Developmental Individualization

What is developmental individualization?

Individualization [in-duh-vij-oo-uh-luh-zey-shun]

Individualization is the primary task in making the transition to adulthood, which is defined as the life-course process of developing one’s self as an “individual” involving self-awareness in making life-altering decisions and choosing courses of action from a range of options in education, career, relationships, identity, and values. Identity development is at the core of this process.

In society today,  people have the opportunity to  “individualize” yet unfortunately many young adults do not take this initiative. The individualization also requires young adults to develop personal and professional relationships which will carry them through life, while gaining education, credentials, experience and generally plan for their future.

Developmental v. Default

Developmental Individualization

A life-course based on extensive deliberation of options that takes growth-enhancing routes while resisting the paths of least resistance. People who adopt this strategy typically develop more advanced skills and aptitudes and they grow intellectually and emotionally. This approach is more likely to form a coherent and genuine identity and develop character.

Young adults who take this proactive approach prepare for their future are more likely to form coherent identities to help guide their lives and negotiate for social resources and build identity capital. They are also more likely to have more long term success in relationships, career, and finances.

Default Individualization

A life lived by default or the path of least resistance allowing others or circumstances to render decisions for them. Little effort is asserted on behalf of the person. Energy is spent creating and maintaining an identity through image management that falls in alignment with popular, mass culture. This approach does not foster true personal growth and development and may lead to diffused or confused identities.

Young adults who take this passive approach may fail to take advantage of space for self-improvement and have a harder time developing a sense of identity and ultimately experience more psychological distress and unhappiness.


It is definitely favorable for young adults to take a developmental individualization approach to their lives to take advantage of all of the opportunities and possibilities of life.


Côté, J. E. (2000). Arrested adulthood: The changing nature of maturity and identity. New York: New York University Press.
Schwartz, S. J., Côté, J. E., & Arnett, J. J. (2005). Identity and agency in emerging adulthood; Two developmental routes in the individualization process. Youth and society, 37, 201-229.