Havighurst’s Developmental Task Theory

What are the most important tasks in your life right now? I’m not talking about little things like brushing your teeth or paying a bill. I’m talking about the biggest goals in your overall development. According to the Havighurst Developmental Task Theory, your age plays a big role in this answer. 

Who Was Robert J. Havighurst? 

Havighurst was an American psychologist who developed his theory on Developmental Tasks between 1948 and 1953. His work came after the work of Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget, but before Erik Erikson. He is also known for popularizing the phrase “teachable moments” in his 1952 book Human Development and Education. 

In his book, he writes: 

“A developmental task is a task which is learned at a specific point and which makes achievement of succeeding tasks possible. When the timing is right, the ability to learn a particular task will be possible. This is referred to as a ‘teachable moment.’ It is important to keep in mind that unless the time is right, learning will not occur. Hence, it is important to repeat important points whenever possible so that when a student’s teachable moment occurs, s/he can benefit from the knowledge.”

What Is Developmental Task Theory? 

Havighurst’s Theory defined developmental stages and tasks pertaining to each stage. This mirrors the work of Piaget and Erikson, who also identified “stages” of development and what each child achieved at different ages. Within each stage are a list of tasks that the individual feels that they must complete.

Jean Piaget’s stages of development focused on cognitive development and reaching a child’s full potential of intelligence. Erikson’s stages of development focused on how people faced certain crises and learned how to interact with themselves and the world around them. 

What Are the Stages in Havighurst’s Developmental Task Theory?

stages of Havighurst's Developmental Task Theory

The stages in Havighurst’s Theory include:

  • Infancy and early childhood (0-6 years old)
  • Later childhood (6–13 years old)
  • Adolescence (13–18 years old)
  • Early Adulthood (19–30 years old)
  • Middle Age (30–60 years old)
  • Later maturity (60 years old and over)

 If the child completes the “correct” tasks in the “correct” time frame, they will feel happy and accepted by society. Failing to complete these tasks will make the individual unhappy and out of place in society. 

While societal rules and customs certainly influence the tasks within each stage of development, other factors are also at play here. Havighurst also defined a list of what influences the tasks an individual strives to complete at each stage of development: 

Social Influences (Pressures of Society)

These are the rules of society and other cultural ideas that influence an individual’s developmental tasks. Havighurst lists “Achieving a masculine or feminine social role” multiple times as a developmental task. That is going to look different in every culture (and will look depending on the individual’s age.) In cultures where masculine and feminine roles are not strictly defined, it may not be considered a task at all. As time progresses and societies change their ideas of gender, these tasks may look different or become less important to complete. 

Psychological Influences (Personal Values)

These tasks do not just come from external forces. An individual’s personality and interests will also influence the tasks required to develop successfully. Someone who is more motivated by money and riches may face different developmental tasks than someone who puts more value into personal relationships or dedicating themselves to a noble cause. Psychological influences may also lead an individual to prioritize some developmental tasks over others. 

Biological Influences (Physical Maturation)

Biology is also at play here. Certain tasks are reserved for childhood or adulthood simply because the body can or cannot take on those tasks. On one end of a person’s life is infancy and early adulthood, where developmental tasks include “learning to walk.” On the other end is later maturity, where developmental tasks include “adjusting to decreasing physical strength and health.” 

If someone is seriously injured or develops a debilitating condition later in life, their developmental tasks may change. 

Examples of Developmental Tasks 

All of these tasks are subject to change due to biological, psychological, and social influences. But Havighurst provided an example list of tasks that go with each stage of life. I’m just going to include a handful of tasks for each stage, although Havighurst listed many more in his work. 

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Infancy and Early Childhood (0-6 years old) include:

  • Learning to walk
  • Learning to talk
  • Toilet training
  • Learning the foundations of reading 

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Middle Childhood (6-12 years old) include :

  • Learning physical skills necessary for ordinary games
  • Learning to get along and play with children of the same age 
  • Learning an appropriate masculine or feminine social role
  • Achieving personal independence 

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Adolescence (13-18 years old) include:

  • Accepting one’s physical body as it goes through changes 
  • Preparing for marriage and family life 
  • Preparing for an economic career
  • Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behavior; developing an ideology

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Early Adulthood (19-30 years old) include:

  • Finding a marriage partner (and learning to cohabitate with them) 
  • Achieving a masculine or feminine social role
  • Managing a home and starting a family
  • Beginning a career 
  • Taking on civic responsibility 

building a home and family

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Middle Age (31-60 years old) include:

  • Achieving adult civic and social responsibility
  • Assisting teenage children to become responsible and happy adults
  • Developing adult leisure-time activities
  • Accepting and adjusting to the physiologic changes or middle age

Developmental Tasks in the stage of Later Maturity (61-death) include:

  • Adjusting to decreasing physical strength and health
  • Adjusting to retirement
  • Meeting social and civil obligations

Again, these tasks may look different for every individual. Civic and social responsibility, for example, may look different for every person, or may not be a priority at the age that Havighurst proposes. These tasks may serve as a guideline or a jumping-off point if you are thinking about your larger goals, but remember that they are influenced by different factors, including personal values.

Theodore Thudium

Theodore is a professional psychology educator with over 10 years of experience creating educational content on the internet. PracticalPsychology started as a helpful collection of psychological articles to help other students, which has expanded to a Youtube channel with over 2,000,000 subscribers and an online website with 500+ posts.