Older adults often contemplate the kind of legacy they would like to leave for subsequent generations. Research provides some evidence for relationships between expressions of intended legacies and generativity (caring for the next generation), and how generativity is related to well-being. The current study aims to expand the literature concerning the role of generativity and its counterpart, stagnation, in the likelihood and frequency of expressions of intended legacies (what individuals wish to leave behind when they die), and to parse each factor’s relationship to well-being among older women. Data were drawn from the combined 2014 data collections from the Radcliffe College Class of 1964 and the Women’s Life Paths Study (N = 204; Mage = 68.93). We used newly developed Q-sort measures of generativity and stagnation, and coded legacy from responses to open-ended questions. This study assessed three types of legacy: one that is meaningful in a personal way (personal), a contribution to the common good (broader), and a combination of personal and broader (composite). Although both generativity and stagnation showed some initial association with personal and total legacy, only stagnation was consistently negatively associated with the likelihood of expressing a legacy, frequency of legacy expression, and well-being. The contribution of psychosocial factors to legacy expression, and the utility of examining generativity and stagnation separately, is discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Ackerman, S., Zuroff, D. C., & Moskowitz, D. S. (2000). Generativity in midlife and young adults: Links to agency, communion, and subjective well-being. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development,50(1), 17–41. https://doi.org/10.1177/0165025406071489.
Block, J. (1961). The Q-sort method in personality assessment and psychiatric research. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
Block, J. (2008). The Q-sort in character appraisal: Encoding subjective impressions of persons quantitatively. Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association.
Bradley, C. L. (1996). Generativity status measure. Interview and scoring manual. Unpublished manuscript, Simon Fraser University.
Bradley, C. L., & Marcia, J. E. (1998). Generativity-stagnation: A five-category model. Journal of Personality,66, 39–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-6494.t01-2-00002.
Cole, E. R., & Stewart, A. J. (1996). Meanings of political participation among Black and White women: Political identity and social responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,71, 130–140. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11.
Cox, K. S., Wilt, J., Olson, B., & McAdams, D. P. (2010). Generativity, the big five, and psychosocial adaptation in midlife adults. Journal of Personality,78, 1185–1208. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00647.x.
Diener, E. D., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment,49(1), 71–75. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327752jpa4901_13.
Ekerdt, D. J., Luborsky, M., & Lysack, C. (2012). Safe passage of goods and self during residential relocation in later life. Ageing & Society,32, 833–850. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X11000705.
Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Erikson, E. H. (1974). Dimensions of a new identity. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Erikson, E. H. (1980). Identity and the life cycle. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Erikson, E. H. (1982). The life cycle completed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Grossbaum, M. F., & Bates, G. W. (2002). Correlates of psychological well-being at midlife: The role of generativity, agency and communion, and narrative themes. International Journal of Behavioral Development,26(2), 120–127. https://doi.org/10.1080/01650250042000654.
Hawley, G. A. (1988). Measures of psychosocial development. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources Inc.
Hunter, E. G. (2007–2008). Beyond death: Inheriting the past and giving to the future, transmitting the legacy of one’s self. Omega, 56, 313–329. https://doi.org/10.2190/om.56.4.a.
Hunter, E. G., & Rowles, G. D. (2005). Leaving a legacy: Toward a typology. Journal of Aging Studies,19, 327–347. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2004.08.002.
Huta, V., & Zuroff, D. C. (2007). Examining mediators of the link between generativity and well-being. Journal of Adult Development,14, 47–52. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10804-007-9030-7.
Jia, F., Soucie, K., Alisat, S., & Pratt, M. (2016). Sowing seeds for future generations: Development of generative concern and its relation to environmental narrative identity. International Journal of Behavioral Development,40(5), 466–470. https://doi.org/10.1177/0165025415611260.
Kane, R. A. (1996). From generation to generation: Thoughts on legacy. Generations,20, 5–9.
Kivnick, H. Q. (1996). Remembering and being remembered: The reciprocity of psychological legacy. Generations,20, 49–53.
Kotre, J. (1984). Outliving the self: Generativity and the interpretation of lives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lang, F. R., & Carstensen, L. L. (2002). Time counts: future time perspective, goals, and social relationships. Psychology and Aging,17(1), 125–139. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7918.104.22.168.
MacDermid, S. M., Franz, C. E., & De Reus, L. A. (1998). Generativity: At the crossroads of social roles and personality. In D. P. McAdams & E. de St. Aubin (Eds.), Generativity and adult development: How and why we care for the next generation (pp. 181–226). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
McAdams, D. P. (2001). The psychology of life stories. Review of General Psychology,5, 100–122. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2622.214.171.124.
McAdams, D. P., & de St Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,62(6), 1003–1015. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1993.
McAdams, D. P., de St. Aubin, E., & Logan, R. L. (1993). Generativity among young, midlife, and older adults. Psychology and Aging,8(22), 221–230. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-79188.8.131.52.
Newton, N. J., & Jones, B. K. (2016). Passing on: Personal attributes associated with midlife expressions of intended legacies. Developmental Psychology,52(2), 341–353. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039905.
Newton, N. J., & Stewart, A. J. (2011). Coding manual for legacy themes. Unpublished manuscript, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
Newton, N. J., Stewart, A. J., & Vandewater, E. A. (under review). “Age is opportunity”: Women’s personality trajectories from mid- to later-life.
Ochse, R., & Plug, C. (1986). Cross-cultural investigation of the validity of Erikson’s theory of personality development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,50(6), 1240–1252. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2060.
Peterson, B. E. (2002). Longitudinal analysis of midlife generativity, intergenerational roles, and caregiving. Psychology and Aging,17(1), 161–168. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-79220.127.116.11.
Peterson, B. E., & Klohnen, E. C. (1995). Realization of generativity in two samples of women at midlife. Psychology and Aging,10(1), 20–29. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7918.104.22.168.
Peterson, B. E., Smirles, K. A., & Wentworth, P. A. (1997). Generativity and authoritarianism: Implications for personality, political involvement, and parenting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,72, 1202–1216. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1242.
Peterson, B. E., & Stewart, A. J. (1996). Antecedents and contexts of generativity motivation at midlife. Psychology and Aging,11, 21–33. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-79126.96.36.199.
Rubinstein, R. L. (1996). Childlessness, legacy, and generativity. Generations,20, 58–60.
Smith, C. P., Feld, S. C., & Franz, C. E. (1992). Methodological considerations: Steps in research employing content analysis systems. In C. P. Smith (Ed.), Motivation and Personality: Handbook of thematic content analysis (pp. 515–536). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Stewart, A. J. (1978). A longitudinal study of coping styles in self-defining and socially defined women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,46(5), 1079–1084. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.46.5.1079.
Stewart, A. J. (1980). Personality and situation in the prediction of women’s life patterns. Psychology of Women Quarterly,5(2), 195–206. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1980.tb00956.x.
Stewart, A. J., & Vandewater, E. A. (1993). The Radcliffe class of 1964: Career and family social clock projects in a transitional cohort. In K. D. Hulbert & D. T. Schuster (Eds.), Women’s lives through time: Educated American women of the twentieth century (pp. 235–258). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Stewart, A. J., & Vandewater, E. A. (1998). The course of generativity. In D. P. McAdams & E. de St. Aubin (Eds.), Generativity and adult development: How and why we care for the next generation, (pp. 75–100). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Stewart, A. J., & Vandewater, E. A. (1999). “If I had it to do over again…”: Midlife review, midcourse corrections, and women’s well-being in midlife. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,76(2), 270–283. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.520.
Tangri, S. S., & Jenkins, S. R. (1986). Stability and change in role innovation and life plans. Sex Roles,14(11–12), 647–662. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00287695.
Van Hiel, A., Mervielde, I., & De Fruyt, F. (2006). Stagnation and generativity: Structure, validity, and different relationships with adaptive and maladaptive personality. Journal of Personality,74(2), 543–573. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2005.00384.x.
Vandewater, E. A., & Stewart, A. J. (1998). Making commitments, creating lives: Linking women’s roles and personality at midlife. Psychology of Women Quarterly,22(4), 717–738. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1998.tb00187.x.
Williams, B., Woodby, L., & Drentea, P. (2010). Ethical capital: ‘What’s a poor man got to leave?’. Sociology of Health & Illness,32(6), 880–897. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2010.01246.x.
Winter, D. G. (1973). The power motive. New York, NY: Free Press.
Zacher, H., Schmitt, A., & Gielnik, M. M. (2012). Stepping into my shoes: Generativity as a mediator of the relationship between business owners’ age and family succession. Ageing & Society,32, 673–696. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0144686X11000547.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Legacy coding scheme
|Personal||Respondent expresses concerns about making a lasting contribution that is related to his or herself or is solely meaningful in a personal way||“I hope I can continue to contribute to the education of midwives and nurse practitioners for many years.”|
“I am writing the book I have had (unknown to me) inside me all my life, the story of a family dealing with bipolar disorder and the gifts and tragedies it confers on the people who have it.”
|Broader||Respondent expresses concerns about making a lasting contribution for people or places outside of her immediate circle of care, or for the greater good||“Volunteer in areas of my strengths = curriculum development, fund-raising, grant-writing for causes I believe in (anti-racism, sexism, homophobia, colonialism).”|
“Be involved in helping the poor, the homeless, the hungry.”
|Composite||Respondent expresses concerns for both personal legacy and broader legacy; can be in a single statement (1) or with respect to one particular situation (2)||“The drafting and passing of local ordinances to maintain a sustainable high quality of eco-friendly life in my jurisdiction has been a gratifying achievement.”|
“I hope to develop a website and blog which present my mentoring innovation and creativity focusing on international human rights and social justice.”
About this article
Cite this article
Newton, N.J., Chauhan, P.K. & Pates, J.L. Facing the Future: Generativity, Stagnation, Intended Legacies, and Well-Being in Later Life. J Adult Dev 27, 70–80 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10804-019-09330-3
- Older women