Erickson’s Theory of Generativity vs. Stagnation

Middle adulthood is one of the important points in human life. As Harrison (2018) notes, it is accompanied by many transitions, self-reflection, and identity changes, such as becoming grandparents. Many people believe it inevitably leads to a so-called “midlife crisis,” and fear its consequences. Therefore, this life stage has become a study subject of many scholars who suggested various theories. One of the most acknowledged ones is Erikson’s theory of generativity versus stagnation.

As its name suggests, Erikson’s theory revolves around two major terms: generativity and stagnation. Generativity describes all kinds of social activities and roles that “involve reaching out to others in ways that give to and guide the next generation” (Berk, 2017, p.538). Erikson used this term to refer to everything that “can outlive the self and ensure society’s continuity and improvement: children, ideas, products, works of art” (as cited in Berk, 2017, p.538). Contrastingly, the term stagnation refers to self-centered and self-indulgent behavior (Berk, 2017). Middle-aged people may feel and behave that way when attaining certain life goals (Berk, 2017). In brief, generativity and stagnation are two contrasting behavior patterns typical of people in their middle adulthood. They either want to be useful and helpful for society and the next generation or are self-absorbed and show little interest or motivation to help others.

As people enter their middle adulthood phase, they can incline towards either of these two polar behavior models, which can affect their social life and psychological state. According to Erikson, “highly generative people appear especially well-adjusted” (as cited in Berk, 2017, p.539). Specifically, such people experience fewer psychological problems, are more confident and open-minded, and are more successful at building and maintaining effective relationships (Berk, 2017). Erikson suggests that one should have more contact with others and try to contribute more to avoid what many people call a “midlife crisis.”

I do not think that my parents or any relatives who are in their middle adulthood experience any noticeable dips in their self-confidence or satisfaction. Moreover, instead of being satisfied with achieved goals or feeling disappointment over something they failed to succeed in, they seem to move forward and set new goals. I cannot say they became more sociable, but they maintain all their important contacts quite well. Therefore, I assume they are following the generative pattern of behavior.

As for me, I am still far from the middle adulthood stage, and it is early for me to be afraid of the midlife crisis. However, I believe Pashkow (2018) is right when he notes that we experience various psychological and social transitions throughout our life, and we may feel more doubtful and reflective at any life stage. Moreover, generative and stagnant behavior patterns do not appear once one enters the middle adulthood phase. They start to develop earlier and are influenced by many factors, such as whether one has children or not, whether one is a workaholic, and whether they are engaged in any volunteering activities. Thus, I can apply Erikson’s theory to myself by engaging more in generative behavior even before middle adulthood.

It is important to avoid stagnant tendencies in one’s behavior because they increase the risk of psychological issues development. Harrison (2018) highlighted that middle-aged people are prone to anxiety and depression. To avoid such issues, people should incline more towards generative behavior: reach out to other people, not focus solely on work, but spend time with one’s partner, children, relatives, friends, and make new contacts.

To conclude, Erickson’s theory of generativity versus stagnation describes two behavior patterns typical of middle-aged people. Highly generative people tend to contribute to others and seek contact with them, while those experiencing stagnation prefer to be self-absorbed and tend only to their own needs. The former category seems to be more successful in various life spheres and is less prone to mental issues. Therefore it is recommended to engage more in generative behavior to avoid a midlife crisis.


Berk, L. E. (2017). Development through the lifespan (7th ed.). Pearson Education (US). Web.

Harrison, K. (2018). Middle Adulthood Mental Health [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Pashkow, P. (2018). Midlife crisis needs a rebrand | Pash Pashkow | TEDxUCLA [Video]. YouTube.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Erickson's Theory of Generativity vs. Stagnation'. 7 September.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Erickson's Theory of Generativity vs. Stagnation." September 7, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Erickson's Theory of Generativity vs. Stagnation." September 7, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Erickson's Theory of Generativity vs. Stagnation." September 7, 2023.