Generativity vs Stagnation: 10 Examples (Erikson 7th Stage)

generativity vs stagnation example and definition

Generativity vs stagnation is the seventh stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, occurring between the ages of middle adulthood (40 years old) and late adulthood (65 years old).

During this stage, individuals begin to reflect on their life experiences and accomplishments and may experience a desire to give back to society or to make a positive impact on future generations. 

For example, one way to practice generativity is by teaching and mentoring younger individuals, passing on knowledge, skills, and wisdom. Another example is making a lasting impact through philanthropy or volunteering.

However, those who struggle with generativity may feel a sense of stagnation, as if they are no longer growing or making progress in their lives. They may feel unfulfilled and lack a sense of purpose or direction.

So, during this stage, middle-aged adults strive to make something meaningful and lasting while also managing their own personal needs. 

Overview of Generativity vs Stagnation Stage

According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, during the generativity vs stagnation stage, individuals are faced with the task of contributing to society and leaving a positive legacy or risking feelings of boredom and unfulfillment (Erikson, 1963).

In Erikson’s view, generativity involves a desire to give back to society, whether through raising children, mentoring others, contributing to one’s community, or pursuing a fulfilling career. 

On the other hand, stagnation is the sense of not making progress in life. It may involve a lack of purpose or direction and feelings of boredom and unproductiveness.

This stage’s key crisis or challenge is finding ways to be generative and productive while maintaining a sense of self-identity and autonomy.

So, the main question is:

“How can I contribute to the world?”

(Erikson, 1963)

To successfully navigate this stage, individuals must find ways to contribute to a society that are meaningful and fulfilling for them. They must also find ways to balance their needs for self-care and personal growth with their desire to positively impact others.

Failure to develop a sense of generativity can lead to feelings of stagnation, unfulfillment, and a sense of purposelessness (Erikson, 1963).

As a result, people may become apathetic or disengaged from society and may struggle to find meaning and direction in their lives.

The basic virtue associated with the generativity vs stagnation stage is care, which Erikson defines as a sense of concern for others and a desire to contribute to their well-being (Orenstein & Lewis, 2021).

If an individual is able to navigate this stage successfully, they will develop a sense of care and generativity that can last throughout their lifespan.

Finally, an important event associated with this stage is parenthood and work. During this stage, individuals may focus on raising their own children or caring for those in younger generations while also contributing to society through meaningful and productive work.

10 Generativity vs Stagnation Examples

  • Generativity encompasses the act of guiding and nurturing the next generation, and raising one’s own kids is a significant way to fulfill this role. Parents can actively participate in their children’s growth and development, assisting them in becoming capable and versatile individuals.
  • Mentoring younger individuals in the community is an example of generativity, as it involves passing on wisdom and knowledge to the next generation. By taking on a mentoring role, individuals can help others to achieve success and reach their goals.
  • Generativity is about making a positive difference in the world, and what better way to do that than through an esteemed career? Having a fulfilling and meaningful profession can have invaluable long-term effects on other people’s lives. Moreover, career satisfaction impacts not only us but those around us as well, allowing us to engage with our community more constructively.
  • Volunteering or becoming involved in community service can help individuals practice generativity by making a difference in the lives of those around them. So, when people contribute to their communities in this way, they can create a lasting impact.
  • Through philanthropy, one can make a significant and lasting impression by donating either money or necessary resources to the cause they are passionate about. Offering back in this fashion has been known to bring individuals a sense of fulfillment and generativity.
  • Contributing to one’s community through involvement in local government, neighborhood associations, or other groups can provide a sense of connection and belonging, which can, in turn, help individuals practice generativity.
  • By assuming a leading position in an organization that matters to them, individuals gain access to unprecedented opportunities for generativity. Further, through leading and motivating others, they can bring about meaningful changes in their communities.
  • Rejection to have children and instead focus on building a fulfilling career can also be an example of generativity. It may not be the traditional route, but if it helps an individual make a lasting impact, it can be considered generativity.
  • Engaging in creative pursuits such as art, music, literature, and even gardening can provide a sense of generativity by allowing individuals to express themselves meaningfully.
  • Caring for an elderly relative or friend can also be seen as generativity, as individuals contribute to society by providing care and support for others. So, if people can take on a caregiver role, they can experience generativity. 

Factors Causing People to Succeed at Generativity vs Stagnation Stage

Positive relationships, emotional stability, a sense of accomplishment, self-reflection, and financial security are several factors that can contribute to an individual’s success at the generativity versus stagnation stage (Erikson, 1963).

Here are detailed explanations of these factors:

  • Positive Relationships: People who have positive relationships with others tend to have a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life. They may find it easier to develop a sense of generativity when they feel connected to others.
  • Sense of Accomplishment: Individuals who have achieved a sense of accomplishment in their lives, whether through their career or personal pursuits, may be more likely to feel fulfilled and motivated to contribute to future generations.
  • Emotional Stability: Those with a stable emotional state are more likely to be able to focus on the needs of others and engage in generative activities rather than being preoccupied with their own issues.
  • Self-Reflection: Reflecting on one’s life and experiences can help individuals better understand themselves and their values. This self-awareness can make it easier to recognize opportunities for generative actions.
  • Financial Security: Financial stability can provide individuals with the resources to pursue generative activities, such as volunteering or supporting the next generation.

Generativity vs Stagnation Positive Outcomes

The success of developing generativity can have positive consequences for both the individual and society as a whole – from creating fulfillment in life and improving health to making the world better.

Participating in generative activities can bring a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment to an individual’s life. Contributing towards the betterment of future generations and society brings them pride, joy, and accomplishment.

What is more, generativity can create lasting bonds with family, friends, and colleagues by manifesting your caring for one another and investing in their growth (Cheng, 2009).

With greater effort toward commitment and solidarity, building strong relationships has never been simpler (Frensch et al., 2007).

From a societal perspective, the success of generativity can have far-reaching benefits. By contributing to the well-being of future generations, individuals can help to create a better world for everyone. 

For example, generativity can lead to more meaningful contributions to society, such as volunteering for a cause that’s important to them, teaching others valuable skills, or helping to solve important problems.

Besides, generativity can also help to improve physical and mental health. By providing meaningful connections, individuals can reduce feelings of isolation and increase their sense of belonging which can help to reduce stress and depression. 

Since generativity is focused on contributing, people who can develop this skill are also more likely to experience a sense of satisfaction with themselves and life in general (Cheng, 2009).

Factors Causing People to Fail at Generativity vs Stagnation Stage

People’s self-centeredness, lack of personal growth and meaningful relationships, fear of failure, and even lack of resources significantly impact their ability to develop generativity, thus, leading to stagnation (Erikson, 1963).

Here is a detailed explanation of each of the factors:

  • Self-Centeredness: An exclusive focus on one’s own wants and needs can make it difficult to possess a feeling of generativity. And without that sense, people may have difficulty finding the initiative or enthusiasm to assist society or lend aid to others.
  • Lack of Personal Growth: Without a dedication to growing and evolving, one may struggle to feel fulfilled in life. Apathy abounds, leaving an individual feeling as if they are not progressing or making any sort of impact on the world. 
  • Lack of Meaningful Relationships: Developing generativity often involves building strong, meaningful relationships with others. If an individual lacks these types of relationships, they may struggle to feel connected to others or to find purpose in their interactions.
  • Fear of Failure: Some individuals may avoid taking risks or pursuing new opportunities due to a fear of failure. It can lead to a pervasive feeling of stagnation and an absence of progress or development.
  • Lack of Resources: People who lack the necessary resources, such as education, support, or financial stability, may struggle to develop generativity. Without the resources to pursue meaningful opportunities, they may feel stuck or unable to make a significant impact in their lives or the lives of others.

Generativity vs Stagnation Negative Outcomes

The failure to develop generativity during the middle adulthood stage can lead to feelings of stagnation and a lack of fulfillment in life. Such people may experience a sense of purposelessness and feel disconnected from the world around them.

Generativity is linked to health and well-being, so its absence can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and burnout (Becchetti & Bellucci, 2020).

Additionally, without a focus on helping others, society as a whole may suffer from a lack of progression and meaningful contributions. 

Besides, since the development of generativity is associated with healthy relationships with other people, stagnation can result from poor-quality social connections (Malone et al., 2016).

For example, people may find themselves in a toxic relationship with someone who is not supportive or encouraging of their goals and ambitions. 

Furthermore, people without a sense of generativity are less likely to experience satisfaction. They may feel apathetic or unmotivated, leading to a lack of ambition and purpose (Navarro-Prados et al., 2017).

Such individuals may also struggle to give back to society or contribute to the greater good, leaving them feeling disconnected and unfulfilled. 

Other Stages in Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory

StageAge RangeKey QuestionDescription
Trust vs. MistrustInfancy (0-18 months)“Can I trust the people around me?”The child develops a sense of trust in their caregivers if their needs are consistently met, or they develop mistrust if their needs are not met.
Autonomy vs. Shame and DoubtEarly Childhood (1-3 years)“Can I do things myself, or am I reliant on the help of others?”The child develops a sense of autonomy and control over their environment, or they develop shame and doubt about their abilities.
Initiative vs. GuiltPreschool (3-6 years)“Am I good or bad?”The child learns to take initiative and plan activities, or they feel guilty and anxious about their actions.
Industry vs. InferiorityChildhood (6-12 years)“How can I be good?”The child learns to feel competent and confident in their abilities through school, sports, and other activities, or they feel inferior and incompetent.
Identity vs. Role ConfusionAdolescence (12-18 years)“Who am I?”The teenager explores and develops their personal identity, or they experience confusion and uncertainty about their role in society.
Intimacy vs. IsolationYoung Adulthood (18-40 years)“Will I be loved, or will I be alone?”The young adult forms close relationships with others, or they experience feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Generativity vs. StagnationMiddle Adulthood (40-65 years)“How can I contribute to the world?”The adult develops a sense of purpose and meaning in life through work, family, and community involvement, or they feel stagnant and unproductive.
Integrity vs. DespairLate Adulthood (65+ years)“Did I live a meaningful life?”The older adult reflects on their life and experiences a sense of fulfillment and acceptance, or they feel despair and regret over missed opportunities.

Conclusion

Generativity vs stagnation is an essential stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, which occurs during middle adulthood. It involves a desire to give back to society or positively impact future generations. 

Failure to develop a sense of generativity can lead to stagnation, unfulfillment, and a sense of purposelessness. The key challenge during this stage is finding ways to be generative and productive while maintaining a sense of self-identity and autonomy. 

There are several ways to practice generativity, including parenting, mentoring, contributing to the community, philanthropy, and creative pursuits. 

Positive relationships, emotional stability, a sense of accomplishment, self-reflection, and financial security contribute to an individual’s success, while self-sabotaging beliefs, lack of resources, and fear of failure can hamper progress. 

By successfully navigating this stage, individuals can develop a sense of care and generativity that lasts their lifespan.

References

Becchetti, L., & Bellucci, D. (2020). Generativity, aging and subjective well-being. International Review of Economics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12232-020-00358-6

Cheng, S.-T. . (2009). Generativity in later life: Perceived respect from younger generations as a determinant of goal disengagement and psychological well-being. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences64B(1), 45–54. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbn027

Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and society. Vintage Digital.

Frensch, K. M., Pratt, M. W., & Norris, J. E. (2007). Foundations of generativity: Personal and family correlates of emerging adults’ generative life-story themes. Journal of Research in Personality41(1), 45–62. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2006.01.005

Malone, J. C., Liu, S. R., Vaillant, G. E., Rentz, D. M., & Waldinger, R. J. (2016). Midlife Eriksonian psychosocial development: Setting the stage for late-life cognitive and emotional health. Developmental Psychology52(3), 496–508. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039875

Navarro-Prados, A. B., Serrate-Gonzalez, S., Muñoz-Rodríguez, J.-M., & Díaz-Orueta, U. (2017). Relationship between personality traits, generativity, and life satisfaction in individuals attending university programs for seniors. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development87(2), 184–200. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091415017740678

Orenstein, G. A., & Lewis, L. (2021). Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556096/

Viktoriya Sus

Viktoriya Sus (MA)

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Viktoriya Sus is an academic writer specializing mainly in economics and business from Ukraine. She holds a Master’s degree in International Business from Lviv National University and has more than 6 years of experience writing for different clients. Viktoriya is passionate about researching the latest trends in economics and business. However, she also loves to explore different topics such as psychology, philosophy, and more.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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