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Here’s the Blueprint for Adult Life We’ve Been Hearing About Since the 1950s

In the 1950s, when educational psychologist Robert Havighurst described the stages of adult life, he seemed to just assume that of course every adult would marry and have children. I suppose that’s understandable in a way, since the nuclear family model of adult life was then at its peak.

Things have changed dramatically since then. There are now nearly as many adults in the U.S. who are not married as married. Raising children is no longer a given. Women are having fewer children than they did in the past and substantial numbers are having no kids at all. My own family history is a stark example. My maternal grandmother had seven children who survived past childhood (it was not uncommon at the time for babies to die of illnesses that would not be fatal now), my mother had four kids, and I have none.

Other scholars have suggested their own stage models of adult life since Havighurst outlined his, but there is still a certain resonance to this early model. Much of it sounds like the expected blueprint for how adult life is supposed to unfold, even now when so many people are not completing all these tasks or are not completing them in the specified order.

Below are the stages, according to Havighurst, of early adulthood, middle age, and later maturity. I have set in bold the ones that assume that everyone marries and has kids.

Stages or Tasks of Early Adulthood

  • Selecting a mate
  • Learning to live with a marriage partner
  • Starting a family
  • Rearing children
  • Managing a home
  • Getting started in an occupation
  • Assuming civic responsibility
  • Finding a congenial social group

Stages or Tasks of Middle Age

  • Achieving adult civic and social responsibility
  • Establishing and maintaining an economic standard of living
  • Assisting adolescent children to become responsible/happy adults
  • Developing leisure time activities
  • Accepting and adjusting to the physiologic changes of middle age
  • Adjusting to the aging of parents

Stages or Tasks of Later Maturity

  • Adjusting to decreasing physical strength and health
  • Adjusting to the death of a spouse
  • Adjusting to retirement and reduced income
  • Establishing an explicit affiliation with one’s age group
  • Meeting social and civic obligations
  • Establishing satisfactory physical living arrangements

If you are single and have no children, what do the stages of your life look like? Or are there any? In her recent memoir, No One Tells You This, Glynnis MacNicol says there is no blueprint for lives like hers. But there have been some attempts to describe one. In a previous post, I told you about Kay Trimberger’s six pillars of a satisfying single. In a future post, I will describe the stages of a single adult life, as outlined by clinical psychologists Natalie Schwartzberg, Kathy Berliner, and Demaris Jacob in their book, Single in a Married World.

Here’s the Blueprint for Adult Life We’ve Been Hearing About Since the 1950s

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2018). Here’s the Blueprint for Adult Life We’ve Been Hearing About Since the 1950s. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Sep 2018
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