Culture and the Social Clock: Cultural Differences in the Optimal Timing of Life
People typically hold personal views regarding the appropriate age ranges for significant life events, such as starting college, getting married, or having kids. Such socially prescribed timetables have been termed the social clock. Different from the biological clocks, which are roughly universal across cultures based on neural-physical development, the social clock may depend on the culture in which we live. Thus, we investigate how and why culture may influence the rigidity (or flexibility) of the social clock. In two studies (one preregistered), participants were asked to provide the earliest and the latest ages they think appropriate for engaging in several life events. We calculated the time windows for these life events, which reflects the social clock’s rigidity, by subtracting the earliest ages from the latest ages. We found notable cultural differences: the social clock was more rigid in China than in the U.S., and the cultural differences were mediated by filial piety belief. We further assessed well-being oncomes of deviance from the social clocks across cultures. Societal implications and future directions were discussed.