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Social Changes

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Social Changes
379
Adulthood
STAYING ALERT, STAYING ACTIVE,
STAYING ALIVE Sisters Alcantara,
Claverine, and Nicolette of the School Sisters of Notre Dame convent were in their
80s or 90s when this photo was taken.
They stayed alert by reading, solving puzzles, playing cards, and participating in
vocabulary quizzes. The nuns at this convent are participating in a study of aging
and the brain.
Social Changes
Adulthood is a time when changes occur in social relationships and positions. These
changes do not come in neat, predictable stages but instead follow various paths,
depending on individual experiences. Transitions—such as divorcing, being fired, going
back to school, remarrying, losing a spouse to death, being hospitalized, getting
arrested, moving back home, or retiring—are just a few of the turning points that can
redirect a person’s life path and lead to changes in personality (Caspi & Shiner, 2006;
Roberts, Helson, & Klohnen, 2002).
Early Adulthood Men and women in Western cultures usually enter the adult
world in their twenties. The process may begin with an “emerging adulthood” period
during which they explore life’s possibilities through education, dating, and travel
before they settle into stable adult roles and responsibilities (Arnett, 2000; Roisman
et al., 2004). They decide on an occupation, or at least take a job, and become preoccupied with their careers (Srivastava et al., 2003). Nevertheless, by age 25 about 20 percent of young adults are still living with their parents, and just under half are still financially dependent (Cohen et al., 2003). It is in their twenties, too, that young adults
become more concerned with matters of romantic love. Having reached the sixth of
Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development noted in Table 9.2 (intimacy versus isolation), they begin to focus on forming mature relationships based on sexual intimacy,
friendship, or mutual intellectual stimulation. The result may be marriage or some
other form of committed relationship.
Just how willing and able people are to make intimate commitments may depend
on their earlier attachment relationships (Scharf, Mayseless, & Kivenson-Baron, 2004;
Treboux, Crowell, & Waters, 2004). Researchers have discovered that young adults’ views
of intimate relationships parallel the patterns of infant attachment that we described
earlier (Campbell et al., 2005; Horowitz, Rosenberg, & Bartholomew, 1993). If their
view reflects a secure attachment, they tend to feel valued and worthy of support and
affection; they develop closeness easily. They have relationships characterized by joy,
trust, and commitment. If their view reflects an insecure attachment, however, they tend
to be preoccupied with relationships and may feel misunderstood, underappreciated,
and worried about being abandoned. Their relationships are often negative, obsessive,
and jealous. Alternatively, they may be aloof and unable to trust or to commit themselves to a partner. Overall, young adults whose parents have been accepting and
380
Chapter 9
Human Development
BUILDING MONUMENTS Middle
adulthood tends to be a time during which
people become deeply committed to building personal monuments, through either
child raising or achievements outside the
home. This graduating parent seems to
have accomplished both goals.
midlife transition A point at around
age forty when adults take stock of
their lives.
generativity The concern of adults in
their forties with generating something
enduring.
supportive tend to develop warm and supportive romantic relationships (Conger et al.,
2000; Dresner & Grolnick, 1996).
For many young adults, the experience of becoming parents represents entry into a
major new developmental phase often accompanied by personal, social, and occupational changes (Palkovitz, Copes, & Woolfolk, 2001). This milestone usually comes earlier for young adults from lower income backgrounds, who are more likely to be in
full-time employment and less likely to be living at home (Cohen et al., 2003). Often,
satisfaction with the marriage or partnership declines once a baby is born (Belsky &
Kelly, 1994), and about half of all marriages break under the strain (National Center
for Health Statistics, 2001). Young mothers may experience particular dissatisfaction—
especially if they resent the constraints infants bring, if they see their careers as important, if the infants are temperamentally difficult, if the partnerships are not strong, and
if the partners are not supportive (Shapiro, Gottman, & Carrere, 2000). When the father
does not do his share of caring for the baby, both mothers and fathers are dissatisfied
(Levy-Shiff, 1994). The ability of young parents to provide adequate care for their
babies is related to their own attachment histories. New mothers whose attachments to
their own mothers were secure tend to be more responsive to their infants, and the
infants, in turn, are more likely to develop secure attachments to them (Adam, Gunnar,
& Tanaka, 2004; van IJzendoorn, 1995).
The challenges of young adulthood are complicated by the nature of family life today
(Halpern, 2005). Forty years ago, about half of North American households consisted
of married couples in their twenties and thirties—a breadwinner husband and a homemaker wife—raising at least two children together. This description now applies to only
about 10 percent of households (Demo, Allen, & Fine, 2000; Hernandez, 1997). Parents
are older now because young adults are delaying marriage longer and waiting longer
to have children. Many are having children without marrying or choosing to raise children on their own (Weinraub, Horvath, & Gringlas, 2002). Those who divorce face
many unanticipated stressors, including money problems, changes in living circumstances and working hours, loneliness, anxiety, and, for custodial parents, a dramatic
increase in housework and child-care tasks (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006). In short,
the changes seen in families and family life over the past several decades have made it
more challenging than ever to successfully navigate the years of early adulthood.
At around age forty, people go through a midlife transition,
during which they may rethink and modify their lives and relationships. Many feel
invigorated and liberated; some may feel upset and have a “midlife crisis” (Beck, 1992;
Levinson et al., 1978). The contrast between youth and middle age may be especially
Middle Adulthood
Adulthood
381
THE “SANDWICH” GENERATION
During their midlife transition, many
people feel “sandwiched” between
generations—pressured by the social,
emotional, and financial needs of their
children on one side and of their aging
parents on the other.
upsetting for men who matured early in adolescence and were sociable and athletic
rather than intellectual (Block, 1971). Women who chose a career over a family now
hear the biological clock ticking out their last childbearing years. Women who have had
children, however, become more independent and confident and more oriented toward
achievement and events outside the family (Helson & Moane, 1987). For both men and
women, the emerging sexuality of their teenage children, the emptiness of the nest as
children leave home, or the declining health of a parent may precipitate a crisis.
Following the midlife transition, the middle years of adulthood are often a time of
satisfaction and happiness (MacArthur Foundation, 1999; Mroczek & Spiro, 2005).
Many people become concerned with producing something that will outlast them—
usually through parenthood and/or job achievements (Sheldon & Kasser, 2001; Zucker,
Ostrove, & Stewart, 2002). Erikson called this concern the crisis of generativity,
because people are focused on producing or generating something. If people do not
resolve this crisis, he suggested, they stagnate.
In their fifties, most people become grandparents (Smith & Drew, 2002), though they
may find it hard to believe they are no longer young (Karp, 1991). At this age, spending
lots of time caring for young grandchildren can be stressful and may even increase the
risk of heart disease (Lee et al., 2003). Caring for grown children can be stressful, too.
Most people in their sixties want their children to be independent; they may have mixed
feelings toward adult children who still need financial support (Pillemer & Suitor, 2002).
One study of more than 7,000 adults suggested that the degree of happiness and healthiness people experience during middle adulthood depends on how much control they
feel they have over their work, finances, marriages, children, and sex lives, as well as how
many years of education they completed and what kind of jobs they have (Azar, 1996).
At the age of 80,
actor and race car driver Paul Newman
remains a famous example of the many
people whose late adulthood is healthy
and vigorous. In January 2000, at the
age of seventy-five, Newman received
bruised ribs in a minor accident while
preparing to drive his race car in the 24
Hours of Daytona. He was racing again
the following month, and he is still
racing today.
STILL ON A ROLL
Late Adulthood Most people between sixty-five and seventy-five years of age think
of themselves as middle-aged, not old (Neugarten, 1977). They are active and influential
politically and socially, and they often are physically vigorous. Ratings of life satisfaction
and self-esteem are, on average, as high in old age as during any other period of adulthood (Ben-Zur, 2002; Charles, Mather, & Carstensen, 2003; Hamarat et al., 2002). Men
and women who have been employed usually retire from their jobs during this period.
They adjust most easily to retirement if they view it as a choice (Swan, 1996).
Today, more people than ever are reaching old age. In fact, those over 75 make up the
fastest-growing segment of the population, a group that is 25 times larger than it was a
century ago. Today, 77,000 people in the United States are over 100, and the Census Bureau
predicts that number will rise to 834,000 by 2050 (Volz, 2000). Old age is not necessarily
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