? (3) What is the relation between processes of change in identity narratives in the twenties and development in the early thirties, and does this differ between individuals coded to identity achievement and foreclosure across early adulthood? Identity status interviews (Marcia et al., 1993) were performed with 118 individuals (59 women) at ages 25, 29 and 33. Analyses revealed group-level changes in identity status across the three waves. However, typical patterns of individual identity status development between adjacent waves were patterns of stability in foreclosure (n= 20) or identity achievement (n= 25) (see Figure 1). In order to learn more about processes involved in maintaining identity commitments from age 25 into the early thirties identity narratives from individuals who followed these two stable patterns were investigated with longitudinal qualitative analysis. Case-summaries of similarities and differences between each participant’s interview narrative from, ages 25 and 29, as well as from age 29 and 33 were analyzed with thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). These analyses resulted in a model, with three processes of identity development across the twenties and three processes of identity development across the early thirties (see Figure 2). All processes described changes on a continuum between two endpoints: the weakening endpoint reflected a shallower, more closed and firm identity narrative and the deepening endpoint reflected a richer identity narrative that had evolved between the interview occasions. Qualitative case-based analysis of participants’ development across the two models of identity development showed that evolved and flexible narratives (i.e., those involving processes of deepening) in the twenties were related to one or more processes of deepening, and no processes of shallower and firmer narratives (weakening) in the early thirties. The capacity to adjust the narrative to changing life conditions during the twenties was especially important for a continued development. However, individuals with shallower and firmer narratives in the twenties showed more varied results indicating more individual differences and could either continue in this weakening direction in their early thirties or evolve their identity narratives. With regards to identity status, most individuals coded to a stable achieved identity status continued to evolve their identity narrative from age 25 into the early thirties. The group of individuals coded to a stable foreclosed status showed diverse patterns of development with either continued processes of weakening or deepening, or a change in the opposite direction of their previous development. These results indicate development in identity narratives across early adulthood even without engaging in exploration before commitments are established.

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