Identity conflict: A framework and empirical investigation

Jolian McHardy and Anita Ratcliffe


We develop a framework to explore the circumstances under which utility is reduced as individuals try to maintain multiple identities and satisfy the norms of multiple social groups. We label this outcome identity conflict. We show that while identity conflict is always possible, it is not inevitable, even where group norms differ, but also that conflict may arise even where group norms are co-located. Using data on subjective wellbeing, we test the basic features of our framework in the context of national and religious identities. Our results indicate that conflicting identities reduce subjective wellbeing, which is consistent with facing penalties for failure to conform to group norms. While the cost of identity conflict varies little by faith groups, formal education is effective in lowering the cost of identity conflict.

Note:This working paper has been updated. The updated version is available If you need a copy of the older version please email Jolian McHardy at