The Relationship between the Living Arrangements of University Students and Their Identity Development

Article excerpt

It has been established that a major developmental task of late adolescence/young adulthood is the formation of a unique adult identity (Erikson, 1968, 1982; Marcia, 1980). One part of this process is leaving the family home and establishing a residence of one's own (Astin, 1973; Herndon, 1984). This is considered a crucial step because it is an overt manifestation of adulthood (Chickering, 1974).

Research has suggested that establishing an independent residence is also associated with other indicators of adult development. It has been found that young adults who have left the family home, compared with those who remain with their parents, demonstrate higher levels of academic success (Pascarella, Bohr, Nora, Zusman, Inman, & Desler, 1993), higher levels of personality development (Valliant & Scanlan, 1996), better relations with their parents (Flanagan, Schulenberg, & Fuligni, 1993), and greater feelings of social success and achievement (Baird, 1969).

It is generally thought that individuals who live away from home achieve greater levels of adult identity because they gain experience in dealing with the challenges of adult life, such as managing their finances and maintaining their household (Goldscheider & Goldscheider, 1999). Presumably such experiences allow individuals to gain the perspective needed to become better managers of their time and resources, which is important for academic success and for coping with the pressures of life.

It should be noted, however, that the effects of living arrangements upon university students are not at all clear-cut. Some studies have not found any relationship between living arrangements and factors such as scholastic ability and self-esteem (Baird, 1969). Moreover, Baird (1969), Goldscheider and Goldscheider (1999), and Holdsworth (2000) acknowledge that the effects of living arrangements on university students may be complex, and suggest that socioeconomic status, parental level of education, cultural context, expectations of both children and parents, and other factors must be taken into account in order to gain a true understanding of the issue.

Unfortunately, most studies of the effects of living arrangements on university students have ignored the state of the students' identity development. Presumably, for individuals who live away from their parents, those who have a fully formed adult identity experience independent living quite differently from those who have a less-mature identity. That is, those in different stages of identity development will have different concerns and problems (Erikson, 1968). Accordingly, this study sought to examine the relationship between university students' level of identity development, their living arrangements, the degree of life difficulties experienced, and the manner in which they coped with their difficulties.



The participants in this study were young adult university students: 113 lived at home with at least one of their parents, 92 lived in a university residence hall, and 73 lived on their own in private accommodations in the local community. The mean ages of the three groups were 19.8 years, 19.3 years, and 20.4 years, respectively. There were no significant age differences between any of these groups. Using a measure designed to assess the socioeconomic status (SES) of New Zealanders (Elley & Irving, 1976), it was found that the mean SES levels for the three groups were 3.2, 3.0, and 3.1, respectively. Differences in SES were not significant.

Procedure and Materials

All participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire designed to determine not only the status of their identity development but also their recent life experiences, their state of well-being, and their problem-solving strategies. Specifically, the following tests were used in this study.

Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status. This measure, developed by Adams, Bennion, and Huh (1989), was designed to assess (via questionnaire rather than structured interview) each of the four identity statuses described by Marcia (1980). …


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