Employment Impacts Identity in Late 20-Somethings: Study

Osaka Metropolitan University

Osaka, Japan — For people in their late 20s, "Your job doesn't define you" is likely an unconvincing cliché.

Osaka Metropolitan University researchers have unveiled critical insights into the intricate relationships between employment status, identity development and life satisfaction among Japanese individuals in late emerging adulthood, or 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 on May 15.

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 Kai Hatano, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Sustainable System Science of Osaka Metropolitan University and lead author of the study.

Studies on identity development in the period between age 24 and 29, however, remain limited.

To address this knowledge gap, the research team looked into a two-wave longitudinal survey that collected data from the same 875 Japanese 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," Hatano said. "We hope that this knowledge will deepen the understanding of psychological and social development in adults."

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