Gender Differences in Identity Development: An Examination of Longitudinal Data

Article excerpt

Identity development, as theorized by Erikson (1968) over twenty years ago, is the focus of psychosocial development during the adolescent years. Of the "eight stages of man," the fifth stage, identity achievement versus role confusion, involves youth from the onset of puberty.

This stage has been an area of particular interest, commencing with attempts to operationalize Erikson's conceptualization of the growing-up process of young people. Marcia (1966, 1980) conceptualized the process of identity development as passage through some or all of four identity statuses. The central issues of crisis and commitment correspond to Erikson's concept of identity achievement. In order to operationalize this interpretation, Marcia developed an interview format as a means of determining an individual's identity status.

Examination of identity development by gender has received increased attention. Two particular veins of this research have surfaced. Studies conducted by Archer(1982, 1989), Adams and Fitch (1982), and Grotevant and Thorbecke (1982) have examined gender differences in identity development within the more traditional Eriksonian framework. In contrast, work by Gilligan and associates (1979, 1988) and Lyons (1983) challenges Erikson's theory of identity development with regard to gender. They argue that Erikson's concepts of psychosocial development are male oriented and do not reflect the female experience. Because the methodologies, analyses, and findings are in stark contrast, a brief review of each side of the issue of whether the process of identity development tends to be gender specific follows.

Archer's (1982) cross-sectional study of early and middle adolescents addressed the issue of gender differences in identity development, in addition to age-related differences. Using Marcia's (1966) ego-identity interview format, a total of 160 subjects were interviewed. Results indicated no significant gender differences according to grade level. Further, when responses were examined according to specific content areas (e.g., vocational, religious, and political), no significant differences in identity status by gender were obtained. Archer concluded that females and males proceed through the identity statuses in like fashion.

A second work by Archer (1989) examined gender differences in identity development according to three dimensions. Does the process of identity formation differ by gender? Do the domains in which females and males define themselves differ? Is the timing of attention to identity development concerns differentiated by gender? Results from the three studies suggested that the genders involved themselves in the identity process similarly, with the exception of the foreclosure status. Males were more often identified as foreclosed than were females. When measuring political ideology, males were more foreclosed and females more diffused. Moratorium and identity achievement were more prevalent for females than for males in the area of family roles. Finally, Archer found no timing differences in the identity development process by gender in two of the three studies. As in the earlier study, Archer used Marcia's (1966) interview format to obtain data.

In light of the considerable research examining differences between the sexes during adolescence (other than identity development), this finding may appear puzzling. For example, it has been substantiated that females mature earlier than males in several developmental aspects; females reach puberty before males (e.g., Blyth, Simmons, & Zakin, 1985) and, although results are somewhat conflicting, some studies indicate gender differences in psychosocial development. Douvan and Adelson (1966) concluded that the route to definition of oneself is gender specific. Self-esteem is an additional area of apparent gender differentiation. A number of studies suggest that females have lower self-esteem than males, particularly during early adolescence (Simmons, Brown, Bush, & Blyth, 1978). …