Resilience Comes of Age: Defining Features in Later Adulthood


  • Preparation of this paper was supported in part by grants from the National Institute on Aging (1 R01 AG023571-A1-01; 1 R01 AG02357-A1-01). We thank Gary Evans, Henry Ricciuti, and Nancy Wells for comments on an earlier draft.

concerning this article should be addressed to Anthony D. Ong, Cornell University, Department of Human Development, G77 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-4401. E-mail:


ABSTRACT Historically, resilience research has been largely the purview of developmental investigators dealing with early childhood and adolescence. This research primarily focused on at-risk children who were exposed to significant and severe life adversities (e.g., extreme poverty, parental mental illness, community violence). The study of resilience in adulthood and later life, by comparison, remains largely understudied. In this article, we describe a program of research on adulthood resilience. We begin with a selective review of the broad literature on resilience, giving emphasis to the major approaches, empirical findings, and guiding principles that characterize prior studies. We then summarize our own approach to the phenomenon of resilience and illustrate select parts of our previous and ongoing studies of older adults. Findings from this research add to the growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that resilience is a common phenomenon that emerges from the coordinated orchestration of basic human adaptive processes.