Generativity vs Stagnation (Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory)

In this brief guide, we will look at the stage Generativity vs Stagnation of Erikson’s Psychosocial theory of personality, as well as other important stages like Intimacy vs Isolation, industry vs inferiority, and initiative vs guilt.

Generativity vs Stagnation

Generativity vs Stagnation is stage 7 of Erikson’s 8 stages of personality development and it goes from about 35-55 years, making this the longest stage in the psychosocial theory of personality development, and the primary drive in this stage is procreativity.

Erikson defines Generativity as the syntonic quality of adulthood and according to him it refers to “the generation of new beings as well as new products and new ideas”.

Generativity, which is concerned with establishing and guiding the next generation, includes the

procreation of children, the production of work, and the creation of new things and ideas that contribute to the building of a better world.

In generativity vs stagnation, people have a need not only to learn but also to instruct which often extends beyond one’s own children to an altruistic concern for other young people. 

Generativity is said to grow out of earlier syntonic qualities such as intimacy and identity. As noted earlier, intimacy calls for the ability to one’s ego to that of another person without

fear of losing it. 

This unity of ego identities leads to a gradual expansion of interest, and in the stage of generativity vs stagnation, one-to-one intimacy is no longer enough and children become part of one’s concern. 

Instructing others in the ways of culture is a practice found in all societies and especially for newly the mature adult, this motivation is not merely an obligation or a selfish need but an evolutionary drive to make a contribution to succeeding generations and to ensure the continuity of human society as well.

The opposite or dystonic force of generativity is self-absorption and stagnation, which is what happens when the generational cycle of productivity and creativity is crippled because people become too absorbed in themselves, too self-indulgent. 

This attitude fosters a pervading sense of stagnation and even though some elements of stagnation and self-absorption are necessary, and the truly creative people must sometimes remain in a dormant stage and be absorbed with themselves in order to eventually generate new growth. 

The interaction of generativity and stagnation produces care, which is the basic strength of adulthood.

Erikson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erikson has given the 8 stages of Psychosocial development of personality, and according to him there are different stages based on the phases of lifespan development, which lead to the realization of goals pertinent to each stage and cause significant change in the personality.

The 8 stages of Erikson’s theory are:

  • Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust
  • Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
  • Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt
  • Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority
  • Stage 5: Identity vs. Confusion
  • Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • Stage 7: Generativity vs. Stagnation
  • Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair

In this theory, there are two concepts in each stage that signify the accomplishment of the needs of that stage and what they result in, like in generativity vs stagnation, the person may either experience an accomplishment of guiding or teaching the next generation, or they may experience stagnation, which leads to them feeling like a failure or like they are stuck.

Psychosocial when used in conjugation with development means specifically that the stages of a person’s life from birth to death are formed by social influences interacting with a physically and psychologically maturing organism.

Erikson did not intend for his psychosocial theory to replace either Freud’s psychosexual theory or Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, in fact, the first four stages are quite similar to Freud’s oral, anal, phallic, and latency stages.

The major difference between their theories is that Erikson emphasized psychosocial correlates, whereas Freud focused on biological factors.

Erikson was of the opinion that the developmental process was governed by what he called the epigenetic principle of maturation, and according to this theory, human development involves a series of conflicts.

The conflicts exist at birth as innate predispositions, and he said that they become prominent at different stages when our environment demands certain adaptations.

Each confrontation with our environment is called a crisis, and in each developmental stage there is a particular crisis or turning point that necessitates some change in our behaviour and personality.

We may respond to the crisis in one of the two ways: a maladaptive (negative) way or an adaptive (positive) way, which creates the typical names of the stages as Erikson gave them.

Only when one has resolved each conflict can the personality continue its normal developmental sequence and acquire the strength to confront the next stage’s crisis.

However, Erikson also believed that ego must incorporate maladaptive as well as adaptive ways of coping.

According to Erikson at every stage of development the ego will consist primarily of the positive or adaptive attitude but will be balanced by some portion of the negative attitude; only then can the crisis be considered satisfactorily resolved.

He also proposed that each of the eight stages provides an opportunity to develop basic strengths.

Initiative vs Guilt

The third stage of the psychosocial theory is from the ages of 3-5 years, and it is similar to the genital locomotor stage or phallic stage.

This stage is marked by the presence or absence of initiative, and it is often considered to be an age at which expanding mastery and responsibility is key.

Initiative in this stage may also develop in the form of fantasies which are then manifested in the desire to be closer to the parent of the opposite sex and there may be rivalry with the parent of the same sex, which is similar to the oedipus/electra complex of the freudian theory.

If there is excessive punishment of the child and they are too inhibited from showing initiative, the child may develop persistent feelings of guilt which may affect self-directed activities throughout his/her life.

The danger of this stage is the feeling of guilt that may haunt the child for an overzealous contemplation of goals, including genital fantasies, and the use of aggressive, manipulative means of achieving these goals.

The child is eager to learn and learns well at this age; it strives to grow in the sense of obligations and performances.

The basic strength called purpose arises from initiative. Purpose involves the courage to envision and pursue goals.

Industry vs Inferiority

Stage 4 in Erikson’s 8 stages is the Industry vs Inferiority, and it spans from the ages of 6-11 years.

The fourth stage of the epigenetic process corresponds with the latency stage, and in this stage, the child must submit to controlling their fantastical and amazing imagination and settle down to formal education.

The school going age is often characterized by exposure to new social influences which help develop a sense of industry and the child is able to learn the rewards of perseverance and diligence.

There is interest in toys and play behavior may seamlessly turn into more productive situations and the implements and tools used for work.

The hazard of this stage is that the child may develop a sense of inferiority if he/she is unable to master the tasks that he/she undertakes or that are set for it by teachers or parents.

The virtue of competence emerges during the industry stage, in addition, according to Erikson’s ideas, this stage will also reflect of sex stereotypes where the boys may go into “boy games”, like building and knocking things down, while the girls might be more involved in playing “house”.

The outcome of the crisis at each of these four childhood stages depends on other people, and often the resolution is a function more of what is done to the child than of what the child can do for himself or herself.

Intimacy vs isolation

The 6th stage in the psychosocial theory of personality development is from the ages of late adolescence-about 35 years.

Young adults are often taken with the idea of uniting their identity with others, and which becomes clear in the way they seek relationships of intimacy, partnership, and affiliations.

Young adults may also be prepared to develop the necessary strengths to fulfil these commitments even though some of them may have to make sacrifices and they do this to avoid, unintentionally, the feeling of isolation, which is the other possibility in this stage.

Erikson’s views on this stage are not restricted to sexual relationships, they also include wanting relationships for the feelings of caring and commitment, because according to him these emotions can be displayed openly, and self-protective or defensive mechanisms are not required for these emotions.

The young adults may often have a fear of losing our sense of self-identity, which may add to the crises of this stage, and they may often be averse to seeking intimacy for this reason alone.

The hazard of intimacy stage is isolation, which is the avoidance of relationships because one is unwilling to commit oneself to intimacy, and the virtue of love comes into being during the intimacy stage of development.

Erikson wrote, “Love, then, is mutuality of devotion forever subduing the antagonisms inherent in divided function”.

People who are unable to establish such intimacies in young adulthood will develop feelings of violations, and they may avoid social contacts, reject other people, and may even become aggressive toward them.


In this brief guide, we looked at the stage Generativity vs Stagnation of Erikson’s Psychosocial theory of personality, as well as other important stages like Intimacy vs Isolation, industry vs inferiority, and initiative vs guilt.

Generativity vs Stagnation is a stage in Erikson’s stages of personality development, and it is often considered to be the most influential and significant one, likely due to all the important things that usually take place in this stage.

In Erikson’s psychosocial theory of personality, it is the environmental and social roles as well that play a role, and the theory is not just limited to the internal and psychological factors that are responsible for the personality development of the individual.

If you have any questions or comments about the stage of generativity vs stagnation, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Generativity vs Stagnation

What is the difference between generativity and stagnation?

The difference between Generativity and stagnation is that while generativity refers to the individual making their mark and accomplishing the goals related to the stage of adulthood, stagnation is the lack of goals and the tendency of being stuck in one place.

Where Generativity is the ability to be able to contribute in a meaningful way, stagnation is the failure to do so, which is the primary difference between the two types.

What does generativity mean?

Generativity refers to “a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.” according to Erik Erikson, who coined the term in his psychosocial theory of personality development.

According to him, the Care stage in his theory encompassess the concept of geenrativity, which enables the individual to accomplish things that fit with that stage.

What is an example of generativity?

An example of Generativity can be creating the very future itself, which may happen through teaching, nursing, volunteering, voting, or even forming and helping social institutions like community centers, churches, schools and health centers.

How is generativity a distinct human need?

Generativity is a distinct human need because it seeks to establish and guide the next generation, which may fallu under the primal need to further one’s species.

Generativity is the need that enables us to engage in behaviors that are responsible for the betterment and establishment of the next generation, which is based in the primal need to further one’s race.

What are the 7 stages of development?

The 7 stages of development are as follows:

Prenatal Development.
Infancy and Toddlerhood.
Early Childhood.
Middle Childhood.
Early Adulthood.
Middle Adulthood.
Late Adulthood.


Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!