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Facing the Future: Generativity, Stagnation, Intended Legacies, and Well-Being in Later Life


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.

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Correspondence to Nicky J. Newton.

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Legacy coding scheme

Legacy typeDefinitionExamples
PersonalRespondent 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.”
BroaderRespondent 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.”
CompositeRespondent 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.”

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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).

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  • Legacy
  • Generativity
  • Stagnation
  • Well-being
  • Older women