The Retirement Stage: Psychosocial Development in Late Adulthood

reading a-book in retirement

We are all aware that between age 60 and 65, most professionals are considering retiring from their careers, either because they are facing a mandatory retirement age or because other factors in their lives are shifting. But did you know that, at the very same age, we are also experiencing an internal psychological shift – from middle adulthood into late adulthood?

Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development Theory

Erik Erikson, a twentieth century developmental psychologist, posited that people go through eight stages of psychosocial development throughout their lives. Each stage is characterized by a specific conflict that must be resolved for healthy development to occur. While all stages are important, the transition from middle adulthood to late adulthood is particularly interesting as it coincides with the time that many people retire.

Middle Adulthood: Generativity vs. Stagnation

Middle adulthood, according to Erikson, is the stage of generativity vs. stagnation. This stage typically begins around age 40 and continues through age 65. During this stage, people tend to focus on their careers, relationships and family life. They feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment as they contribute to their community and pass on their knowledge and skill to younger generations. Their greatest fear in middle adulthood is stagnation.

Late Adulthood: Integrity vs. Despair

Late adulthood, which Erikson refers to as the stage of integrity vs. despair, typically begins around age 65 and continues until the end of life. During this stage, people reflect on their lives and evaluate their accomplishments and contributions. They may feel a sense of satisfaction and contentment as they look back on their experiences and relationships. However, those who have not resolved the integrity vs. despair conflict may experience feelings of regret, despair, and a sense of hopelessness. They may feel that they have not accomplished what they wanted to in life, or that they have not made a meaningful impact on the world.

The Complexities of Retirement

Retirement, occurring at the same general age as the internal shift from middle adulthood to late adulthood, often presents a confusing set of adjustments and conflicting feelings. For example, retirement seems to provide an opportunity to focus on relationships and pursue new interests. On the other hand, it also feels like a time of uncertainty and a loss of identity.

Navigating Retirement: A New Perspective on Engagement

In our work with individuals on the brink of retirement, we explore the important internal shifts that are occurring, especially the implications for what fulfilling engagement might mean in late adulthood. In our experience, it will emphasize sharing wisdom over working hard and making a difference over making a living.

Learn how our retirement coaching programs have helped highly successful individuals and significant others embark on a rewarding retirement journey.

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