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Social and Personality in Late Adulthood
Chapter 18
Robert S. Feldman
Continuity and Change in Personality
Fundamental continuity to personality

Profound social environmental changes throughout adulthood may produce fluctuations and changes in personality

Some discontinuities in development
Discontinuities of Development: What Do Theorists Say?
Changes in personality occur as a result of new challenges in later adulthood.
Erik Erikson
Process of looking back over one's life, evaluating it, and coming to terms with it
Comes when people feel they have realized and fulfilled the possibilities that have come their way
Occurs when people feel dissatisfied with their life, and experience gloom, unhappiness, depression, anger, or the feeling that they have failed

Stage begins with a sense of mortality
Review life to determine if it was a success or failure
Ego integrity: result of positive resolution of crisis
Ego integrity as key to harmonious personality development
Positive resolution leads to “wisdom” - "informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself"
Despair: result of negative or no resolution
Manifests as a fear of death, a sense that life is too short, and depression
Robert Peck
Three major developmental tasks or challenges:
Redefinition of self vs. preoccupation with work role: find value apart from work
Body transcendence vs. body preoccupation: cope with & move beyond physical changes
Ego transcendence vs. ego preoccupation: come to terms with approaching death
Daniel Levinson
People enter late adulthood by passing through transition stage
View themselves as being “old”
Recognize stereotypes and loss of power and respect, no longer center stage
Serve as resources to younger individuals
Discover new freedom to do things for simple sake of enjoyment and pleasure
Life Review and Reminiscence
Common Theme of Personality Development
Triggered by increasingly obvious prospect of one’s death
Provides better understanding of past
Resolves lingering problems and conflicts
Leads to sense of sharing, mutuality, and feeling of interconnectedness with others

Age Stratification Approaches to Late Adulthood
Age stratification theories suggest that economic resources, power, and privilege are distributed unequally at different stages of the life course, especially during late adulthood.
Help explain why aging is viewed more positively in less industrialized societies.
Cultures that revere old age have several things in common
Homogeneous in socioeconomic terms

Control of finances by older adults

Continued engagement in socially valued activities

Organized around extended families
Does age bring wisdom?
Things to Consider
Wisdom—expert knowledge in the practical aspects of life
Wisdom reflects accumulation of knowledge, experience, and contemplation
Includes understanding of human behavior
Wisdom is not the same as intelligence

Successful Aging Secrets
Three major approaches
Disengagement theory
Activity theory
Continuity theory
Disengagement Theory: Gradual Retreat
Late adulthood involves gradual withdrawal from world on physical, psychological, and social levels

Withdrawal is a mutual process and not necessarily negative

Activity Theory: Continued Involvement
Happiness and satisfaction from high level of involvement

Adaptation to inevitable changes

Continuing/replacing previous activities

Continuity Theory: A Compromise Position
People need to maintain their desired level of involvement in society to maximize their sense of well-being and self-esteem

Regardless of activity level, most older adults experience positive emotions as frequently as younger individuals

Good physical and mental health is important in determining overall sense of well-being
Places and Spaces
Living at home
5% in nursing homes, 10% live in institution
Most live at home, often with at least one family member
Specialized Living Environments
Continuing-care community
Assisted living
Nursing institutions
Adult day care
Skilled nursing

Living in Nursing Homes
Greater the extent of nursing home care = greater adjustment required of residents

Loss of independence brought about by institutional life may lead to difficulties

Elderly people are as susceptible to society’s stereotypes about nursing homes
Institutionalism and Learned Helplessness

Institutionalism: psychological state of apathy, indifference, & lack of caring about self

Learned helplessness: belief one has no control over one’s environment

Loss of control in nursing home has profound effect on well-being.
Economics of Late Adulthood
People who were well-off in young adulthood remain so in late adulthood
Those who were poor remain poor in late adulthood (10% over 65)
Gender differences:
Women twice the poverty rate of men
¼ of elderly women living alone
Older Women and Poverty
Other Differences Related to Poverty
8% of whites in late adulthood live below the poverty level
19% of Hispanics and 24% of African Americans live in poverty
Divorced black women aged 65 to 74 have a poverty rate of 47%
Financial Vulnerability in Older Adulthood
Reliance on a fixed income for support
Social Security benefits
Pensions, and savings, rarely keeps up with inflation

Rising cost of health care
Average 20% of income
Nursing homes cost average of $75,000/year

Work and Retirement
Retirement is major decision
Social Security
Part-time employment
Mandatory retirement illegal except certain public safety jobs

Living Patterns After Age 65
Marriage in Late Adulthood
Stress of retirement or old age may change relationship
2% of divorces in the U. S. involve women over 60
Husband may be abusive or alcoholic
Husband may find a younger woman
Divorce is harder on women than men
70% of women outlive their husbands
5% of the elderly never married and late adulthood brings fewer changes to their lives

Refashioned Relationships
More time together
More sharing in household chores
Role reversals:
men more affiliative and less competitive
Women more assertive and autonomous
Health changes: (women) may have to care for ill spouse
May provide closeness & sense of fulfillment
Caregiver may be in poor health also

Death of Spouse
Few events are more painful than death of spouse
No longer part of a couple
Must deal with profound grief
No one to share life with and social life often changes
Economic changes often occur
Stages of Widowhood
Friendships in Late Adulthood
Enjoy friends as much as younger people, and friendships play an important role in lives
Time spent with friends often valued more highly than time spent with family, and friends often seen as more important providers of support
Around 1/3 older persons report new friend within the past year

Social Networks of Late Adulthood
Social Support: Crucial for Successful Aging
Benefits for Recipient
Sympathetic ear and sounding board for one’s concerns
Unmatched degree of understanding and a pool of helpful suggestions
Material support
Benefits for Provider
Experience feelings of usefulness and heightened self-esteem
Family Relationships
Connections important
Siblings, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren provide an important source of comfort to adults in last years of their lives
Siblings are important because of shared life
Children often most important
Developmental Stake
Parents see their children as perpetuating their beliefs, values, and standards
Most parents and children remain close
75 percent of children live within a 30-mile drive
Daughters tend to be in more frequent contact than sons
Mothers more frequent recipient of communication than fathers
Children may turn to elderly parents for advice, information, and monetary help
Not all grandparents are equally involved with their grandchildren
Gender differences in behaviors and reactions of grandparents and grandchildren
Ethnic differences in grandparenting
Play less of a role in the lives of both white and African American grandchildren
Close relationships tend to occur only when the great-grandparents and great-grandchildren live relatively near one another
Elder Abuse
Physical or psychological mistreatment or neglect of elderly individuals
May affect as many as 2 million people above the age of 60 each year
Is most frequently committed by family member
At risk: less healthy, more isolated, living in the caretaker’s home
Often result of physical, emotional, & financial pressures on caretaker