Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Leslie Irvine

Second Advisor

Stefanie Mollborn

Third Advisor

Lori Peek


Research on chronic conditions and their impact on individual identity often center on biographical disruption or the idea of a bifurcation of “before and after” identities. Moreover, little research examines identity formation in young adults with chronic health conditions despite the growth of this population. This thesis focuses on young adults’ narrative identities, both in terms of how young adults describe the transition to adulthood and how cultural ideals of young adulthood and actors from institutions influence how they describe themselves. Using 22 in-depth qualitative interviews, this study reveals how young adults either distance themselves from their conditions or move to acceptance through the narratives they tell about their health, feelings, and behaviors. These positions influence how they create identities, becoming either “risk-takers” or “caretakers.” These identities have implications for decisions as illustrated here by the choices interviewees make to demonstrate their health as a status. This research suggests that identity confirmation by others forms an integral part of the nexus of health and the life course, shaping how adolescents make the transition into young adulthood and take on health identities. Identity confirmation from others gives some young adults with chronic conditions room to integrate their conditions into their narrative identities. This study reveals the social nature of young adult identities, and the importance of health to them, precisely because it uses cases of young adults who must transition to adulthood in alternative ways.