Failure to Meet Generative Self-Expectations is Linked to Poorer Cognitive–Affective Well-Being

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Generativity, or concern with contributing to others, is theorized to be an important goal of mid-to-late life. Greater self-perceptions of generativity are associated with better well-being over time. The aim of this study is to examine how generative self-perceptions and failure to meet generative expectations over time are linked to specific cognitive–affective states (feelings of connectedness, self-worth, and positive affect), and consequently, life satisfaction.


Analyses used data from Waves 2 and 3 of the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS). Multiple mediation was utilized to assess whether these cognitive–affective states linked generative failure to decreased life satisfaction. A Johnson–Neyman moderation analysis determined whether these associations vary with age.


In demographically adjusted regressions, generative contributions and expectations were associated with greater perceived social connectedness, self-worth, and positive effect. Generative failure was associated with lower life satisfaction, a link that was strongest in the middle-aged and young-old and mediated by the cognitive–affective states.


Greater feelings of generativity, and more positive expectations for future contributions, are associated cross-sectionally and over time with better affective well-being. Positive affect, social connectedness, and self-worth may partially explain why generative failure over time is linked to decreased life satisfaction.


This article was originally published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, volume 75, issue 4, in 2020.


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