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The Handbook of Lifespan Communication


Jon F. Nussbaum

The Handbook of Lifespan Communication is the foundational scholarly text that offers readers a state of the art view of the varied and rich areas of lifespan communication research. The fundamental assumptions of lifespan communication are that the very nature of human communication is developmental, and, to truly understand communication, change across time must be incorporated into existing theory and research. Beginning with chapters on lifespan communication theory and methodologies, chapters are then organized into the various phases of life: early childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, middle adulthood, and older adulthood. Top scholars across several disciplines have contributed to chapters within their domains of expertise, highlighting significant horizons that will guide researchers for years to come.
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Chapter Fifteen: Sandwich Relationships: Intergenerational Communication

← 292 | 293 →CHAPTER FIFTEEN


Intergenerational Communication


Although we celebrate birthdays on an annual basis and our chronological age serves important legal and pragmatic purposes (e.g., determining when we can start driving and claim social security), our progression through the lifespan is marked more by the age group with which we identify (or are identified with by others) than by our chronological age. Until Erikson (1968) introduced the lifespan perspective on human development, conventional approaches to human development focused almost exclusively on the path from birth to young adulthood. We still see remnants of this thinking today evidenced by the numerous age groups that represent development in early life (e.g., infant, toddler, child, pre-teen/“tweener,” teenager, emerging adult, young adult) compared to the limited age categories beyond this life stage. As Erikson argued, human development continues across the entirety of the lifespan. Everyone experiences physiological changes as part of the aging process, and aging is often discussed in terms of these biological and physiological variations. Yet, aging across the lifespan also includes the emergence of and adaptation to different roles in personal and professional lives. Whereas younger adulthood and older adulthood have somewhat socially defined parameters, middle adulthood (also referred to as “midlife” or “middle-aged”) is more nuanced (Fingerman, Nussbaum, & Birditt, 2004).

Although there is some consensus on the age range constituting middle adulthood (40 to 60 or 65 years old), these often change depending on the lifespan position of individuals. That is,...

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