Although identity development is most active during late adolescence and emerging adulthood and post-secondary education is regarded as a normative experience for the majority of individuals in Westernized societies, there remains a lack of longitudinal research investigating identity development during the transition to university. In his formative writings, Erikson emphasized the need for researchers to account for the influence of social context and environment in the examination of identity development. The aim of this study was to explore the process of identity development within
early emerging adulthood (18-24 years of age), during the transition to university using Eriksonian-measures. More specifically, this three-wave longitudinal study examined the influences of social capital (social belongingness and university fit), psychosocial maturity (ego strength development), coping strategy use, and perceived stress on identity development. The study included 771 first-year university students at large Canadian university, with 554 females and 217 males aged 18 to 24 (M = 18.35, SD = 1.47). Using the Identity Issues Inventory (I3, Côté and Roberts, 2005), identity
formation was assessed from two broad perspectives, each with two developmental task domains: self-identity with Integration and Differentiation; and social identity with the domains of Work roles and Worldview. Multivariate multiple regressions, with interaction terms, were conducted to examine identity development, during the first year of university, after controlling for incoming levels of identity formation in each of the four task domains (Integration, Differentiation, Work roles, and Worldview). Research findings highlighted the importance of social belongingness, perceived fit, and
psychosocial maturity, in particular, as capital resources that were supportive of identity development during the first year of university. In addition, participants’ perceived levels of stress were found to impede identity formation in both phases of the study (Time1-2, Time 2-3). Finally, the results highlighted some unexpected gender differences in the identity development of university students. Evidence from the present study would suggest that it is from within this complex social context that emerging adults must develop a distinct, cohesive, and adult sense of self.
identity development; social belongingness; ego strengths; psychosocial maturity; social capital; emerging adulthood; transition to university