Occupational Identity Development, School Performance, and Social Support in Adolescence: Findings of a Dutch Study

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

According to Erikson (1968), the most important developmental task in adolescence is the formation of an identity. Marcia's (1966) identity status model is held to be the major elaboration of Erikson's views on identity formation in adolescence (Cote & Levine, 1988). Identity, Marcia suggests, is an ego structure--an internal, self-constructed and dynamic organization of aspirations, skills, beliefs, and individual history.

Following Erikson, Marcia looks upon adolescence as the period in which youngsters experience an identity crisis, which they solve by making choices regarding their future in a number of life domains. Crisis and commitment are the core variables in Marcia's identity status model. These variables make it possible to distribute adolescents over four identity statuses. Identity diffusion indicates that the adolescent has made no commitment as yet regarding a specific developmental task and may or may not have experienced a crisis in that domain. Foreclosure holds that the adolescent has made a commitment without having experienced a crisis. In Moratorium, the adolescent is in a state of crisis and has made no commitment or at best an unclear one. Identity achievement signifies that the adolescent has surmounted the crisis and made a commitment.

Table 1.
Marcia's identity status model

              IDENTITY    FORECLOSURE   MORATORIUM    IDENTITY
              DIFFUSION
ACHIEVEMENT

CRISIS/
EXPLORATION   yes or no       no         actual       yes, past

COMMITMENT       no           yes        unclear        yes

Reviews of research using Marcia's paradigm (Marcia, 1980; Waterman, 1982) indicate that the identity statuses can be divided into two groups: identity achievement and moratorium are generally associated with positive characteristics (e.g., high levels of self-esteem, autonomy, reasoning in terms of moral values), whereas foreclosure and identity diffusion are associated with negative characteristics (e.g., low levels of self-esteem, autonomy, reasoning). While there are exceptions (cf. Meeus, 1991), overall the division is valid (see Marcia, 1980, and Archer & Waterman, 1988, for a discussion of whether the various identity status categories for men and women can indeed be divided into the same two groups).

Marcia's paradigm assumes that identity formation is domain-specific. That is, adolescents will or may have a distinct identity status in the areas of school/occupation, politics/ideology, and intimate relationships. The present study concentrated on the development of occupational identity, and the factors that influence this process.

Adolescence, Status Insecurity, School

The transition from school to job is a crucial passage in adolescence. In general, the lifelong occupational die is cast at an early age. In view of the fact that occupational position is a major indicator of social status, one can define adolescence as the period in which social status is assigned (Kreutz, 1974).

This stamps adolescence as a time of both opportunity and uncertainty. Side by side are the challenge to move up the social ladder and the threat of moving down. Young people may aspire to a higher occupational level than that of their parents (upward mobility); a lower occupational level implies downward mobility.

As can be adduced from much research on schooling and occupational careers (Diederen, 1983; Meijers & Wesselingh, 1983; Meijers, 1989), the educational level attained determines labor-market opportunities. For this reason, the transition from a lower to a higher educational level in adolescence can be defined as upward mobility as well, and the move from a higher to a lower educational level as downward mobility.

Educational level and school performance, then, are very important to young people. A review article spanning thirty years of research (Nurmi, 1991) indicates that, in planning for the future, adolescents are most preoccupied with their careers in school and work. …