The Opportunity of a New Third Age

Scientists have been tracking the social, psychological, mental, sexual and moral development of human beings for over a century. As society and the human condition are altered, aging theory is adapted to accommodate the changes. The twenty-first century brings the advent of the Third Age. By understand aging development, we find the keys to successful aging.

For example, prior to the twentieth century, the concept of adolescence didn’t exist. One progressed from childhood immediately into adulthood. As the learning curve extended in modern society, it became necessary to prolong the time necessary to learn how to survive as an adult. The concept of teenager was born, much to the grief of most parents. As longevity has increased significantly over the last century, no longer does one immediately leave the productive world to enter the final phase of death.

Most developmental theories have focused on the formative years of childhood. Once a child reached the age of maturity, conventional wisdom believed development was complete. Over the last twenty years, there has been a shift to focus to what occurs in adulthood and later. No longer a passive arena where people rest on their development laurels, researches have found a rich ground to explore aging development.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

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While not directly associated with human development, Abraham Maslow, author of Toward a Psychology of Being, 3rd Edition
,studied human motivation and drive. He concluded that there are inherent needs that all humans must satisfy. As lower level needs are met, there is the opportunity to move up the hierarchy to subsequent levels. The lower level needs are considered basic or deficiency needs. This means that there is a level of anxiety present until each need is met. The lower level needs are the basic physiological needs for air, food, and water followed by the security needs for shelter and livelihood. Once those needs are met, there is the need to feel love and belonging, followed by having a sense of self-worth. Once a need is met, it no longer is a motivator, which is why a person naturally moves to the next level.

Self-actualization is a growth or ‘being’ need. We all have the need to express our being. Once someone reaches self-actualization, it continues to motivate indefinitely. The need to express one’s self fully will continue to motivate. Self-actualization becomes the focus in Third Age as the lower level needs are met. This is the key to successful aging.

According to most development theories, once one set of tasks are fulfilled, one naturally moves to the next level, never to return to the lower level. Maslow presented his theory in much the same way. And while you may have the knowledge of being able to fulfill the need for food three times a day, you nevertheless return to the basic need continually. Likewise, it was assumed that you couldn’t self-actualize until the lower level needs are completely satisfied. Most people have engaged in peak experience, those moments in time when a person feels totally engaged in an endeavor. While fleeting, those experiences are moments of self-actualization. Therefore the pyramid may be more fluid than originally described.

Successful aging is a relatively new concept. As scientists continue to study third age, they are drawing new conclusions. Aging theory now holds this can be a time for growth and fulfillment.

About Cathy Severson

Cathy Severson helps baby boomers find more meaning and purpose in their lives and work. Get your copy of her complimentary e-book Guide to Retirement Activities a comprehensive look at work, volunteering and leisure based on an individuals’ personalities. Call for a complimentary 20-minute consultation to answer your most pressing concern. 928.775.4949 or email Cathy at

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