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

July 10-14, 2016 | Vilnius, Lithuania

Rainer K. Silbereisen

"Dealing with Challenges of Social and Economic Change – International Comparisons"

Our times are characterized by growing uncertainties for individuals concerning major life stage decisions in career and family matters. This is so because social change is ubiquitous and perhaps of more rapid pace than ever. Political transformations confluent with globalization, economic jeopardy, demographic change, migration, etc. present major challenges. Their effect on individuals is complex and multi-faceted. As uncertainties are unsettling and interfering with behavior planning, especially if concerning one’s place in the world and self-identity, people tend to spend motivational energy, cognitive structuring, and contextual resources in dealing with uncertainties. In a decade-long research program we have analyzed people’s striving in a cross-country comparative fashion, during times of growing unemployment due to economic forces. Results revealed that uncertainties do not hit all people alike, but that most try to overcome the challenges by engagement rather than disengagement, especially when they have congruent controllability believes. The negative effects of uncertainties on well-being are there, but they can be moderated by factors within and between countries. The effect of uncertainties was less pronounced if people lived in regions high in unemployment, thereby revealing a social norm effect, and if the welfare system in the country provided ample support in times of crisis. History also played a role because adaptations to challenges won by past generations were still alive, the past was not even past. The overall result of the research was that human behavior and development in times of social change are driven by agency and context in interaction.