What is Generativity?
You never actually own a Patek Phillipe. You merely look after it for the next generation.
We want to live on in other people’s hearts and minds. Some people want to give back to their families and community. Others want to create legacies and monuments. Both groups express Generativity differently. Both are trying to defy death by impacting future generations. Here we examine both types of Generativity, and how people express their desires as consumers, philanthropists and within their families.
Generativity from age 40 to 65
Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994) coined the term Generativity. In his framework of human development, the 7th stage of life is about “caring.” Generativity is a key motivator for adults in the 7th stage, which is from 40 to 65 years.
Generativity is our quest for immortality
Generativity is born from 2 inner desires. We want to defy death and leave behind an enduring symbol of one’s life. We also “need to be needed” during our adult years, so we nurture others with love and care. External pressures also foster our generativity. Society expects that we will take responsibility and care for the next generation.
Our desires to defy death, to be needed, and to take responsibility drive us to act. We bequeath goods, ideas and knowledge to future generations. This is generativity in action. Having created our legacy, we can construct a successful story about our place in the world.
From desire to action to storytelling; this is the complete cycle of generativity.
Internal desires, expressed in purchases
Self generativity focuses on the self. People have a need to have a lasting influence on others, even after death. Consumers motivated by self generativity agree with these statements:
- I am willing to pay a higher price for products if it helps perpetuate my memory in the minds of my children, family and friends.
- I buy useful products to help make sure I am remembered by those who survive me.
- The products I buy will have a long-lasting influence in the lives of future generations.
Communal generativity focuses on others. It is the desire to nurture and care for future generations. is focused on others. Consumers motivated by communal generativity agree with these statements:
- I buy things that will positively affect the lives of future generations.
- I buy things next generations will benefit from.
- I like to feel what I am buying will contribute positively to the next generation.
Men vs. Women
Men are motivated by self-generativity, and women by communal-generativity. These are tendencies, and not absolutes.
When it comes to philanthropy, single men are less generous than married men at retirement. About 75% of retired single men give to charity. But by year five of retirement, only about 40% do. This is far lower than the rate for women and couples.
Products that tap into generativity
These products appeal to self generativity:
- Jewelry and watches given to heirs
- Educational savings plans
- Charities that name symbols for wealthy donors (eg. Univerisites, libraries)
- Family tree and memoir services
- High quality goods that last (from sweaters to homes)
These products appeal to communal generativity:
- Low-emissions automobiles
- Children’s charities
- Intergenerational family vacations
- Products supporting engaged parenthood & grandparenthood (eg. educational experiences and toys)
Products and services are not created for the sole purpose of serve Generativity. Rather, product enhancements, messaging and marketing tap these generative desires. When positioning a product, how can it positively impact the next generation? Can either purchase or transfer of the product itself, its use or its purchase be a benefit for future generations? Norwegian Cruise Line and Patek Philippe offer two useful examples of Generative positioning.
Norwegian Cruise Line — Multigenerational Havens
Norwegian has outfitted ships with luxury “Havens.” A haven is a semi-private deck area, which leads to several types of staterooms. Single rooms and family complexes open to a semi-private deck area. A splash pool works for kids and adults alike. Families in a Haven can step out onto their deck for morning coffee or evening cocktails. Norweigna offers food, entertainment and excursions for every age. Kids, singles and couples can do their own thing when they want, and weave back together for family time.
Patek Philippe — Luxury Swiss Watch
Patek Philippe’s campaign taps the desire for high value goods that endure. The watch is also a physical symbol of its owner. “You never own a Patek Philip, you merely look after it for the next generation.
While this campaign is a success with fathers, it’s a mixed bag for sons. New research shows sons who inherit a luxury watch have mixed feelings. At first, sons feel positive: freedom, accomplishment, tradition or legacy. Later, negative feelings come up: finiteness of family, contempt, resistance and social pressure.
Northern Trust — Financial Advisory
Self-generativity has given our society great libraries, museums, schools and hospitals.
Above, Northern Trust asks, “What’s Your Greater?”
“Launch an idea. Turn a name into an icon. Build something lasting. Whatever your goals, we build your financial portfolio around them and optimize over time. It’s where our deep expertise meets your biggest ambitions.”
3 life events increase generativity
3 life events kick up Generativity:
- parenthood or step-parenthood
- death of a parent
The death of a parent causes the strongest shift towards Generativity. When there is no one behind us, we are the head of the family, and we look towards future generations. Between ages 40 and 65 many people move to the “head” of their family. Forty to 65 is a long stage of life. People in these groups are not a monolith. They don’t think alike. They don’t buy the same things. They don’t have the same motivations. As one grows older, family becomes more important. Grandparents are concerned about their children and grandchildren. Yet in 2017, many elders feel they don’t see their grandchildren enough.
People who are highly generative like to buy things that positively affect the lives of future generations. They want to know their purchases have a positive benefit to future generations. There is no equation for “who is what kind of generative.” There is a lot of overlap in these tendencies:
Men & Marrieds = self generative
Fathers are significantly more self generative than mothers. Married or once-married people are significantly more generative than never-married people. Married or once-married tend towards self generativity. Self generativity relates to power, dominance and achievement. Self-generative people are more likely to invest in educational savings accounts.
Women & Wealthy & With Child = communally generative
Women are more communally generative than men. High income people are more generative, and tend to be communally generative. People with children are more communally generative. They are more likely to donate to a children’s charity.
Marketers should choose “self” or “communal”
Researchers created faux advetising campaigns. One set of campaigns focused on self generativity. Another focused on communal generativity. Another embodied elements of both self and communal generativity.
- Marketing campaigns focused on self generativity connect with self generative people.
- Marketing positioned for communal generativity connects with communally generative people.
- Products positioned as a “little of both” did not connect as well with either consumer.
Strong, clear and deliberate positioning
Every product has a position within the marketplace. Whether companies manage their positioning, or accept it passively, it exists. Consumers compare every solution and every benefit to alternatives. That alternative may be “do nothing” and keep one’s time and money.
We encourage companies to take control of their positioning. The marketplace for attention and dollars is competitive. Generativity is one stance companies can adopt to reach the 50+ consumer.
Lacroix, C. and Jolibert, A. (2015), Targeting Consumers Who Care about Future Generations. Psychol. Mark., 32: 783–794. doi:10.1002/mar.20818
Aurélie Kessous, Pierre Valette-Florence, Virginie De Barnier. “Luxury watch possession and dispossession from father to son: A poisoned gift?” Journal of Business Research. Available online 28 December 2016, ISSN 0148-2963, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2016.12.006.
7 Tips for Multigenerational Cruises, Lambeth Hochwald, cruiseline.com
Things That Grandparents And Kids Can Do On A Cruise, by About a Mom, on Away We Go with Carnival
Editors note: This article was originally published on February 19, 2017, and updated on April 23, 2017.