Schaie's stages of life span development

Part 1


Warner K. Schaie, Professor of psychiatry and behavioural science, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, conducted several studies on different types and areas of intellectual functioning in adults. These studies helped him in his research about the similarities and differences in cognitive development among adult family members. From these researches, he proposed his theory of stages in cognitive development in human adults.  The stages proposed by Schaie are discussed below.

Acquisition Stage

The period of childhood and part of adolescence can be termed as the acquisition stage in human life according to Schaie. During this stage, a person acquires knowledge about various aspects surrounding him/her and also through experience. The focus of the individual during this stage is more on acquisition rather than on utilisation of the acquired knowledge

Young adult stage

A person enters the young adult stage after completing the acquisition stage. There is no further acquisition of knowledge in this stage. The focus shifts to application of knowledge acquired during the acquisition stage. Such application enables him / her to pursue long term goals, career progress and development of family. Educational pursuit is the main outcome during this stage.

Regarding problem solving ability, it is in the blossoming state in young adulthood stage. During the acquisitive stage, the solutions to their problems are closely monitored by the society and parents. But in this stage, they have the freedom to solve their problems on their own. Since they are exposed to problem- solving exercise for the first time in life, their performance needs close attention because the solutions to some problems arising in this stage have long-term consequences in future life. Attending to problem-solving in this stage may be considered similar to decision-making in health care, where a decision can lead to either saving a life or terminating it (Lawton 1997, Schaie &Kapp, 1996).

Achieving Stage

The period in the late teens or that between 20 and 30 years of age can be said to be the      Achieving Stage. An individual completes his/her education and enters this stage. The environmental pressure persuades the young person to use the problem-solving abilities, learnt in the acquisitive stage in a goal-directed way to facilitate achievement of independent social functioning. This stage represents the period during which the individual applies the acquired knowledge in situations, which have profound consequences for achieving long term goals. The intelligence exhibited in such circumstances is similar to that utilised for fulfilling the educational tasks. It should, however, be noted that careful attention is to be bestowed on the problem-solving process, because of the long-term nature of the consequences.

Responsible stage

This is the stage next to achieving stage. During the achieving stage the individual might have mastered the skills required for monitoring his/her own behaviour and played an independent role in the society. In this stage, a person will accept the responsibility for others like a family unit or workplace. The person becomes less self-centred and takes into account the demands and needs of others, while embarking on his own actions. The individual adapts certain cognitive processes during this stage like greater flexibility and consideration of the implications of his actions for the family unit or the society around. Normally the responsible stage occurs when a family is established and the need for meeting the requirements of spouse and / or children arises. Attending to problem solving in this stage may be considered similar to decision making in health care where a decision can lead to either saving a life or terminating it (Lawton1997, Schaie &Kapp199).


Executive stage

Executive stage is a part of the responsible stage. Some individuals face exceedingly complex responsibilities during their responsible stage. They hold several responsible and prestigious positions like Deans of academic institutions, Presidents of business enterprises and officials of churches. They face the responsibility of monitoring the organisational activities but also supervise the functioning of the employees of the organisations. They have to ensure that the policy decisions of the organisations are implemented properly at lower levels. They have also to deal with the future plans of the organisations. Such responsibilities descend on to them depending on their exposure to various opportunities which give chance to them to develop and practise the relevant skills  (Avolio1991, Smith, Staudinger& Baltes,1994).              


Reorganizational stage

Reorganizational stage was not one among the Schaie’s cognitive stages in the earlier proposition. But human longevity in the traditional old age warranted classification of the old age in to distinct sub-stages. There is classification of old age as young old age, middle old age and oldest old age in research literature (Brim, 1992). Reorganizational stage was proposed for life towards the end of, and immediately after the responsible stage. In industrialised societies, it is quite common for people to have post retirement life extended to 15 to 30 years. Activities in the reorganizational stage are directed towards planning utilisation of resources for the remaining period of life. Such activities include making housing arrangements or even changing the place of residence, making or changing one’s ‘will’, executing advanced medical directives, providing durable powers of attorney and creating trusts or suitable financial arrangements for protecting resources for use during the final years of life or to meet the requirements and needs of the family members. The activities aim at planning for that period of life when one may have to depend on others for maintaining the required quality of life when one faces increasing fragility in the old age. The activities also aim at visualising life  in a clear view for maintaining the quality of life  during the final years  without becoming a burden for one’s family. The objective of these activities is, thus, uniform in several individuals atleast in developed countries and this stage is designated as reorganizational stage since the attention of the individual gets moved to organizing future for himself in place of organising for family and institutions during the responsible and executive stages.

Continued in part 2 for Reintegration Stage and  Legacy creating stage at