Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Early Adulthood (19–40)

What is the social clock?

The social clock is a term introduced by a psychologist named Bernice Neugarten. This refers to age-based expectations about when certain life goals should be achieved. These might include the age of marriage, bearing children, attaining a first job, buying a house, and/or completing education. Although the settings for a social clock will vary across cultures, Neugarten suggests that all cultures have some form of age-based expectations of task performance. Adults who perceive themselves to be falling behind the social clock can suffer painful blows to their self-esteem. In our current culture, in which social mores are in a constant state of flux, the realities of daily life may not match the social clock. For example, many women expect to marry and have children on a timescale similar to that of their mothers. However, as the proportion of never-married adults aged thirty to thirty-four is six times greater than it was in 1970, it is likely these social clocks may need to be reset. In fact, according to the 2007 U.S. census report, the proportion of never-married people aged thirty to thirty-four was over 28 percent.


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