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Chapter 18
Social and Personality Development in Late Adulthood

Continuity and Change in Personality during Late Adulthood

Erikson labeled the last stage of personality development EGO-INTEGRITY vs. DESPAIR, which is characterized by a process of looking back over one's life, evaluating it, and coming to terms with it.

Integrity - realized and fulfilled the possibilities that have come their way

Despair - dissatisfied with life, and experience gloom, unhappiness, depression, anger, or failure

Peckís Developmental Tasks

Robert Peck suggests that personality development in elderly people is occupied by three major developmental tasks or challenges.

The first is REDEFINITION OF SELF VERSUS PREOCCUPATION WITH WORK-ROLE, which means that those in old age must redefine themselves in ways that do not relate to their work-roles or occupations.

Peckís developmental tasks, continued

The second major task is BODY TRANSCENDENCE VERSUS BODY PREOCCUPATION, a period in which people must learn to cope with and move beyond changes in physical capabilities as a result of aging.

The third developmental task is EGO TRANSCENDENCE VERSUS EGO PREOCCUPATION in which elderly people must come to grips with their coming death.

Levinsonís Final Season: The Winter of Life

According to Daniel Levinson, people enter late adulthood after passing through a transition stage that typically occurs about age 60 to 65.

During this transition time people begin to view themselves as entering late adulthood.

People struggle with being "old", and often must face illness and death of friends and loved ones.


People must struggle with the loss of power, respect, and authority.

People can serve as resources for younger people and be in a position to give advice.

Old age brings freedom to do things for fun and entertainment.

Coping with Aging: Bernice Neugartenís Study

Rather than focusing on commonalities of aging, this classic study focused on the different ways that people cope with aging.

Four different personality types among those in their 70ís:

Disintegrated & disorganized

Passive-dependent personalities

Defended personalities

Integrated personalities

Disintegrated & disorganized

Unable to accept aging

Experience despair as they age

Often end up in nursing homes, or are hospitalized

Passive-dependent personalities

Lead lives filled with fear



Inability to cope

May seek out hope, even when not needed


Defended personalities

Seek to ward off aging

May try to act young

Exercise vigorously

Youthful activities

Unrealistic expectations may lead to disappointment.

Integrated personalities (most people)

Most successful

Cope comfortably with aging

Accept becoming older & maintain dignity

Erikson, Peck, Levinson & Neugarten all suggest that a major characteristic of personality development in old age is looking backward, called a LIFE REVIEW, where people examine and evaluate their lives.

Life Review & Reminiscence: The Common Theme of Personality Development

According to Robert Butler, the life review is triggered by the increasing awareness that one will die.

There are benefits to a life review.

a better understanding of one's life

resolution of lingering problems

a sense of sharing and mutuality with others like them

may improve memory

A life review is not always positive.

People may become obsessed with the past.

This may cause psychological dysfunction.

Overall, a life review and reminiscence can play an important role in the ongoing lives of the elderly.

Continuity between past & present

Increases awareness of the contemporary world

New insights

Overall personality growth & development


Age Stratification Approaches to Late Adulthood

Age stratification theories suggest that economic resources, power & privilege are distributed unequally among people at different stages of the life course, impacting development.

Power declines among elderly in industrialized nations lead to more distance between this group and young adults.

These theories help explain why aging is viewed more positively in less industrialized societies.

Culture Shapes the Way We Treat People in Adulthood

Cultures that revere old age have several things in common.

They are homogeneous in socioeconomic terms and the elderly control the finances.

Older adults in these cultures continue to engage in activities that are valued by society.

These cultures tend to be organized around extended families.

Does Age Bring Wisdom?

Wisdom: expert knowledge in the practical aspects of life.

This concept has received little attention from gerontologists and other researchers.

Developmentalists disagree on whether we should expect a relationship between wisdom and aging.

Is wisdom a trait that declines with age?

Does wisdom reflect an accumulation of knowledge, experience, and contemplation?

Intelligence v. Wisdom


Related to the here-and-now

Logical & systematic thinking


Timeless quality

Understanding of human behavior

Successful Aging: What is the Secret?

No proven way to age successfully

How people age depends on personality factors and personal circumstances.

2 major approaches provide alternate explanations:

Disengagement theory

Activity theory

Disengagement Theory: Gradual Retreat

According to DISENGAGEMENT THEORY, the period in late adulthood that marks a gradual withdrawal from the world on physical, psychological, and social levels; people withdraw from the world and the world compels the elderly to withdraw (e.g., retirement).

The theory suggests that withdrawal is a mutual process

norms and societal expectations

allows more reflection and freedom


Disengagement Theory, continued

People can become more reflective about their lives.

People can become less constrained by social roles.

People become more discerning about relationships, which can help them adjust to increasing frequency of serious illness and death among their peers.

Disengagement is not an automatic, universal process for all people in late adulthood.

Activity Theory: Continued Involvement

According to ACTIVITY THEORY, successful aging occurs when people maintain the interests, activities, and social interactions with which they were involved during middle age.

Happiness and satisfaction with life are assumed to spring from a high level of involvement with the world.

Activity Theory, continued

When it is no longer possible to work, successful aging according to activity theory suggests that replacement activities be found.

Being involved in any activity just to remain active may not always contribute to happiness and satisfaction.

Some people are happier when they can slow down and only do those things that bring them the greatest satisfaction.

Neither theory provides a complete picture of aging.

Which theory best explains successful aging may depend on one's behavior prior to late adulthood.

Those active in youth better off with activity.

Those that were uninvolved/socially independent may be more satisfied with disengagement.

A General Model of Successful Aging

Good physical and mental health are important in determining an elderly person's sense of well-being.

Financial security and a sense of autonomy and independence also give one's later life a significant advantage.

A positive outlook on life helps people view their old age more favorably.

Developmental psychologists Baltes and Baltes focus on the selective optimization model

Suggests that older people overcome changes and losses in old age according to the principle of SELECTIVE OPTIMIZATION, where people concentrate on particular skill areas to compensate for losses in other areas.

Daily Life in Late Adulthood: Living Arrangements

Contrary to the stereotype, only 5 % of elderly people end their lives in a nursing home.

2/3 of people over the age of 65 live with other members of the family.

Most live with their spouse.

The adjustment to living with children can be difficult.

African-Americans are more likely to live in multigenerational families than whites.

Living arrangements in late adulthood, continued

10 % live in a CONTINUING-CARE COMUNITY, which typically offers an environment in which all the residents are of retirement age or older and need various levels of care.

ADULT DAY-CARE FACILITIES are where elderly individuals receive care only during the day, but spend nights and weekends in their own homes.


Living arrangements in late adulthood, continued

SKILLED-NURSING FACILITIES provide full-time nursing care for people who have chronic illnesses or who are recovering from a temporary medical condition.

Only 1 % of those aged 64 to 74 are in nursing homes.

25 percent of those over 85 are in nursing homes.


Fears of nursing homes can lead to INSTITUTIONALISM, a psychological state in which people develop apathy, indifference, and a lack of caring about themselves.

Often brought about by a sense of learned hopelessness, the belief that one has no control over one's environment.

Langer and Janis found that when given simple choices over their lives, only 15 % of the choice groups died within 18 months, compared to 30 % of the comparison group.

Financial issues in late adulthood

People who were well-off in young adulthood remain so in late adulthood; those who were poor remain poor in late adulthood.

11 % of the elderly over age 65 live below the poverty line.

Women are twice as likely to live in poverty than men.

7 % of white people live below the poverty line.

Financial issues in late adulthood, continued

18 % of Hispanics live below the poverty line.

25 % of African-Americans live below the poverty line.

47% of single black women aged 65 to 74 live in poverty.

The elderly must often live on a fixed income.

Social security




The elderly face rising health costs.

The average older person spends 20 % of his or her income on health care costs.

Nursing homes average more than $60,000 a year.

Work and Retirement in Late Adulthood

When to retire is a major decision faced by the majority of people in late adulthood.

The typical retirement age is moving downward to age 60.

Social security and pensions allow people to retire earlier.

A disincentive is built into Social Security by having workers taxed at higher rates on both social security and earnings.

Work and retirement in late adulthood, continued

Many people continue to work full- or part-time for some part of late adulthood.

Mandatory retirement is illegal (since the 1970s) with the exception of certain public safety jobs such as police, firefighters, prison guards, and pilots.

The retirement decision is based on a number of factors.

Workers may be burned out after working all their lives.

Jobs can be frustrating and tension-filled.

Health may decline.

Incentives are offered by their company to retire early.

Desire to travel and see more of family

Atchlyís Stages of Retirement

At first there is a honeymoon period, in which former workers engage in a variety of activities, such as travel, that were previously hindered by full-time work.

Disenchantment may occur when retirees conclude that retirement is not all they thought it would be.

Reorientation is the stage where retirees reconsider their options and become engaged in new, more fulfilling activities.

Atchley, continued

A retirement routine stage occurs when retirees come to grips with the realities of retirement and feel fulfilled in this new phase of life.

The final stage is the process of termination where the retiree either goes back to work or health deteriorates so badly that the person can no longer function independently.

Not everyone passes through each stage and the sequence is not universal.

Gerontologists suggest several factors related to a successful retirement

Plan ahead financially.

Consider tapering off from work gradually.

Explore your interests before you retire.

Plan to volunteer your time.

Relationships: Old and New

Marriage in the later years

The proportion of men who are married over the age of 65 is far greater than that of women.

70 % of women outlive their husbands.

The marriage gradient makes remarriage easier for elderly men than for women.

The vast majority of those still married report they are satisfied with their spouse.

Marriage in the later years, continued

For some, the stress of retirement or old age changes the relationship.

2 % of divorces in the U. S. involve women over 60.

Reasons for divorce at such a late stage are varied. Women initiate it because:

Husband may be abusive or alcoholic.

The husband may have found a younger woman.

Men in retirement may suffer psychological turmoil.


Marriage in the later years, continued

Divorce is harder on women than men.

Happiness and quality of life for women often plummets since marriage may have been central to their identity.

5 % of the elderly never married and late adulthood brings fewer changes to their lives.

Report feeling less lonely than most people of the same age.

Greater sense of independence.

Dealing with Retirement: Too Much Togetherness?

For many couples, retirement means that relationships have to be refashioned.

Couples spend more time together.

Provides an opportunity for sharing household chores.

Men become more affiliative and less competitive and women become more assertive and autonomous.

Caring for an Aging Spouse

Shifts in health mean that in late adulthood men and women may have to care for an ill spouse.

May provide closeness and a sense of fulfillment.

The caregiver may not be in good health either.

In most cases, the caregiver is the wife.

The Death of a Spouse:
Becoming Widowed

Few events are more painful than the death of a spouse.

No longer part of a couple.

Must deal with profound grief.

No one to share life with.

Social life often changes.

Economic changes often occur.

The process of adjusting to widowhood occurs in three stages.

In the first stage, preparation, spouses prepare for the eventual death of the partner.

The second stage, grief and mourning, is an immediate reaction to the death of a spouse.

May last years or months, depending on the degree of support and personality factors.

The last stage is adaptation, where the widowed individual starts a new life.

These stages do not apply to everyone.


Social networks of late adulthood

Friendships play an important role in the lives of those in late adulthood.

Friendships are often more valued than family because of the element of control: we choose our friends.

Friendships are more flexible than family.

When a spouse dies, friends help fill the gap.

When a friend is defined as irreplaceable, the death of that friend may be quite difficult.

Social Support: The Significance of Others

Friends provide SOCIAL SUPPORT, assistance and comfort supplied by another person or a network of caring, interested people.

Social support is important for successful aging.

Provides an ear.

Can sympathize when they have been through the same crises.

Can help furnish material support such as solve problems, give a ride, or fix broken things.

Social Support, continued

Reciprocity, the expectation that if someone provides something positive to another person, a return benefit ought to be received, makes social support effective and beneficial.

With increasing age, it may be harder to reciprocate the social support one receives.

Family Relationships: The Ties that Bind

Connections with siblings, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren may provide an important source of comfort to adults in the last years of their lives.

Siblings are important because they have shared a large portion of life with you.


More important are children and grandchildren.

Often provide support and care.

Parents often have a greater developmental stake in close ties because they see their children as perpetuating their beliefs, values, and standards.

Most parents and children remain close.

75 % of children live within a 30-mile drive to their parents.

Daughters tend to be in more frequent contact than sons.

Mothers tend to be the recipient of communication more than fathers.

Children may turn to their elderly parents for advice, information, and monetary help.

Grandchildren & Great-Grandchildren

Not all grandparents take great pride in their grandchildren.

Grandmothers are more involved than grandfathers.

Many grandchildren express a greater preference for their maternal grandmother than for their paternal grandmother.

African-American grandparents are more involved with their grandchildren than are European-Americans.


African-American grandfathers play a larger role in their grandchildren's lives than do white grandfathers.

Most grandparents do not have close relationships to their great-grandchildren although they enjoy having them.

May relate to the fact that great-grandparents are very old.

May have so many great-grandchildren that it is hard to keep track of them.

Elder Abuse: Relationships Gone Wrong

Elder abuse (the physical and psychological mistreatment or neglect of elderly individuals) is all too common.

Estimates: As many as 2 million people above the age of 60 each year (may be low, because unreported!)

Expected to increase as the number of elderly increase.

Elder Abuse, continued

Elder abuse is most often directed at family members (particularly parents).

Unhealthy and isolated most at risk; also, those with dementia (esp. Alzheimerís).

Usually results due to economic, psychological, and social pressure on caregivers required to give high levels of care around the clock.

More efforts need to be made by society at prevention.


Support agencies