Explaining Aging using Development Theories

Life-Trajectory of Kevin

Development Theory: The Life-Trajectory of Kevin

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Kevin was born on a sheep farm in 1942, halfway between Canberra and Melbourne. As a young man he left farming to work in construction in Melbourne, where he met and married his wife. They raised three children together, but the marriage faltered once the children left to start their own lives. They separated amicably, continued to stay engaged with their families, and Kevin successfully transitioned to retirement despite a diagnosis of diabetes in his mid 50s.


Birth. WWII (BBC, 2014)

Age 8. Korean Conflict. The market price of wool reaches an all-time high (ABS, 2007).

Age 15. Leaves school to work on sheep farm full-time

1962 — Age 20. Leaves farming for construction work in Melbourne

1965 — Age 23. Vietnam Conflict (BBC, 2014). Registers for National Service and serves 2 years, but never sees combat

1970 — Age 28. Marries

1972 — Age 30. 1st child born

1974 — Age 32. 2nd child born

9. 1975 — Age 33. Australia restricts entry of unskilled immigrants

10. 1977 — Age 35. 3rd child born

11. 1981 — Age 39. 2nd child dies of leukemia

12. 1990 — Age 48. 1st child leaves for college

13. 1995 — Age 53. 2nd child leaves for college

14. 1997 — Age 55. Kevin is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes

15. 2001 — Age 59. 9/11 — troops sent to Afghanistan

16. 2002 — Age 60. Bali night club bombing

17. 2003 — Age 61. Iraq war

18. 2004 — Age 62. Becomes a grandfather for the first time

19. 2006 — Age 64. Severe drought and the economy stalls

20. 2007 — Age 65. Retirement

21. 2008 — Age 66. PM apologizes to the “Stolen Generation.”


Kevin was born in 1942 on a struggling sheep farm halfway between Canberra and Melbourne, during World War II. Australian troops were engaged in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters, so women stepped into jobs formally held by men. The effects of the Great Depression were still being felt and the war effort was causing additional hardships, such as the rationing of food and clothing. Kevin therefore grew up in what would be poverty by today’s standards, but there was never a shortage of food on the farm. Kevin and his four siblings were left to fend for themselves and attended school for a few years until they were old enough to work full-time on the farm. A strong work ethic and streak of independence was thus cultivated. Kevin was the youngest of five siblings, which allowed Kevin to attend school until the relatively late age of 15. Given the geographic distance between the farm and the nearest neighbors, the closest relationships in Kevin’s life were those of his immediate family members, primarily his siblings.

Wool prices steadily climbed, until they reached an all-time high in 1950/51 (ABS, 2007). The growing prosperity allowed Kevin to follow his dream of doing something besides farming. He moved to Melbourne in 1962, at the age of 20, and quickly found work in home construction during the prosperous post-war period. The decision was made easy for Kevin with four older siblings vying for a place on the farm and beginning their own families, especially since farming and economic stability seemed incompatible (Howard, 2000). Social cognition provides the best theoretical framework for Kevin’s identity at the age of 20, because he saw a future apart from farming without knowing what that future would be. The rising wool prices, a major event, therefore enabled Kevin to choose a different future.

The number of troops committed to the conflict in Vietnam expanded dramatically and Kevin was forced to register for National Service. His birthday was picked and he served two years without leaving Australia. Upon returning to civilian life, Kevin started his own construction firm and met his future wife. The first of three children were born in 1972, the year Kevin turned 30. Over the next seven years, two more children were born, but Kevin’s family later grieves the loss of their second child to leukemia at the age of 7. In 1990 and 1995 the remaining two children leave to attend college, but at the age of 55 Kevin is diagnosed with type II diabetes. As Kevin begins to struggle with dramatic lifestyle changes, his son and daughter begin white collar careers and families of their own. Meanwhile, the attacks of 9/11 and the Bali nightclub bombing occur. With the kids gone and starting their own families, long-suppressed emotional wounds surrounding the death of the second child erupt, destabilize Kevin’s marriage. He moves into an apartment, but the issue of divorce is never seriously discussed. The choice to remain married is consistent with continuity theory (Atchley, 1989), because both Kevin’s and his wife’s identities remains tied to the roles of husband/wife, parent, and grandparent, despite the emotional wounds. Living together, however, becomes too uncomfortable. Counseling would probably be an effective intervention, but Kevin’s independent and self-reliant nature makes this choice impossible.

Kevin reached retirement age still healthy, due in large part to an early diagnosis and successful treatment of his diabetes. The treatment plan involved a dramatic change in lifestyle, including a low calorie, nutritious diet and regular exercise (McNaughton, Dunstan, Ball, Shaw, & Crawford, 2009). The lifestyle changes and the associated weight loss has allowed him to avoid common complications of diabetes, including circulatory problems that frequently result in blindness and amputations, while remaining active post-retirement through volunteer work a family obligations. His good physical and financial health has also allowed him to spend quality time with his children and grandchildren, in addition to visiting his siblings’ families and parents several times a year. As a result, aging into retirement has given him the time needed to strengthen the already strong ties to his immediate and extended family. His quality of life has thus improved since retirement, a common outcome for contemporary retirees (Heybroek, Haynes, & Baxter, 2015).

Kevin’s life-trajectory reveals a number of important values that have influenced the choices he has made, including independence, self-reliance, resilience, and family. Accordingly, he has maintained strong ties to his immediate and extended family despite geographic and trauma-related barriers. Although the social role of business owner changed when Kevin reached retirement age, this role could not have been critical to his identity because his quality of life improved. This transition may have been made easier by choosing to volunteer his time, expertise, and resources to housing projects for the poor. This choice is consistent with continuity theory (Atchley, 1989) because Kevin remained active in construction post-retirement.

Based on Kevin’s relationship history, his relationships with his wife, children, grandchildren, parents, and siblings reveal that family roles, such as husband, father, brother, and provider, are the ones that best define his identity. The role of provider probably became critical to Kevin’s identity after experiencing the economic poverty of his childhood and associating farming with economic instability. Being a good provider, and thus family man, meant seeking a non-farm occupation. The choice to leave farming, move to the city and start a construction company was simply a means to an end and did not define Kevin’s identity in important ways.

The two scenarios of resilience and type II diabetes changed the originally envisioned life-trajectory, because these two outcomes seemed to be incompatible at first. Incorporating both into Kevin’s life-trajectory, however, resulted in a positive outcome, one where the diabetes is controlled by lifestyle changes to the point it enters remission. Resilience and the ability to adapt seem to be closely related concepts, so the resilience modified the diabetes outcome in a positive way. In other words, it was more important to Kevin to minimize the effects of diabetes on his perceived social roles and relationships, than to maintain an unhealthy lifestyle.


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). (2007). The wool industry — looking back and forward. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Previousproducts/1301.0Feature%20Article172003?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=1301.0&issue=2003&num=&view=.

Atchley, R.C. (1989). A continuity theory of normal aging. Gerontologist, 29(2), 183-90.

BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). (2015). Australia profile — Timeline. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-15675556.

Heybroek, L., Haynes, M., & Baxter, J. (2015). Life satisfaction and retirement in Australia: A longitudinal approach. Work, Aging and Retirement. First published online 1 April 2015. Retrieved from http://workar.oxfordjournals.org/content/1/2/166.

Howard, J.A. (2000). Social psychology of identities. Annual Reviews in Sociology, 26, 367-93.

McNaughton, S.A., Dunstan, D.W., Ball, K., Shaw, J., & Crawford, D. (2009). Dietary quality is associated with diabetes and cardio-metabolic risk factors. Journal of Nutrition, 139, 734-42.

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