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Expectations of gains in the second half of life: a study of personal conceptions of enrichment in a lifespan perspective



This research focuses on cognitive representations of the personal future during the second half of life. To investigate the developmental perspectives of people growing older, the anticipation of possible gains is studied. The participants of this study took part in the German Aging Survey and the sample comprises 2,934 subjects aged 40–85 years. To assess their anticipated ‘gains’, we selected the future-related items from the SELE-questionnaire, a sentence completion instrument administered for the Survey. We assumed that many would anticipate further enrichment by new social and societal activities in retirement, but the most frequently-mentioned gains referred to changes in life style and leisure activities, especially travelling. Plans and wishes feature a predominantly leisure-oriented life style. Among the anticipations, those concerned with generativity – caring for others, societal commitment, vocational ambitions – substantially decrease at about the age of 50 years. It was hypothesised that age, gender, living in the former East or West Germany, health, education, income, and perceived control would influence the cognitive representation of the future. To examine the effects of these personal and situational factors on gain anticipations, multiple regression analyses were performed. With respect to all independent variables, differences in the kinds of expected gains were found. The outcomes are discussed with reference to lifespan developmental theory and the role of older people in society.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Erika Timmer, Department of Sociology and Social Gerontology, Free University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1081c, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands. e-mail:



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