Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 158–172 | Cite as

Becoming Generative: Socializing Influences Recalled in Life Stories in Late Midlife



Through content analysis of adult autobiographies, this study explored possible developmental antecedents of generativity—an adult’s commitment to caring for and contributing to the well-being of future generations. A sample of 158 African-American and Euro-American adults in their late 50s completed self-report measures of generativity and various forms of societal engagement, and then each participant was interviewed in depth to tell the story of his or her life. Replicating past studies, generativity was positively associated with current political and civic engagement and with involvement in religious institutions. For the entire sample, high levels of generativity were predicted by narrative accounts of positive socializing influences coming from the family, teachers and mentors, the education system, and other valued societal institutions. Among the African-American subsample, however, socioeconomic status trumped these positive socializing influences as a strong statistical predictor of generativity, even as African-Americans scored higher than Euro-Americans on both generativity and positive socializing influences. Gender differences also emerged. The results suggest that both social class and positive socializing influences from individuals and institutions may shape generativity for midlife American adults and that these developmental relationships may differ as a function of race/ethnicity and gender.


Generativity Socializing influences Race differences Gender differences Life stories 



This study was funded by a grant to the second author from the Foley Family Foundation to establish the Foley Center for the Study of Lives. The authors would like to thank Gina Logan for coordinating this study and Josh Swenson for assistance in data coding.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education and Social PolicyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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