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What is wisdom and does it come with age as many people assume, or is it a relatively rare quality even among the older population? How do people develop wisdom throughout life and what might be its benefits in old age? Empirical evidence suggests that wisdom in old age is positively related to subjective well-being and less fear of death, even in the face of physical disability or the nearing of death (Ardelt, Landes, Gerlach, & Fox, 2013). In fact, it appears that wisdom is most beneficial for subjective well-being under conditions of adversity and stress, when external means to increase well-being are less available (Ardelt, 2005; Ardelt & Edwards, in press). Wisdom tends to provide a sense of mastery and meaning in life that sustains well-being even under adverse circumstances (Etezadi & Pushkar, 2013; Glück & Bluck, 2013). In this chapter, we first provide a brief summary of explicit and implicit wisdom theories. After examining the relation between wisdom and age, we shed light on the contextual life-course approach to address the divergent trajectories of personal wisdom development, with focus on the importance of social support networks and role models. Last, we explore the associations among wisdom and culture, religion/spirituality, and well-being in old age.


Originally published as a chapter in V.L., Bengtson & R.A., Settersten (Eds.), the Handbook of Theories of Aging. 3rd Ed., pp. 599-619. San Diego, California: Springer. ISBN: 9780826129420; EISBN: 9789826129437 (co-author)