This person-centred study investigated the longitudinal patterns of vocational identity development in relation to personality, the development of well-being, gender, nationality and the attended school track among two cohorts of Swiss adolescents in 8th or 9th grade (N = 269) and in 11th or 12th grade (N = 230). The results confirmed the existence of four identity statuses, namely, achievement, foreclosure, moratorium and diffusion. Forty-two per cent of students showed progressive patterns of identity development, while 37% remained in their identity status over time. Students with different statuses and status change patterns differed significantly in their personality traits. Higher neuroticism related to the emergence of identity exploration over time, while conscientiousness related to maintaining or achieving a sense of identity commitment in terms of achievement or foreclosure. Controlling for the effects of socio-demographics and personality traits, students who reached or maintained a state characterized by identity clarity and commitment showed a relative increase in life satisfaction, while those entering a state of identity crisis or exploration showed a decrease in life satisfaction. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.