Chapter 18


Social and Personality Development in Late Adulthood




Chapter Outline


I.        Personality Development and Successful Aging

A.     Continuity and Change in Personality During Late Adulthood

1.      Whether personality changes or stays stable in late adulthood depends on which facets of personality are considered.

2.      According to Costa and McCrae, basic personality traits remain stable.

3.      Some changes in personality occur as a result of new challenges that appear in later adulthood.

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

a)      Integrity comes when people feel they have realized and fulfilled the possibilities that have come their way.

b)      Despair occurs when people feel dissatisfied with their life, and experience gloom, unhappiness, depression, anger, or the feeling that they have failed.

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

a)      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.

b)      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.

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

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

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

b)      People struggle with being "old," and often must face illness and death of one's friends and loved ones.

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

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

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

7.      Bernice Neugarten studied the different ways people cope with aging.

a)      Disintegrated and disorganized personalities are unable to accept aging, and experience despair as they get older and they often end up in nursing homes or are hospitalized.

b)      Passive-dependent personalities lead lives filled with fear of falling ill, fear of the future, fear of their own inability to cope.

c)      Defended personalities seek to ward off aging and attempt to act young, exercising vigorously, and engaging in youthful activities which could lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment.

d)      Integrated personalities cope comfortably with aging and accept becoming older with a sense of dignity.

8.      Erikson, Peck, Neugarten, and Levinson 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.

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

b)      There are benefits to a life review.

(1)   a better understanding of one's life

(2)   resolution of lingering problems

(3)   a sense of sharing and mutuality with others like them

(4)   may improve memory

c)      A life review is not always positive.

(1)   People may become obsessed with the past.

(2)   This may cause psychological dysfunction.

B.     Age Stratification Approaches to Late Adulthood

1.      AGE STRATIFICATION THEORIES suggest that an unequal distribution of economic resources, power, and privilege exists among people at different stages of the life course.

a)      Power and prestige for the elderly have eroded, making them seen as lacking and not productive members of society.

b)      In less industrialized countries older individuals continue to be involved in daily life.

C.     Developmental Diversity:How Culture Shapes the Way We Treat People in Late Adulthood

1.      Cultural differences in the way the elderly are treated are often exaggerated.

a)      The Eskimos do not leave their elderly to die on ice floes.

b)      The Chinese revere old age but there is great individual variation.

c)      Cultures that revere old age have several things in common.

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

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

(3)   These cultures tend to be organized around extended families.

D.     Does Age Bring Wisdom?

1.      WISDOM, expert knowledge in the practical aspects of life, has received little attention from gerontologists until recently.

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

b)      Another challenge is to distinguish wisdom from intelligence.

(1)   Knowledge derived from intelligence is the here-and-now.

(2)   Wisdom is more timeless.

(3)   Wisdom provides understanding of human nature while intelligence permits logical thinking.

(4)   Measuring wisdom is difficult.

(5)   According to studies, older adultsí abilities with respect to theory of mind are superior to those of younger adults.

E.      Successful aging depends on personality factors and circumstances.

1.      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).

a)      People can become more reflective about their lives.

b)      People can become less constrained by social roles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.      Baltes and Baltes suggest 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.

II.     Daily Life in Late Adulthood

A.     Living arrangements

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

a)      Two-thirds of people over the age of 65 live with other members of the family.

(1)   Most live with their spouse.

(2)   The adjustment to living with children can be difficult.

(3)   African Americans are more likely to live in multigenerational families than whites.

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

c)      Several types of nursing homes exist.

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

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

(a)    Only 1 percent of those aged 64 to 74 are in nursing homes.

(b)   25 percent of those over 85 are in nursing homes.

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

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

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

B.     Financial issues:The Economics of Late Adulthood

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

a)      11 percent of the elderly over age 65 live below the poverty line.

b)      Women are twice as likely to live in poverty as men.

c)      7 percent of whites live below the poverty line.

d)      18 percent of Hispanics live below the poverty line.

e)      25 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line.

f)       Divorced black women aged 65 to 74 had a poverty rate of 47 percent.

g)      Elderly must often live on a fixed income.

(1)   Social Security

(2)   pensions

(3)   savings

h)      The elderly face rising health costs.

(1)   The average older person spends 20 percent of his or her income on health care costs.

(2)   Nursing homes can cost $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

C.     Work and Retirement in Late Adulthood

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

2.      The typical retirement age is moving downward to age 60.

a)      Social Security and pensions allow people to retire earlier.

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

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

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

5.      The retirement decision is based on a number of factors.

a)      Workers may be burned out after working all their lives.

b)      Jobs can be frustrating and tension-filled.

c)      Health may decline.

d)      Incentives are offered by their company to retire early.

e)      Desire to travel and see more of family.

6.      According to Atchley, people pass through stages in the process of retirement.

a)      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.

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

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

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

e)      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.

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

III.   Relationships:Old and New

A.     Marriage in the Later Years:Together, Then Alone

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

a)      70 percent of women outlive their husbands.

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

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

3.      For some, the stress of retirement or old age changes the relationship and 2 percent of divorces in the U. S. involve women over 60.

a)      Husband may be abusive or alcoholic.

b)      The husband may have found a younger woman.

c)      Divorce is harder on women than men.

4.      5 percent of the elderly never married and late adulthood brings fewer changes to their lives.

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

a)      Couples spend more time together.

b)      Provides an opportunity for sharing household chores.

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

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

a)      May provide closeness and a sense of fulfillment.

b)      The caregiver may not be in good health either.

c)      In most cases, the caregiver is the wife.

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

a)      No longer part of a couple.

b)      Must deal with profound grief.

c)      No one to share life with.

d)      Social life often changes.

e)      Economic changes often occur.

f)       According to Gloria Heinemann and Patricia Evans, the process of adjusting to widowhood occurs in three stages.

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

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

(a)    May last years or months.

(b)   Length depends on the degree of support and personality factors.

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

(4)   These stages do not apply to everyone.

B.     Social Networks of Late Adulthood

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

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

b)      Friendships are more flexible than family.

c)      When a spouse dies, friends help fill the gap.

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

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

(1)   Social support is important for successful aging.

(2)   Provides an ear.

(3)   Can sympathize when they have been through the same crises.

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

(5)   Dogs can be especially good at providing social support.

2.      Family Relationships:The Ties that Bind

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

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

(2)   More important are children.

(a)    Often provide support and care.

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

(c)    Most parents and children remain close.

(i)     75 percent of children live within a 30-mile drive to their parents.

(ii)   Daughters tend to be in more frequent contact than sons.

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

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

(3)   Not all grandparents take great pride in their grandchildren.

(a)    Grandmothers are more involved than grandfathers.

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

(c)    African-American grandparents are more involved with their grandchildren than are whites.

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

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

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

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

C.     Elder Abuse:Relationships Gone Wrong

1.      According to some estimates, the incidence of ELDER ABUSE, the physical or psychological mistreatment or neglect of elderly individuals, may affect as many as 2 million people above the age of 60 each year.

2.      Elder abuse is most frequently by a family member.

3.      People with Alzheimer's and other dementias are particularly likely to be targets.

4.      The best prevention is for family members to take breaks and ask for assistance from social support agencies.

5.      Anyone suspecting abuse should contact local authorities.





Key Terms and Concepts


Ego-integrity-versus-despair stage†††††††

Redefinition of self versus preoccupation with work-role

Body transcendence versus body preoccupation

Ego transcendence versus ego preoccupation

Life review

Age stratification theory


Disengagement theory

Activity theory

Continuity theory

Selective optimization

Continuing-care community

Adult day-care facilities

Skilled-nursing facilities


Social support

Elder abuse