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Multiple Identities and Psychological Well-Being: A Reformulation and Test of the Social Isolation Hypothesis

Peggy A. Thoits
American Sociological Review
Vol. 48, No. 2 (Apr., 1983), pp. 174-187
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095103
Page Count: 14
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Multiple Identities and Psychological Well-Being: A Reformulation and Test of the Social Isolation Hypothesis
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Abstract

Drawing upon symbolic interactionist theory, this paper reconceptualizes social isolation as the possession of few social identities. Social identities (enacted in role relationships) give meaning and guidance to behavior, and thus should prevent anxiety, depression, and disordered conduct. The "identity accumulation hypothesis"--the more identities possessed by an actor, the less psychological distress he/she should exhibit--is tested and supported using panel data from the New Haven community survey (Myers et al., 1971). The interaction between identity accumulation and identity change is also examined, under differing assumptions regarding the structure of multiple identities. Results indicate that integrated individuals benefit more from identity gain and also suffer more from identity loss than isolated individuals. The implications of these results for social isolation theory and for previous conceptions of the effects of multiple roles are discussed.

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