American Psychologist (2001),
Vol. 56, No. 4, 363
Margret Baltes, a distinguished scholar of international acclaim in psychological gerontology, died with tragic suddenness of heart failure in Berlin on January 28, 1999. Margret was professor of psychological gerontology and head of the Psychological Gerontology Research Unit in the Department of Gerontopsychiatry at the Free University of Berlin. She was born on March 8, 1939, in Dillingen (Saar), Germany, where she spent her formative years. Margret received her bachelor of arts (1959) and master of arts (1963) degrees from the University of Saarbrücken in Germany and completed her doctor of philosophy degree (1973) in experimental psychology at West Virginia University under the academic mentorship of John Cone, John Nesselroade, and Hayne Reese. Prior to joining the faculty at the Free University, Margret served on the faculty of the College of Human Development at Pennsylvania State University, where Paul Baltes also was a faculty member. They were married in 1963 and thus began a productive lifelong professional collaboration.
In 1980, the Baltes family moved to Berlin, where Paul assumed the directorship of the Max Planck Institute of Human Development and where Margret held a professorship at the Free University. "Successful Aging: Perspectives From the Behavioral Sciences," which Margret coedited with Paul, helped to redirect the field of aging from a preoccupation with declining capabilities to a focus on the adaptive capacities of older adults and their potential to enhance their levels of functioning.
Margret's admirable life's work centered on individuals' successful self management of aging by social means, under constraining life circumstances and some diminution of physical capacity. Her program of research on how elderly people manage their lives by social means was groundbreaking rather than adding incrementally to the prevailing investigatory pursuits. This was not an easy research path to choose.
Because of the complexities of such dynamic social systems, people have come to expect, and to accept, compromises in rigorousness for the study of social importance. Margret made no such compromises. She conducted elegant microanalyses of conditional transactions and the ways in which social influences shape the life courses of elderly people. This research was thoughtfully reasoned, methodologically sophisticated, and socially significant. In an influential volume, "The Psychology of Control and Aging," coedited with Paul, Margret brought her integrative originality to bear on the theoretical conceptualization of control beliefs and broadened the scope of inquiry about perceived control to the field of gerontology.
Margret turned her analytic talents to the largely neglected phenomenon of proxy agency. In many activities, people do not have direct control over social conditions and institutional practices that affect their lives. Under these circumstances, they seek their well-being and security through the exercise of proxy agency. Margret demonstrated that, in an institutional milieu, dependency is a highly effective way of gaining social contact. Moreover. as daily routines take longer and become harder to do in advanced years, elderly individuals get others to help them carry out some of these routines. This impressive program of research provided the foundation for her book "The Many Faces of Dependency in Old Age."
Margret did not mine a narrow path in her research. She had quality and range. At the time she died, she was exploring human competence, not as a socially disembodied entity, but as a functional competence by which elders strive to make the most of their everyday lives. As in her other research pursuits, she explored human competence as socially situated and conditionally manifested. She brought a productive blend of interdisciplinary effort to bear on each problem she studied.
Margret applied the same conceptual, methodological, and analytical sophistication to her study of successful self-management with age, where others would have been inclined to settle for ethnographic descriptions of what elderly people do in the transactions of their everyday lives. She identified the physical, psychological, and social resources people enlist in their efforts to manage their life circumstances. She analyzed the structure of these resources, created age-residualized resource indicators, aggregated them factorially, and verified their impact on the quality of everyday functioning. She demonstrated that elders who have the benefit of good resources show limited negative aging effects with advancing age. The enabling and protective function of coping resources fit well with her guiding conceptual model of selective optimization and compensation.
The numerous awards Margret received attest to the high regard in which she was held within the scientific community. The many journal editorial boards and highranking advisory and policy commissions that drew on Margret's astute judgment further indicate the substantial impact she had in the field of aging. Students held Margret in high admiration as an inspiring model of incisive scholarship, wise counsel, and caring friendship. She combined the ideal mentoring mixture of holding students to the best standards of scholarship while providing them with the enabling support to fulfill those challenging standards.
In addition to her husband, Paul, Margret Baltes is survived by a daughter, Anushka, a student at Mills College, Oakland, California; a son, Boris, an organizational psychologist at Wayne State University; two sisters; and a brother. Margret's life ended early, but the rich and varied legacy of her scholarship will long continue to inspire others.
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