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Social Development in Adulthood

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Social Development in Adulthood

When we are young, we like to imagine who we want to be when we grow up: the career we'll have, the partner we'll find, or what our children will look like. As we age and enter adulthood, the events we dreamed about for all those years begin to shape our social development.

  • What is social development in adulthood?
  • What are the primary characteristics of social development in adulthood?
  • What are some factors that affect social development in adulthood?
  • What are the stages of social development in adulthood?
  • What are some examples of social development in adulthood?

Definition of Social Development in Adulthood

Social development in adulthood is primarily shaped by life events, rather than age and physical development like it is for kids and teens. While adulthood can be viewed in stages, they are not strict stages. The characteristics of each stage do not fade away over time. Intimacy may be a concern of older adults even if they are primarily concerned with generativity.

There is an established norm within every culture regarding the timing of social events. This is referred to as the social clock. Overall, the social clock in American culture has become far less rigid, but feeling out of sync with it can cause emotional distress in adulthood.

The social clock is a set of cultural norms that define the preferred timing of life events such as marriage, parenthood, and retirement.

Social Development in Adulthood, a girl in graduate regalia holding an hour glass, StudySmarterSocial clock, freepik.com

Stages of Social Development in Adulthood

According to Erik Erikson’s "psychosocial stages of development", there are three stages of social development that occur during young, middle, and older adulthood. Those stages are:

  • Intimacy vs Isolation (19 to 40 years): Adults begin to focus on building stronger relationships and pursuing romantic partners. Forming more intimate and loving connections is a primary goal.

  • Generativity vs Stagnation (40 to 65 years): Adults at this age are concerned with building their careers, raising children, and engaging in other activities. They are also concerned with caring for others and finding ways to make the world a better place.

  • Integrity vs Despair (65 to death): Adults begin to reflect on their life and either feel ashamed of past mistakes, satisfied with their life, or a mixture of both.

Stages of Career Development

From childhood to the mid-20s, people experience a growth stage in career interests. We begin to form ideas about what types of jobs we might like or dislike. During the exploration stage, we begin to actively pursue a career through education and training. In the mid-20s to mid-40s, people may reach the established stage where they begin to feel settled and stable in their careers, and feel as if they are making a difference. Eventually, many people enter a maintenance stage and become even more comfortable and stable in their careers. Finally, as people begin to feel less invested in their work, they enter a decline stage and retire.

Characteristics of Social Development in Adulthood

The two primary social development characteristics in adulthood are intimacy and generativity.

Intimacy

Early and emerging adulthood is the point at which we begin to deeply desire and actively pursue close and intimate relationships. Intimacy is the process of feeling appreciated, understood, and cared for by someone else, and causing someone else to feel that way through sharing personal thoughts and feelings with one another.

When adult relationships include similar interests and values, intimate self-disclosure, and emotional support, they are the most satisfying kind of relationship and often the most enduring. Intimacy during adulthood can take the form of dating, cohabitating, marriage, partnerships, friendships, and co-parenting. We start to form our own families: blood-related or otherwise. Although adults often have far fewer friendships than in earlier stages of life, they are still much happier when they are not left alone.

Generativity

Finding a job and a career is another primary characteristic of social development in adulthood. A person's job can give them a greater sense of generativity or meaningful productivity, another important goal in middle adulthood (40 to 65 years).

Generativity refers to a person's concern for other people, and a need to guide and contribute to younger generations.

We all want to make our mark on the world. This is especially true for adults who want to have something to pass down to later generations. A mother passes down the secret recipe for her famous chili. A father teaches his daughter how to change a tire. A teacher passes along knowledge to hundreds of students over the years. A counselor invests in helping people through the hardest times in their lives.

If you ask an adult to tell you who they are, they will probably talk about what they do for work. Careers provide adults a way to earn a living, structure their lives, and increase social interactions. A person’s job or career is a major part of their identity. A job that fits a person’s interests and gives them a sense of accomplishment is often a significant source of happiness.

Factors Affecting Social Development in Adulthood

As previously mentioned, major life events play a huge role in social development in adulthood. Several stages in life such as getting married, having children, buying a home, becoming grandparents, and other events and crises shape the social life of an adult.

Marriage

Marriage and long-term partnership are commonly the most significant bond in an adult's life. In Western culture, people tend to marry for love, and 95 percent of Americans are either married or want to be. Marriage is a predictor of happiness, physical and mental health, income level, and sexual satisfaction in adulthood. Other studies have found that crime rates are lower in neighborhoods with high marriage rates.

Social Development in Adulthood, a bride and groom making a heart shape with their hands, StudySmarterLove and marriage, pixabay.com

Recently, more people are choosing to live together before marriage and/or not to marry than in previous generations. Divorce rates are known to be higher for couples who live together before marriage, but divorce rates have started to level out and even decline compared to previous generations. This may be because people are more educated and marry later in life than in the past, which are two factors that can increase the odds of a lasting marriage. Still, around 1/3 of the adult American population never marries.

Children

For most people, having a child is a happy event and the outcome of a love relationship. It is a major life change but one that can add more meaning and joy to a person's life. Raising children, however, is incredibly challenging. Children take up a lot of time, emotional energy, and money, and they add additional stress to an adult's life. One of the goals of adulthood is for a person to feel like they left their mark. In many ways, children serve as a way for people to pass down their legacy.

Midlife Crisis

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase "midlife crisis" is a 40-year-old male who is deeply unhappy with his life and decides to quit his job, buy a $100,000 car, and travel the world. However, the idea that reaching the age of middle adulthood triggers deep dissatisfaction and initiates a crisis in a person's life is largely a myth.

Unhappiness, marital dissatisfaction, and job dissatisfaction are triggered by life events, not age. A crisis can happen at any point in life. Random events can change your life in a moment, such as the loss of a spouse, child, or job. You could have a mid-life crisis or a mid-20s crisis (known as a quarter-life crisis). There is no evidence to show that people are more unhappy in late adulthood than in other stages of life.

As a person approaches late adulthood, they begin to reflect on their life and determine if they have met their goals. Some may say they wished they worked harder, got a better education, or told their parents they loved them more often. Several factors can affect social development in late adulthood as these thoughts emerge. Older adults become empty nesters, enter into retirement, become grandparents, and begin to face the ever-approaching reality of death and dying.

Empty Nesters

After having a child, especially a firstborn child, adults experience high levels of satisfaction within their marriage. However, as time goes by, the child-rearing years can become more stressful. Eventually, that glorious day comes when all the children have grown up and left the house. Well, it is glorious for some parents. Others find it a very difficult transition.

As empty-nesters, many adults see a spike in marital satisfaction and, contrary to popular belief, do not always experience a crisis or become depressed once their children leave home. Couples can maintain meaningful relationships with their grown children, while also focusing more on exploring activities and spending time with one another.

Social Development in Adulthood, older married couple dancing in their kitchen, StudySmarterOlder adults, pikwizard.com

Retirement

For older adults (65+), generativity becomes less important, and eventually they decide to retire. However, retirement can affect older adults in many different ways. People in retirement may miss their jobs, especially if they have strong work values. They may become depressed, inactive, and generally unhappy with life.

Several factors can influence a person's decision to retire. Physical health and family relationships often play a large role. Unfortunately, retirement is not something everyone can choose. Some may be forced to retire from their job, and some may feel obligated to keep working due to socioeconomic concerns. Either situation can impact a person's well-being in older adulthood. Others may experience a decline in physical or mental health, which influences the decision to retire.

Death and Dying

One important part of older adulthood is an increasing number of encounters with the reality of death. Older adults have likely experienced the loss of parents, relatives, and friends. Many learn from their experiences with death and use it to be more open to life and find a sense of meaningfulness in their own lives.

For others, the grief of so much loss can be overwhelming. It plays a large role in shaping the social development of an adult, especially if there is a sudden loss. Erikson noted that the crisis older adults face is integrity vs despair. Older adults either feel content with their life, if many of their goals at earlier stages were accomplished, or feel regret and despair. Their time is almost up and they didn't accomplish everything they planned to do.

Examples of Social Development in Adulthood

Social development in adulthood is typically more mellow than in the early stages of life. The highs aren't so high and the lows aren't so low. Brain scans show that the amygdala, responsible for processing emotion in the brain, is less reactive to negative events in older adults.

Additionally, people generally become more accepting of life events with age, and their self-esteem becomes more stable. As adults age, they may experience fewer problems in their relationships. Dramatic breakups and friendship drama become less common later in adulthood. On the other hand, it can be more difficult to meet new people and maintain friendships in adulthood.

Social Development in Adulthood - Key takeaways

  • Social development in adulthood is less shaped by age and development, and more by life events.
  • According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, three stages occur during young (intimacy vs isolation), middle (generativity vs stagnation), and older adulthood (integrity vs despair).
  • The two primary social development characteristics in adulthood are intimacy and generativity.
  • Several events in life such as getting married, having children, buying a home, becoming grandparents, and other events and crises shape the social life of an adult.
    • The idea that reaching the age of middle adulthood triggers deep dissatisfaction and initiates a crisis in a person's life is largely a myth.
  • Older adults become empty nesters, enter into retirement, become grandparents, and begin to face the ever-approaching reality of death and dying.

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Development in Adulthood

According to Erik Erikson, social development in middle adulthood (40 to 65 years) is characterized by a crisis of generativity vs stagnation.  

Social-emotional development in adulthood is typically more mellow than in the early stages of life. 

Nature affects social development in adulthood through genetics, physical health, and mental health, which in turn can affect whether an adult marries, has children, and flourishes in their career.

One social change in late adulthood is that older adults experience the loss of parents, relatives, and friends. 

Factors that affect social development in adulthood include marriage/partnership, children, career choices, and death and dying.

Final Social Development in Adulthood Quiz

Question

True or False? Social development in adulthood is shaped by age and development.

Show answer

Answer

False. It is primarily shaped by life events.

Show question

Question

According to Erik Erikson, what psychosocial stages of development occur during adulthood?

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Answer

Intimacy vs. Isolation

Generativity vs Stagnation

Integrity vs Despair 

Show question

Question

At what age is a person likely operating at the Generativity vs Stagnation stage of development?


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Answer

40-65 

Show question

Question

_________ is a set of norms outlining a culture's preferred timing of life events such as marriage, parenthood, and retirement.  

Show answer

Answer

Social clock

Show question

Question

Sigmund Freud stated that "the healthy adult is one who can ____ and ____"

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Answer

love; work

Show question

Question

_______ is the process during which a person feels more appreciated, understood, and cared for by sharing personal thoughts and feelings with another. 


Show answer

Answer

Intimacy

Show question

Question

True or False? A job that fits a person’s interests and gives them a sense of accomplishment is not often a significant source of happiness.


Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

During the ___________ of career interests, we begin to actively pursue the career through education and training.

Show answer

Answer

exploration stage

Show question

Question

Marriage is a predictor of which of the following?

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Answer

Marriage is a predictor of all of these.

Show question

Question

True or False? Divorce rates are known to be higher for couples who live together before marriage

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or False? The idea that reaching the age of middle adulthood alone triggers deep dissatisfaction and crisis in a person's life is usually true.

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

For older adults (65-death), generativity is ________ important .


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Answer

less

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a possible factor in a person's decision to retire.

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Answer

All of these are factors

Show question

Question

True or False? Brain scans show that the amygdala is less reactive to negative events in older adults. 


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Sarah is beginning to reflect on her life. She generally feels satisfied with how she's lived through the previous stages of her life.  According to Erik Erikson, what stage in development is Sarah likely at?

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Answer

Integrity vs. Despair

Show question

Question

"Adults begin to focus on building stronger relationships and pursuing romantic partners."

The statement above describes which psychosexual stage? 

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Answer

Intimacy vs Isolation 

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Question

"Adults at this age are concerned with building their careers, raising children, and engaging in other activities."

The statement above describes which psychosexual stage?  

Show answer

Answer

Generativity vs Stagnation

Show question

Question

"Adults begin to reflect on their life and either feel ashamed of past mistakes, satisfied with their life, or a mixture of both."

The statement above describes which psychosexual stage?  

Show answer

Answer

Integrity vs Despair

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: During the __________ stage, we begin to actively pursue a career through education and training.

Show answer

Answer

exploration

Show question

Question

True or False: In the mid-20s to mid-40s, people may reach the established stage where they begin to feel settled and stable in their careers, and feel as if they are making a difference. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Intimacy is the process of feeling appreciated, understood, and cared for by someone else, and causing someone else to feel that way through sharing personal thoughts and feelings with one another. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: Finding a job and a career is another primary characteristic of social development in adulthood.  

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

True or False: A person’s job or career is a major part of their identity. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: In ____________ culture, people tend to marry for love, and 95 percent of Americans are either married or want to be. 

Show answer

Answer

Western

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: Divorce rates are known to be ________ for couples who live together before marriage. 

Show answer

Answer

higher 

Show question

Question

What are the two primary social development characteristics in adulthood? 

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Answer

Intimacy 

Show question

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