Current and Ongoing Research

The Mills Longitudinal Study has focused on issues most relevant to the age of its participants, starting in their early 20's and following them through middle age, into early-old age. We are now in a particularly good position to study the new "older person." Most of the Mills women participated in the labor force. How do they occupy themselves? For those who have retired, how is their retirement going? We focus not so much on facts as on the psychological factors associated with making the most of these new circumstances.

Our current research has focused on four major areas:

Representative citations are available from the Publications page.

Personality change and adult development

Since its beginning, a central interest of the Mills Study has been how women adapt to the changing conditions of life over young adulthood and middle age. Our first studies showed the paths women followed from college to early middle age.

As the duration of our study has lengthened we have been able to extend our reach, to show common features and cohort influences in change over wide spans of adulthood. Some of this research has been done in collaboration with other investigators, across multiple longitudinal and cross sectional samples. Other studies have focused on particular areas, such as which women with creative potential become creative, or the demonstration that there are different ways of developing well (Helson & Srivastava, 2001).

Several recent publications focus on change over middle age. For example:

  • Does personality change as the number of roles and commitments to partners, children, and jobs first increases in early middle age, and then later decreases as children leave home and people begin to retire?
  • Across samples over middle age, what are the important ways in which women change in their feelings about life?
  • Does being self-focused vs. other-focused in one's identity at age 43 predict when one will retire and how many grandchildren one will have at age 61?
  • Across cohort and sample, does one's sense of the time one has left decrease in a linear way with age, or does relative amount of concern with opportunities and constraints produce bi-modality?

We have developed scales that will make possible research in other important areas, such as depression (John & Jay, 2004), self-esteem (Kwan, 2007), and the Big Five trait dimensions (Soto & John, 2009).

Emotional experience, expression, and regulation

One area of special interest is emotional experience, expression, and regulation:

  • Does the breadth of a woman's smile in her college yearbook predict her life satisfaction at age 52?
  • Do positive and negative emotionality change differently over time in women and their partners?
  • As people age, do they change in the way they regulate emotion and use more effective emotional regulation techniques?

Relationships and attachment

Yet another area of interest is relationships and attachment:

  • Does marital satisfaction increase over middle age, and if so, why?
  • How do avoidantly and securely attached women differ?
  • What are the characteristics of women whose children turn out well?
  • How does a woman's partner affect her experience in having her first child, and how does her personality change in association with this event?

Adult Attachment interviews were conducted (and videotaped) with the women at age 61 and provide potentially valuable information - for example, see how a woman with an avoidant pattern of attachment became "securely attached" by age 61 (Mitchell, 2007).

The Ongoing Early 70s Assessment: Well-Being, Health, and Personality

We are now following up the Mills women at age 73. Our interests for this time of life include:

  • The individual ways in which people time their retirement and either change or continue their activities as they enter their 70's
  • Whether this period of life is one of the most fulfilling yet for some women, and how others maintain well-being even in adverse contexts
  • How well previous patterns of personality, life situation, and well-being predict our participants well-being at age 70. The depth and breadth of our data gives us an exceptional opportunity to investigate lifespan-related questions.
  • How personality changes or remains stable across the lifespan, using CPI and Big Five data from all six assessment years (ages 21 to 73).