Great Expectations: How Older Adults’ Expectations of Generativity Affect Well-Being

Generativity, defined as contributing to the welfare of others, is associated with well-being. A recent study examined how perceived generativity and failure to meet one’s own expectations of generativity over the long-term are related to feelings of connectedness, self-worth, positive affect, and in turn, life satisfaction.

Researchers examined data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS), a longitudinal survey examining factors that shape health and well-being among adults as they get older. The study included three waves of data collection, with 7,108 participants age 25-74 in wave one (1995/1996), a follow-up with wave 2 participants (2004/2006), and another follow-up in 2013, which included 3,294 individuals who completed a phone interview. This study utilized data from waves two and three, which included 2,252 individuals who provided data on the variables of interest. Generativity was assessed by asking participants to rate their contribution to the welfare and well-being of others currently and in 10 years. The researchers determined “generative failure” by subtracting the rating of expected contribution during year 2 from an individual’s perceived contribution in year 3. If the score was negative, indicating that they did not meet or exceed their generativity expectations, then they were placed in the generativity failure group. If their score was positive, they were placed in the group that met or exceeded expectations.

Forty-six percent of the sample failed to meet their generativity expectations, while 54% met or exceeded their expectations. Higher ratings of perceived contributions to the welfare of others were associated with greater current and future positive affect, self-worth, and social connectedness. In addition, having higher expectations for future generativity was associated with greater current and future positive affect, sense of self-worth, and social connectedness.

However, failing to meet generativity expectations was associated with lower levels of positive affect, self-worth, and social connectedness than for those who met or exceeded expectations. Failure to meet expectations was also linked to lower levels of life satisfaction. The overall findings demonstrate the importance of generativity achievements for middle-aged and older adult well-being.


Want to keep up with recent research that’s relevant to aging services? Use the form below to subscribe to our monthly InvestigAge email.



Grossman MR, Gruenewald TL. Failure to meet generative self-expectations is linked to poorer cognitive–affective well-being. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, (2020); 75(4):792-801.

Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

Learn how older adults’ perceptions of aging—and their self-perceptions—can have serious effects on their health, behaviors, and even longevity.

Download FREE Copy

    Add insight to your inbox

    Join our email list to receive information about the latest research from Mather Institute. Just complete the form below to subscribe.

    Thank you!

    You are now subscribed to the email list.
    A confirmation has been sent to the email you provided.

    Continue to Website Share with a Friend