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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief

ADULTHOOD AND AGING

Personality Processes and Development

More Recent Theories of Adult Social Development

Carstensen’s socioemotional selectivity theory (1993) also takes a life-span approach and explains age related changes in social behavior in terms of emotion conservation and goals for interpersonal interactions. According to this theory, as individuals age they deliberately withdraw from social contact in peripheral relationships, while maintaining or increasing involvement in their relationships with close friends and family. As a result of the growing preference for interactions with close friends and family members, there is a gradual decrease in the total number of social interactions over the life course. Socioemotional selectivity theory is able to account for research findings that as individuals age, they report having fewer people in their social networks but report being emotionally close to and satisfied with members who are in their networks. Specifically. Carstensen posits that this selective narrowing of social interactions functions adaptively to maximize gains and minimize risks in social and emotional domains as individuals age.

Traditionally, decreases in social interaction with age were assumed to be both unwanted (e.g., as family, peers, and/or friends begin to die and as interactions with grown children gradually decrease, etc.) and detrimental to the wellbeing of older adults. However, socioemotional selectivity theory suggests that decreases in the number of social relationships as people age mainly result from a deliberate decision to spend one’s remaining time with close friends and family.

Myths of Adult Social Development

Thus, the notion that children leaving home (or the “empty nest”) is a time of parental sadness, that most people experience a midlife crisis, that women experience regret during menopause, and that old age is a period of isolation and uniform decline are all myths. Research indicates that most people, men and women alike, do not suffer from depression or despair when their last child leaves home.

Changing Family Roles

In addition to caring for children, many women are now also caring for aging parents

...

Early theorists often focused on the negative effects of multiple roles. Goode (r960) proposed a theory of “role strain,“ according to which well-being is impaired by the overload and conflict inherent in filling numerous, often incompatible, roles. This hypothesis has also been termed the scarcity hypothesis because it assumes that human energy is limited. In direct contrast to the scarcity hypothesis, the “enhancement hypothesis” (Marks, 1977) emphasizes the benefits rather than the costs of multiple role involvements: these include status, privileges, multiple bases for self-esteem, and the ability to trade off undesirable components of roles.

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