Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




One of the defining developmental processes that occur during the unique stage of emerging adulthood is the emergence of adult identity, or the subjective sense of adulthood. Adult identity has been hypothesized to grow gradually, linearly, and at different rates for subgroups of individuals over the course of this stage (Arnett, 2006; Côté, 2006). Differences have also been suggested to predict wellbeing and distress (Côté, 2006; Kroger, 1996; Kroger, Martinussen, & Marcia, 2010). The goals of the current study were to examine heterogeneity in adult identity development over four years in college and to examine differences in self-esteem and negative emotional symptoms, namely depression, anxiety, and stress, after four years. Findings revealed that adult identity develops linearly on average, but there is heterogeneity in this development. Specifically, the majority of students increase in adult identity over four years and a smaller portion of students decline over time. Differences between developmental subgroups on self-esteem and negative emotional symptoms are explained by adult identity ratings at the end of the fourth year. The importance of studying heterogeneity of development among emerging adults and the mental health implications of adult identity development are reviewed.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.