Domain-Specific Gender Comparisons in Identity Development among College Youth: Ideology and Relationships

By Pastorino, Ellen; Dunham, Richard M. et al. | Adolescence, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Domain-Specific Gender Comparisons in Identity Development among College Youth: Ideology and Relationships


Pastorino, Ellen, Dunham, Richard M., Kidwell, Jeannie, Bacho, Roderick, Lamborn, Susie D., Adolescence


Research on identity formation typically focuses on identity as a developmental process. However, it also is important as an "environmental process" that includes influences on personal choices and decision-making from the social contexts provided by friendship, family, religion, occupation, and politics. Erikson (1968) has emphasized the dual nature of identity, as seen in the identity development of a given individual and in the identity of a given culture or subculture: "Identity is 'all-pervasive' . . . for . . . we deal with a process 'located' in the core of the individual and yet also in the core of his communal culture" (p. 22).

The social context in which identity develops is often referred to in the identity literature as one of several domains, and is typically separated into interpersonal and ideological realms. Interpersonal domains refer to the individual's relational orientation in the context of his or her family and other intimate relationships. The ideological domains reflect the individual's approach to the seemingly more public contexts of religion, politics, and occupation.

Identity formation may be operationally defined in terms of exploration and commitment (Marcia, 1968). Exploration refers to a period of decision-making when previous choices, beliefs, and identifications are questioned by the individual and information or experiences related to alternatives are sought; commitment refers to the choice of a relatively stable set of roles and ideals (Marcia, 1968). Based on the occurrence of exploration and commitment, Marcia (1966, 1967) has proposed a process of identity development consisting of four identity statuses: Diffusion, which is characterized by a lack of exploration and commitment to identity issues; Moratorium, by active exploration of goals, values, and beliefs but without commitment; Foreclosure, by premature commitment in the absence of adequate exploration; and Achievement, by stable commitment based on sufficient exploration.

The empirical question of whether gender differences exist in identity development is complex, involving issues of identity status, the relative importance of commitment and exploration, variations in development across domains, and relationships of identity development with other measures. In addition, there are variations in age, cohort, and geographic subculture, different measures of identity development, and different explanations for similar findings.

Research during the 1970s emphasized several gender differences in identity development (Patterson, Sochting, & Marcia, 1992; Waterman, 1982). Males were more likely to achieve an identity during the college years, whereas females were somewhat more likely to be foreclosed, especially in the ideological areas of occupation, religion, and politics. From these findings it was inferred that exploration in identity issues appeared to be more adaptive for men, whereas for women, commitment seemed to be related to adaptive outcomes (Bernard, 1981). Finally, women's identity development was tied to interpersonal issues and to establishing connections with others, whereas men's development was associated more strongly with intrapersonal issues and assertions of independence and autonomy (Bernard, 1981; Fannin, 1979; Hodgson & Fischer, 1979; Schenkel, 1974).

During the 1980s research findings seemed to point to more similarities than differences between men and women in their identity development (Archer, 1992; Josselson, 1982; Steinberg, 1989; Waterman, 1982). For this decade, men and women were found to be similarly distributed across the four identity statuses, and identity exploration was generally related to adjustment for both female and male college students. For some scholars of gender and identity, the lack of gender differences in identity development remains the predominant theme that summarizes the current state of the field (Archer, 1992).

At the same time, several types of gender differences persist in the adolescent literature (Adams & Jones, 1983; Cella, DeWolfe, & Fitzgibbon, 1987; Gilligan, 1982; Harter, 1990; Kimmel & Weiner, 1985; Patterson, Sochting, & Marcia, 1992; Waterman, 1982).

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