Your job defines you

June 30, 2024

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Your job defines you

Japanese researchers have unveiled critical insights into the intricate relationships between employment status, identity development and life satisfaction among individuals in late emerging adulthood (i.e. their late 20s), highlighting the importance of stable employment during this pivotal life stage.

Their findings were published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Identity reflects a sense of self and is closely associated with life satisfaction. Identity development is often considered to occur during adolescence, between age 12 and 24, and is particularly important for adults in their early 20s as they graduate from university and acquire full-time employment. However, identity development is a lifelong process and remains crucial for psychological health beyond adolescence.

“Late emerging adulthood is a critical period during which many individuals secure employment, with obtaining a full-time job significantly impacting their identity development and the correlation between identity and life satisfaction,” said the lead author of the study.

Up to now, studies on identity development in the period between age 24 and 29 have remained limited.

To address this knowledge gap, the research team looked into a two-wave longitudinal survey that collected data from the same 875 adults at two different points in time, in 2015 and 2019. The participants’ average age was 24.74 in 2015. Participants were divided into five employment status groups: full-time, part-time, unemployed, improved employment and worsened employment. Analysis was performed to explain how identity develops in late emerging adulthood, and how employment influences identity development and its link to life satisfaction.

The team’s results found that identity synthesis, or the clarity and coherence of one’s sense of self, decreased significantly for emerging adults who lost their jobs or transitioned from full-time to part-time employment. Individuals with stable employment had better identity synthesis and experienced less identity confusion compared to those with unstable employment. Additionally, those with higher identity synthesis reported higher life satisfaction regardless of employment status.

These findings indicate that job stability plays a crucial role in shaping identity in late emerging adulthood, and that a well-developed identity is consistently linked to higher life satisfaction. These results have important implications for clinical and industrial psychology, emphasizing the need for supportive employment policies as well as other mental health interventions to promote healthy identity development.

“While identity has traditionally been considered a central issue during adolescence, our study is the first to show that it remains a crucial element supporting well-being in adulthood,” the researchers said. “We hope that this knowledge will deepen the understanding of psychological and social development in adults.”

So, what? Our identity, our sense of self, is closely related to our sense of belonging to a “tribe” or group of supportive individuals. That’s in our design specs. As this research has confirmed, the loss or downgrading of that belonging will lead to mental health problems. Other research has shown that loss of full-time employment can lead to both mental and physical health problems later in life (e.g. heart attacks ten years later).

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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