Generativity

Generativity is an adult’s concern for and commitment to promoting the well-being of youth and future generations through involvement in parenting, teaching, mentoring, and other creative contributions that aim to leave a positive legacy of the self for the future. In Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, "generativity versus stagnation" marks the seventh of eight stages, the stage typically associated with midlife. Generativity is a complex psychosocial construct that can be expressed through social demand, inner desires, conscious concerns, beliefs, commitments, behaviors, and the overall way in which an adult makes narrative sense of his or her life. Theory and research on generativity are described in detail in a book edited by Dan McAdams and Ed de St. Aubin, Generativity and Adult Development: How and Why We Care for the Next Generation (APA Press, 1998).

Researchers at the Foley Center have designed a number of measures for assessing individual differences in generativity among adults. Included among these are thematic coding schemes for assessing generative imagery in descriptions of life goals and accounts of past experiences and self-report questionnaires measuring generative concerns and behaviors. Initially funded by grants from the Spencer Foundation to Dan McAdams and Phillip Bowman (University of Illinois, Chicago), studies have examined the relations between generativity and (1) subjective mental health, (2) religious and political involvements, and (3) patterns of parenting among both Euro-American and African-American adults. Researchers have been especially interested in exploring the life stories of both Black and White American adults who score especially high on generativity measures. The findings of these studies converge on a prototypical life narrative form to which the life stories of highly generative adults often conform. Termed a commitment story, this narrative brings together six themes: (1) a sense of being advantaged in early life, (2) witnessing the suffering of others, (3) moral steadfastness and continuity, (4) the power of redemption to reinforce progress in life, (5) conflicts between agency (power) and communion (love), and (6) articulating prosocial goals for the future.

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