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The contours of purpose beyond the self in midlife and later life

Publication Authors: 
Matthew J. Bundick, Kathleen Remington, Emily Morton, and Anne Colby
Publication Year: 
2019 July 31, online
Publication Journal: 
Applied Developmental Science.

Abstract: Purpose has been shown in adolescence and young adulthood to be an important component of positive development; however, little is known about its prevalence and function in later life. Surveys from a large (N = 1,198), nationally representative sample of U.S. adults ages 50-92 were collected to explore the prevalence of purpose in midlife (ages 50-64) through later life (ages 65+), as well as demographic differences and associations with indicators of positive adaptation and development. Results showed 31% of all participants—midlife: 30%, later life: 33%—met our established criteria for purpose. Few demographic differences were found, though the prevalence of purpose was higher among people of color in both midlife and later life. Additionally, those who were purposeful were more likely to be higher on measures of positive adaptation and development across the sample. Suggestions for future research on purpose in later life are presented, and preliminary insights for practitioners in the fields of aging and later adult development are offered.