Site MapHelpFeedbackPsychosocial Development in Late Adulthood
Psychosocial Development in Late Adulthood


Guidepost 1: What happens to personality in old age?

  • Personality traits tend to remain stable in late adulthood, but cohort differences have been found.
  • Emotionality tends to become more positive and less negative in old age, but personality traits can modify this pattern.

Guidepost 2: What special issues or tasks do older people need to deal with?

  • Erik Erikson's final conflict, ego integrity versus despair, culminates in the "virtue" of wisdom, or acceptance of one's life and impending death.

Guidepost 3: How do older adults cope?

  • George Vaillant found that the use of mature adaptive mechanisms earlier in adulthood predicts psychosocial adjustment in late life.
  • In the cognitive-appraisal model, adults of all ages generally prefer problem-focused coping, but older adults do more emotion-focused coping than younger adults when the situation calls for it.
  • Religion is an important source of emotion-focused coping for many older adults. Older African Americans are more involved in religious activity than elderly white people, and black women are more involved than black men.

Guidepost 4: Is there such a thing as successful aging? If so, how can it be defined and measured?

  • Two contrasting early models of "successful" or "optimal" aging are disengagement theory and activity theory. Disengagement theory has little support, and findings on activity theory are mixed. Newer refinements of activity theory are continuity theory and a distinction between productive and leisure activity.
  • Baltes and his colleagues suggest that successful aging may depend on selective optimization with compensation, in the psychosocial as well as cognitive realm.

Guidepost 5: What are some issues regarding work and retirement in late life, and how do older adults handle time and money?

  • Some older people continue to work for pay, but most are retired. However, many retired people start new careers or do part-time paid or volunteer work. Often retirement is a phased phenomenon.
  • Age has both positive and negative effects on job performance, and individual differences are more significant than age differences. Older adults tend to be more satisfied with their work and more committed than younger ones.
  • The financial situation of older people has improved, but still about 30 percent can expect to live in poverty at some point. For many of today's middle-aged adults, retirement funding is shaky.
  • Retirement is an ongoing process, and its emotional impact must be assessed in context. Personal, economic, and social resources, as well as the length of time a person has been retired, may affect morale.
  • Common lifestyle patterns after retirement include a family-focused lifestyle, balanced investment, and serious leisure.

Guidepost 6: What options for living arrangements do older adults have?

  • In developing countries, the elderly often live with children or grandchildren. In developed countries, most older people live with a spouse, and a growing minority live alone. Minority elders are more likely than white elders to live with extended family members.
  • Most older Americans prefer to "age in place." Most can remain in the community if they can depend on a spouse or child for help.
  • Older women are more likely than older men to live alone. Most Americans who live alone are widowed.
  • Institutionalization is rare in developing countries. Its extent varies in developed countries. In the United States, only about 4.5 percent of the older population are institutionalized at a given time, but the proportion increases greatly with age. Most nursing home residents are older widows.
  • Fast-growing alternatives to institutionalization include assisted-living facilities and other kinds of group housing.
  • Elder abuse is most often suffered by a frail or demented older person living with a spouse or child.

Guidepost 7: How do personal relationships change in old age, and what is their effect on well-being?

  • Relationships are very important to older people, even though frequency of social contact declines in old age.
  • According to social convoy theory, reductions or changes in social contact in late life do not impair well-being because a stable inner circle of social support is maintained. According to socioemotional selectivity theory, older people prefer to spend time with people who enhance their emotional well-being.
  • Social support is associated with good health, and isolation is a risk factor for mortality.
  • The way multigenerational late-life families function often has cultural roots.

Guidepost 8: What are the characteristics of long-term marriages in late life, and what impact do divorce, remarriage, and widowhood have at this time?

  • As life expectancy increases, so does the potential longevity of marriage. More men than women are married in late life. Marriages that last into late adulthood tend to be relatively satisfying.
  • Divorce is relatively uncommon among older people, and most older adults who have been divorced are remarried. Divorce can be especially difficult for older people. Remarriages may be more relaxed in late life.
  • Although a growing proportion of men are widowed, women tend to outlive their husbands and are less likely to marry again.

Guidepost 9: How do unmarried older people and those in gay and lesbian relationships fare?

  • A small but increasing percentage of adults reach old age without marrying. Never-married adults are less likely to be lonely than divorced or widowed ones.
  • Older homosexuals, like heterosexuals, have needs for intimacy, social contact, and generativity. Many gays and lesbians adapt to aging with relative ease. Adjustment may be influenced by coming-out status.

Guidepost 10: How does friendship change in old age?

  • Friendships in old age focus on companionship and support, not work and parenting. Most older adults have close friends, and those who do are healthier and happier.
  • Older people enjoy time spent with friends more than with family, but the family is the main source of emotional support.

Guidepost 11: How do older adults get along with--or without--grown children and with siblings, and how do they adjust to great-grandparenthood?

  • Elderly parents and their adult children frequently see or contact each other, are concerned about each other, and offer each other assistance. An increasing number of elderly parents are caregivers for adult children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren.
  • In some respects, childlessness does not seem to be an important disadvantage in old age, but providing care for infirm elderly people without children can be a problem.
  • Often siblings offer each other emotional support, and sometimes more tangible support as well. Sisters in particular maintain sibling ties.
  • Great-grandparents are less involved in children's lives than grandparents, but most find the role fulfilling.

Human DevelopmentOnline Learning Center

Home > Chapter 18