The Role of Generativity

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J Adult Dev (2008) 15:148–159 DOI 10.1007/s10804-008-9046-7

The Role of Generativity in Psychological Well-Being: Does it Differ for Childless Adults and Parents? Tanja Rothrauff Æ Teresa M. Cooney

Published online: 11 October 2008 Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract Given that parenthood is considered a central adult status with developmental implications, and an increasing number of adults are childless, we assessed whether adult development is structured differently for parents and non-parents. This study’s main goal was to assess and compare the connection between generativity development—a key task of middle adulthood—and psychological well-being for childless adults (N = 289) and parents (N = 2,218), ages 35–74, using the 1995 MIDUS dataset. We also examined differences in these associations for women and men by parental status, because childlessness is often assumed to be more critical for females’ than males’ development. Structural equation modeling indicated a positive association between generativity and psychological well-being. Differences in this association for parents and childless adults were not evident, nor were there significant differences for childless women and mothers, and childless men and fathers. Implications of these findings are discussed. Keywords Childless adults Á Generativity Á Parents Á Psychological well-being

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2007 Annual Meetings of the National Council on Family Relations, Pittsburgh, PA. T. Rothrauff (&) Á T. M. Cooney Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri, 314 Gentry Hall, Columbia, MO 65211, USA e-mail: tcrp6d@mizzou.edu

An increasing number of adults today have never experienced parenthood for a variety of reasons (e.g., by choice, infertility), resulting in greater life course diversity. In 1985, 11% of American women between the ages of 40 and 44 years did not have children; by 2004, the number of childless women in that age category had almost doubled (19%; Dye 2005). Despite the increased percentage of older childless adults, parenthood is still considered the norm and a central adult status with significant developmental implications. In particular, psychological wellbeing, an important indicator of adult development, is often linked to parenthood (McAdams 2001; McMullin and Marshall 1996). Generativity, which is the psychological need to care for and give back to the next generation, is also commonly considered in relation to parenthood (McAdams and de St. Aubin 1992). Yet, empirical findings regarding the association between psychological wellbeing and generativity development, based on parental status, are mixed (An and Cooney 2006; Beckman and Houser 1982; Koropeckyj-Cox 2002; McAdams and de St. Aubin 1992). Additionally, little is known about the influence of generativity on multiple dimensions of psychological well-being and how its role may differ in the development of older childless adults and parents. Framed by Erikson’s (1963) psychosocial theory, this study examines and compares the association between generativity and psychological well-being for mid- to latelife childless adults and parents. Generativity is of primary interest because of its theorized importance for development in middle adulthood, association with parenthood, and link to adult well-being. We conceptualize psychological well-being as multidimensional, employing Ryff’s (1989) six, widely used, theoretically based domains of psychological functioning. In addition, because early childhood experiences lay the foundation for life course

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Generativity and Well-Being

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development and progression through the developmental stages proposed by Erikson, we consider early family experiences as a potential influence on both generativity processes at midlife and psychological well-being. Finally, we examine whether parental status differences in the connection between...
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