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To a discussion question:

Regardless of what stage in life you are in right now, think about when you were a young adult. Think about what your views were, or still are, on topics such as love, cohabitation, divorce, marriage, work force issues, extramarital affairs, child-rearing practices, and any other topic of interest. Provide some examples in your post.

Note which human development theoretical framework seems to most clearly explain your perspective. Compare and contrast your views with what is known about gender differences in early adulthood. Integrate the Zucker, Ostrove, and Stewart article into your discussion. Use correct APA formatting to cite and reference the article.

By: Alyssa N. Zucker

Department of Psychology, Program in Women’s Studies, George Washington University

Joan M. Ostrove

Department of Psychology, Macalester College

Abigail J. Stewart

Department of Psychology, Program in Women’s Studies, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, University of Michigan


The developmental period of adulthood covers a large time span, from age 18 or 21 to death. A variety of strategies for dividing this long period into shorter age-based periods have been recommended. For example, Erikson’s (1950) theory of psycho-social development includes distinctive stages defined by personality developmental tasks; for example, young adulthood (the 20s) is characterized as a time of concern with identity and intimacy issues, whereas middle age (the 40s) is characterized as a time of concern with generativity. Other theorists (e.g., Neugarten, 1968) have emphasized the notion of “executive personality” in middle age, or a confident sense of command. Older adulthood in Erikson’s theory is characterized as a time of personality integration in which the key accomplishment is a sense of integrity. Recent theorists have noted that these issues (identity, intimacy, genera-tivity, and integrity) preoccupy adults to varying degrees at all ages, although they may be particularly intense during specific periods and may take different forms at different adult ages (e.g., Kroger, 2000a2000bKroger & Haslett, 1991McAdams, de St. Aubin, & Logan, 1993Stewart & Vandewater, 1998). In addition, increased average life spans have challenged both aging adults and developmental theorists to articulate new age boundaries for these stages, and to explain when the process of integration resulting in integrity might be expected to occur and when it may be reflected in an early stage of more inchoate “concern about” aging.

Stewart, Ostrove, and Helson (2001) found that four aspects of personality originally theorized as central to young adulthood (identity certainty), middle age (generativity and confident power), and older age (concern with aging) were all perceived to be more salient for women in later middle age than in early middle age (the early 50s vs. the 30s and 40s), implying that there was growth on all of these dimensions during a 20-year period within middle age (30s to 50s). Other research (e.g., Jones & Meredith, 2000;Roberts, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2001Roberts, Helson, & Klohnen, 2002) has demonstrated that aspects of personality develop over longer periods of adulthood. In our study we used cross-sectional data from college-educated women to consider the possibility that adult development may be better conceived as composed of elements that have different developmental trajectories, rather than as a series of relatively bounded stages.

There are many ways to study personality development, and each design has different advantages and disadvantages. Some researchers have gathered data from a well-defined sample over a long period of time (e.g., R. Helson’s study of Mills graduates, A. Stewart’s of Radcliffe graduates, and S. Tangri’s of University of Michigan graduates, which are all described in Hulbert & Schuster, 1993). To ensure that findings are generalizable beyond a single sample, and to begin to disentangle age from cohort effects, it is especially valuable to use longitudinal data over the course of adulthood from multiple birth cohorts (see, e.g., Duncan & Agronick, 1995Elder, 1974Helson, Stewart, & Ostrove, 1995). In fact, though, only a small number of longitudinal studies that follow individuals over the course of adulthood exist, and these data sets take a long time to yield evidence for all ages. A second approach is to use cross-sectional data drawn from individuals who are in different life stages at a given time (e.g., McAdams et al., 1993). Although this method is much quicker, birth cohort is confounded with age, and it is impossible to examine within-person change. Finally, it is possible—as in this study—to use data from a single time point, with a combination of retrospective and prospective views of other life stages (e.g., Kroger & Haslett, 1991Ryff & Heincke, 1983). Some of the literature on subjective personality change that involves retrospective and prospective evaluations of personality (e.g., Ryff, 1991Ryff & Heincke, 1983Ryff & Migdal, 1984) has demonstrated that personality is perceived to change in ways that are consistent with developmental personality theories such as Erikson’s (1950; people expect to be most generative during midlife). Moreover, this literature also shows that other aspects of personality that are expected to be stable in adulthood (e.g., impulsivity) indeed are not perceived to change. We, in turn, combined in our study cross-sectional data from three cohorts of women (currently in their 20s, 40s, and 60s) with their retrospective and prospective views.

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