24th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development

July 10-14, 2016 | Vilnius, Lithuania

Alexandra M. Freund

"Why do we hurry more, now that we’re living longer?"

How do the historical changes in life expectancy and longevity affect lifespan development? In this presentation, I argue that historical increases in life expectancy not only influence the later but also the earlier parts of the life span, resulting in a “rush hour” of life in young adulthood. This is the case because the pursuit of leisure-related and social goals (i.e., spending time with friends) is postponed to the relatively long period after having raised one’s family and after retiring from work. This leads to a concentration of work- and family-related goals during young and middle adulthood at the expense of leisure-related and social goals. Paradoxically, then, young and middle-aged adults feel rushed because of their longer life expectancy.

Moreover, there is evidence that social norms have weakened over historical time, with fewer and less strict restrictions on when in the course of one’s life to pursue which goals. In addition to the weakening of social norms, globalization also results in a situation in which people have many alternative options at their disposal regarding lifestyle, career paths, or whom to choose as a life partner. The more alternative options for life paths available, the longer it takes young adults to explore the pros and cons of each. This trend seems to affect more and more young adults, not only those with higher education. At the same time, however, age-graded social opportunity structures as well as biological constraints do not allow one to postpone the main developmental tasks of young adulthood (e.g., finishing one’s education, starting a career, finding a romantic partner, and starting a family) until later in life, so the time available to achieve these important tasks is compressed into a relatively short period during late young and early middle adulthood.

Taken together, then, increased life expectancy as well as historical changes in social norms represent both a challenge and an opportunity for self-regulation and positive development. Assuming that there is a compensatory relationship between social norms/expectations and self-regulation for development, and given the longer life course of the current generations, the importance of the self-regulatory processes of setting, pursuing, and disengaging from personal goals in the life domains of social relations, family, work, and leisure changes across adulthood.