Self and Identity in Advanced Old Age: Validation of Theory Through Longitudinal Case Analysis



Case studies drawn from a 20-year longitudinal study of aging were examined for the support they provide to two theoretical viewpoints on the self in later life: one focusing on management of self-esteem, the other on development of identity as story. The five cases selected for scrutiny represented diverse trajectories of self-esteem. They furnished ample illustrations of certain key aspects of both theories, including assimilative processes of coping, depression related to absence of accommodation, maintenance of life story themes, and life review processes. They did not, however, give strong support to the dichotomy, drawn within both theoretical models, between younger and older old age. Examples of accommodation, disengagement, and self-transcendence, hypothesized to typify advanced old age, were relatively few in number and emerged only toward the very end of life. It is argued that examination of prototypical cases provides a useful approach to validating and developing theory. A conclusion drawn from this study is that more analysis should be carried out on the lives of persons who exemplify the theoretically ideal characteristics of advanced old age.