Generativity versus stagnation is the seventh of eight stages of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. This stage takes place during middle adulthood between the ages of approximately 40 and 65.
During this time, adults strive to create or nurture things that will outlast them; often by parenting children or contributing to positive changes that benefit other people. Contributing to society and doing things to benefit future generations are important needs at the generativity versus stagnation stage of development.
Generativity refers to "making your mark" on the world through caring for others as well as creating and accomplishing things that make the world a better place.
Stagnation refers to the failure to find a way to contribute. These individuals may feel disconnected or uninvolved with their community and with society as a whole.
Those who are successful during this phase will feel that they are contributing to the world by being active in their home and community.
Those who fail to attain this skill will feel unproductive and uninvolved in the world.
A quick summary of this stage:
- Psychosocial Conflict: Generativity Versus Stagnation
- Major Question: "How can I contribute to the world?"
- Basic Virtue: Care
- Important Event(s): Parenthood and Work
Characteristics of Generativity and Stagnation
Some key characteristics of generativity include making commitments to other people, developing relationships with family, mentoring others and contributing to the next generation.
As you might imagine, these sorts of things are frequently realized through having and raising children.
Some characteristics of stagnation include being self-centered, failing to get involved with others, not taking an interest in productivity, no efforts to improve the self and placing one's concerns over above all else.
One thing to note about this stage is that life events tend to be less age-specific than they are during early-stage and late-stage life. The major events that contribute to this stage such as marriage, work, and child-rearing can occur at any point during the rather broad span of middle-adulthood.
It is at this point in life that some people might experience what is often referred to as a "midlife crisis." People might reflect back on their accomplishments and consider their future trajectory and feel regret. In some cases this might involve regretting missed opportunities such as going to school, pursuing a career or having children.
In some cases, people might use this crisis as an opportunity to make adjustments in their lives that will lead to greater fulfillment. It is important to note that it is the way that people interpret these regrets that influence their well-being. Those who feel that they have made mistakes wasted their time, and have no time to make changes may be left feeling bitter.
There are also numerous factors that can influence feelings of generativity versus feelings of stagnation at this point in life. People who have positive relationships with others, good quality health and a sense of control over their lives will feel more productive and satisfied.
Those who suffer from poor health, poor relationships and feel that they have no control over their fate are more likely to experience feelings of stagnation.
Expanding on the Generativity vs. Stagnation Stage
Recent research has suggested further elaboration of the primary conflicts of the generativity vs. stagnation stage. These include:
- Inclusivity versus exclusivity: This crisis centers on the scope of caregiving activities and on what and who an individual is willing to include in his or her life. This stage reflects the trust versus mistrust stage of early childhood.
- Pride versus embarrassment: This aspect of the generativity versus stagnation stage is centered on the sense of pride that adults take in their family and children. In many ways, it mirrors the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage of early childhood.
- Responsibility versus ambivalence: This adulthood crisis centers on whether people choose to take responsibility for their lives and choices. It reflects the initiative versus guilt stage seen earlier during childhood.
- Productivity versus inadequacy: Work plays a major role in adulthood, so it is no surprise that an individual’s sense of pride and accomplishment in their work can lead to feelings of productivity. This stage mirrors the industry versus inferiority stage of childhood.
- Parenthood versus self-absorption: This aspect of adulthood centers on reaching out and contributing to the next generation. This can occur through parenting although not all people who produce offspring necessarily become supportive and giving parents and those who do not have children are still able to give to the next generation in meaningful ways. This part of the generativity versus stagnation stage reflects many of the aspects of the earlier identity versus confusion stage of adolescence.
- Honesty versus denial: As the generativity stages draw to a close and people approach the final stage of life, finding meaning plays an increasingly critical role. Self-knowledge and self-understanding have an important role during this phase of the generativity versus stagnation stage.
Erikson, E.H. Childhood and Society. (2nd ed.). New York: Norton; 1993.
Erikson, EH & Erikson, JM. The Life Cycle Completed. New York: Norton; 1998.