Home Concepts Adult Development Deep Caring XXXI: Social Class, Agency and the Generative Society

Deep Caring XXXI: Social Class, Agency and the Generative Society

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William Bergquist and Gary Quehl

In their assessment of generativity as related to social structure, Keyes and Ryff (1998, p. 253) observe that:

[S]ociety contours generativity. Midlife and often older adults, adults with more education, and women tend to exhibit greater levels of diverse aspects of generativity than young adults with fewer years of education, and men. . . . Perhaps relieved of primary obligations, midlife and older adults give emotional support and unpaid assistance to more people and feel less primary but more civic obligations.

In other words, civic engagement and other acts of generativity might be the privilege of social class, rather than being a sign of altruism or personal commitment. Perhaps, as some of our Sage leaders observed, stagnation and the absence of civic engagement might be at least partially attributed to the inability of many people to find time or energy to move beyond their own economic struggles (and to move beyond their own Generativity One role as a challenged provider to their family).

As Keyes and Ryff also noted, “generativity contours our quality of life.” (1998, p. 254) We find our work in all four generative roles to be not just gratifying, but also a source of meaning and purpose in life. We are not just given the opportunity to outlive our self (as Kotre suggests), but also to find enrichment in the life we are still living. The generative society provides the abundant opportunity for this enrichment of life–provided a society enables those who are poor, oppressed and challenged in every aspect of their life to move beyond this state in order to afford themselves the privilege of generativity. This is where Kitchens’ rocks and pebbles are found to be critical. The generative society provides a government and set of social service agencies that support and encourage civic engagement. It provides a variety of other generative institutions as well that are operating in an effective and efficient manner. These rocks and peddles are needed if quality of life is to be enhanced through generative acts within a community context.

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