Adult Development

Robert Havighurst (1900 - 1991)


Summary of Theory  

One of earliest writers on adult development, Havighurst identified roles and expectations and linked them to adult development. Havighurst’s stages and ages have largely been refined by more current research, but two important concepts he proposed are fundamental assumptions that underlie all of the schools of thought in developmental theory.

First, he defined a "developmental task" as that "which arises at or about a certain period in the life of the individual, successful achievement of which leads to his happiness and to success with later tasks, while failure leads to unhappiness in the individual, disapproval by the society, and difficulty with later tasks" (Havighurst 1953, p. 2).

Havighurst (1972) also coined the  termed "teachable moments," in which people are ready to learn and apply information because of their life situation. This ideas was adopted by Knowles as “readiness to learn” in his assumptions of androgogy (Baumgartner, 2001).

Where are my learners in this scheme?

My learners are transitioning between adolescence and early adulthood.

In general, what does this mean?

Havighurst (1970) identified the tasks for adolescence and young adulthood as follows:

Adolescence (Ages 12-18)

  • Achieving new and more mature relations with age mates of both sexes.
  • Achieving a masculine or feminine social role.
  • Accepting one’s physique and using the body effectively.
  • Achieving emotional independence of parents and other adults.
  • Preparing for marriage and family life.
  • Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behavior.
  • Desiring and achieving socially responsible behavior.

Young Adulthood (Ages 19-29 years)

  • Selecting a mate
  • Learning to live with a marriage partner
  • Starting a family
  • Rearing children
  • Managing a home
  • Getting started in an occupation
  • Taking on civic responsibility
  • Finding a congenial social group

What does this mean to me?

Havighurst's adulthood tasks arise from a combination of social expectations and personal values. These tasks emerge as part of the life cycle and "make different demands on education and offer different opportunities to the educator" (Havighurst 1964, p. 18). The tasks offer teachable moments. To foster development, educators need to introduce students to these critical tasks at the right time.  "When the body is ripe, and society requires, and the self is ready to achieve a certain task, the teachable moment has come" (Havighurst, 1953, p. 5).