Me, Myself, and Mobility: The Relevance of Region for Young Adults’ Identity Development

Elisabeth Schubach

With the rise of globalization and a vastly increased availability of communication possibilities, residential mobility—the change of residence—has become a main characteristic of everyday life in most Western cultures (Oishi, 2010). Therefore, accomplishing developmental tasks in various life domains is not any longer tied to one’s local living quarters, but is increasingly calling for a widespread geographical surrounding. This further suggests that individuals are forced to address questions concerning their geographical placement, especially in times of developmental transitions. As a result, region, the living environment of individuals’ everyday lives, represents a striking domain of identity development (Schubach, Zimmermann, Noack, & Neyer, in press). In view of the recurring need for maintaining and revising regional identity throughout the lifespan, we incorporated regional identity into existing developmental identity concepts (Crocetti, Rubini, & Meeus, 2008).

Design and Research Questions
Using the longitudinal KOMPASS Study on Career Trajectories and Individual Development of German Post-Secondary Graduates (KOMPASS), we had a prospective design comparing 1,795 individuals (71% female, mean age of 24.54 years) who relocated and others who stayed–movers and non-movers, respectively.
The present study pursued to major goals: We first aimed to test whether region is a relevant identity domain and therefore investigated the pattern of regional identity statuses. We second wanted to clarify the adaptive development of regional identity. To do so, we investigated meaningful associations with personality traits and life satisfaction. In addition, to explore how and why regional identity changes, we studied the stability of regional identity statuses across time, analyzing transitions between statuses and examining the impact of a life transition on identity development.

Results and Discussion
First, four regional identity statuses emerged—moratorium, searching moratorium, closure, and achievement. This pattern is similar to previous results on job identity statuses (Crocetti et al., 2014). The absence of a fifth status (i.e., diffusion) points to the salience of region as a core domain of identity. Second, the emergent statuses showed meaningful associations with personality traits and life satisfaction. These associations illustrate the adaptive function of regional identity as a more established regional identity coincided with higher life satisfaction and higher scores on personality traits related with maturity (Roberts, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006). This further implies that regional identity shows as similar developmental trajectory as other identity domains (Crocetti, Schwartz, Fermani, Klimstra, & Meeus, 2012; Luyckx et al., 2014). Third, the stability of identity status membership across a period of six months was highest for the non-movers group. Comparatively less stability across time was found for the movers, underscoring the relevance of transitions for identity development.

We conclude that in a mobile world the placing of the self in geographical spaces, and thus, regional identity, matters. This is due to sociocultural changes that have made it necessary for individuals to fulfill their developmental tasks in a broader geographical context. This study is also, to the best of our knowledge, the first to link life transitions to identity status transitions. We hope that future research will continue to explore the trajectories of regional identity.


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