Personalized Generativity in the Work Pursuits of African Americans of the Great Migration


  • Myra G. Sabir
  • Denise Yull
  • John Jones
  • Karl Pillemer


Lifespan psychology recognizes that making a personally meaningful societal contribution is important for psycho-emotional health in old age.  Most people make such contributions through their work roles. Were mid-20th century African Americans able to make such contributions despite circumscription to menial labor, work interruption, and unemployment?  Answers to this question emerged serendipitously from a larger randomized controlled reminiscence intervention with older African-Americans who migrated north from the Southern United States during the Great Migration.  In this qualitative analysis, transcribed audio recordings were coded for consistent work-related themes that surfaced unexpectedly as an important topic for the participants. The intention to locate personally meaningful work that also conferred a benefit to others persisted through daunting life circumstances and despite the great need to secure personal lives economically for 17 (68%) of the 25 participants. These findings represent an important counter-narrative to dominant views of African Americans in relation to work and perhaps a strong need in this segment of the population to tell their work-related generativity stories. It illuminates an element of healthy psychological functioning in African Americans of the Great Migration and suggests an opportunity to capitalize on an inherent motivator that could deliver significant benefits to human society.