What Is Neugarten Social Clock Theory?


Vincent White

Neugarten Social Clock Theory: Understanding the Concept

Have you ever heard of the term “social clock”? It refers to the expectations society has for individuals based on their age and the corresponding timeline of certain life events, such as marriage, having children, or retirement.

The concept was first introduced by Bernice Neugarten, a renowned American sociologist who conducted extensive research on aging and social development. In this article, we will delve deeper into Neugarten’s social clock theory and its significance in our lives.

Understanding Neugarten’s Social Clock Theory

Neugarten’s social clock theory proposes that individuals’ behavior and attitudes are shaped by societal norms and expectations associated with their age group. According to her theory, people go through a series of psychological changes as they age, which influences their values, beliefs, and behavior patterns. These changes are largely influenced by the social context in which they live.

The Five Stages of Adulthood

Neugarten identified five stages of adulthood that people go through as they age. These include:

  • Early adulthood (age 20-40)
  • Middle adulthood (age 40-65)
  • Late adulthood (age 65+)

Each stage is associated with specific developmental tasks and societal expectations. For example, early adulthood is marked by establishing a career and finding a life partner, while middle adulthood is characterized by raising children and building financial stability.

The Impact of Social Clock on Individual Development

Neugarten argued that when individuals fail to meet societal expectations associated with their age group, they may experience psychological distress or feel like they are “falling behind” in life. For instance, someone who is not married or has no children in their late 30s may feel pressure from society to conform to these norms, which can lead to anxiety or depression. Similarly, someone who retires early may feel like they are not contributing to society, leading to a loss of purpose and identity.

The Modern-Day Relevance of Social Clock Theory

In today’s society, there is growing diversity in values and lifestyle choices, making it challenging to adhere to strict societal norms and expectations. Moreover, people are living longer and healthier lives, which has led to a delayed timeline for certain life events. As a result, social clock theory has become a subject of debate among sociologists.

However, Neugarten’s social clock theory still holds relevance in understanding the impact of societal norms on individual development. It highlights the importance of recognizing the diversity of life paths and choices and avoiding judgment based on age-related expectations.


In conclusion, Neugarten’s social clock theory sheds light on the significance of societal expectations in shaping individual behavior and attitudes. While it may be challenging to conform to strict age-related norms in today’s society, it is essential to recognize their impact on our lives. By accepting diverse paths and choices, we can build a more inclusive and supportive society for individuals at all stages of adulthood.