Childhood adversity, midlife generativity, and later life well-being

Scott D. Landes, Monika Ardelt, George E. Vaillant, Robert J. Waldinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Objectives. Prior studies confirm that after experiencing childhood adversity, resilient adults can recover and engage in generative growth. This study explored the long-term effects of childhood adversity (assessed as harsh parenting and/or childhood poverty) on successful aging for individuals who either achieved or failed to achieve Erikson's psychosocial developmental stage of generativity in midlife.

Method. The study utilized a sample of 636 men from the Harvard Sample and Inner City Cohort of the 73-year longitudinal Study of Adult Development. Nested ordinary least squares regression models were used to test the mediating and moderating effects of midlife generativity on later life health and adjustment to aging.

Results. Men who experienced childhood adversity were less likely than men with no childhood adversity to achieve generativity in midlife. Although achievement of generativity was associated with better later life health and adjustment to aging, it neither mediated nor moderated the negative relation between childhood poverty and later life health outcomes. However, for men who experienced an adversarial childhood, achievement of generativity mediated and moderated adjustment to aging.

Discussion. Results suggest that psychosocial growth in adulthood can compensate for the long-term negative effects of an adversarial childhood on adjustment to aging, but not for later life health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)942-952
Number of pages11
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Adjustment to aging
  • Adversarial childhood
  • Generativity
  • Later life health
  • Longitudinal study

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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