likely they will encounter difficult challenges, including the deaths of friends and loved ones, assaults on their own physical health, and threats to social status. At the same time, experience in life accrues, perspectives change, and individual adjustments play a role in the process. Resilience and wisdom have been of particular interest to life-span developmentalists because they involve the use of age-based experience to compensate for losses in circumscribed domains (Staudinger, 1999; Staudinger, Marsiske, and Baltes, 1995).
Because they are rooted in adaptation, life-span developmental approaches naturally lead to consideration of the ways that goals and goal attainment change throughout life (Baltes and Baltes, 1990; Brandtstädter, Wentura, and Rothermund, 1999; Carstensen, Isaacowitz, and Charles, 1999). Carstensen and colleagues, for example, have shown that the perception of time left in life strongly influences goals. Because aging is inextricably and positively associated with limitations on future time, older people and younger people differ in the goals they pursue (Carstensen et al., 1999). Cross-sectional studies with men and women ages 20 to 83 show that older people are more likely to pursue emotionally meaningful goals; younger people are more likely to pursue goals that expand their horizons or generate new social contacts. Brandtstädter and his colleagues (1999) argue that people adjust goal strivings to accommodate external and internal constraints placed on goal achievement at different points in the life cycle. For example, a central finding coming out of this line of work is that older people respond to the loss of resources in advanced age by downgrading the importance of some previously desirable goals.
Self-concept changes with age, but self-esteem—the evaluative aspect of self-concept—tends not to change (Crocker and Wolfe, 2001). Self-concept refers to the beliefs that people have about themselves, including such characteristics as likes, dislikes, values, appearance, and competencies. By and large, cross-sectional research with men and women between ages 18 and 86 shows that older people report less distance between their actual and ideal selves than younger adults, suggesting that they are striving less for personal growth and are more satisfied with who they are (Cross and Markus, 1991; Ryff, 1991). Relatively nuanced beliefs about the aging process also shape self-concept. For instance, McFarland, Ross, and Giltrow (1992) found that older adults’ recollections of the past were influenced by their theories of aging. In essence, they found that older adults who believe that memory typically declines with age reported that their memories had been much better earlier in life, and, indeed better than is typically reported by young adults. Thus, views of the self appear to influence the course of aging. Indeed, one recent study by Levy, Slade, Kunkel, and Kasl (2002) provides the tantalizing finding that beliefs about aging, as assessed at ages 50 to 94, predicted longevity: people with strong, positive attitudes lived on average 7.5 years longer than those with negative attitudes.