Personal identity formation represents a core developmental challenge for adolescents and young adults. Because much of the identity literature focuses on college students, it is necessary to conduct a detailed inquiry into the ways in which specific commitment and exploration processes develop over time for college students and for employed individuals. Two samples (456 college students and 318 employed individuals) were used to identify identity status trajectories over time and to examine external correlates of these trajectories (i.e. depressive symptoms, self-esteem, identity centrality, community integration, and sense of adulthood). Similar identity trajectories emerged in both college students and employed individuals. Four of these trajectories corresponded to Marcia's identity statuses. In addition, apart from the ‘classical’ or troubled diffusion trajectory, a carefree diffusion trajectory was also obtained. Whereas individuals on an identity-achieved pathway fared best in terms of the outcome measures, individuals in the troubled diffusion trajectory fared worst in terms of self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and community integration over time. Implications and suggestions for future research are discussed. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.