FRHD 1010 Chapter Notes - Chapter 16: Midlife Crisis, Daniel Levinson, Gail Sheehy

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Chapter 16 – Middle Adulthood: Social and Emotional Development
Did you know:
The midlife crisis is more than creation of Hollywood than of real life.
oA midlife crisis may be more the exception than the rule.
Modern mothers no longer experience an “empty-nest syndrome” when the last
child leaves home.
oHaving the last child leave home is often a positive event for middle-aged
The events of middle adulthood do not tend to cause major shifts in personality.
oAccording to two decades of longitudinal research, the ‘big five’
personality traits tend to show a good deal of stability over time.
Women who have a college or university education do not typically experience
increased personal distress as they advance from adulthood to late adulthood.
oAside from increased concern with aging, this is generally true.
Job satisfaction increases throughout middle adulthood.
oA study of more than 2,000 university employees found that job
satisfaction increased steadily throughout middle adulthood (Hochwarter
et al., 2001).
Middle-aged people tend to have fewer friends than young adults do.
oMiddle-aged people tend to have fewer friends than young adults, but they
have more in common with the friends who remain.
L01 – Theories of Development in Middle Adulthood
Theories of development in middle adulthood largely deal with the issue of whether we
can consider middle adulthood to be a distinct age or phase of life. According to
Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, middle adulthood is characterized by a
particular life crisis. We shall describe that crisis and consider the evidence, pro and con.
Daniel Levinson spoke of a specific midlife transition and a midlife crisis (not to be
confused with Erikson’s life crises). Again we shall consider the evidence. Then we will
take a broader look at the ways in which personality appears to change – or not change –
during middle adulthood.
Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
Generativity vs. stagnation
oGenerativity: ability to generate or produce (procreation – bearing and
raising children); contributes to future generations and enhances one’s
self-esteem and sense of meaning in life
oStagnation: inability to procreate; substitutes (teaching, caring for other
people’s children)
Erikson argued that people who do not engage in generative behaviour risk
stagnating and falling into routines that can strip their lives of meaning and
purpose (seems murky)
oVan Hiel study (2006): generativity folk scored significantly higher on
personality variable of conscientiousness; stagnation folks scored
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significantly higher on the personality variable of neuroticism (measured
as emotional instability, enduring tendency to experience negative
Daniel Levinson’s
Age 40-45 comprise a midlife transition: a psychological shift into middle
adulthood that is often accompanied by a crisis during which people fear they
have more to look back upon than forward
Termed midlife crisis as a time of dramatic self-doubt and anxiety – passing of
youth and preoccupied about imminence of mortality.
Marker events such as menopause, death of partner or friend, child’s leaving
Once beset by crisis – denies realities of aging (affair to prove sexually attractive,
buy car, shift careers)
Many view 45 as the second adulthood
The 50s are more relaxed and productive than the 40s; those in their 50s need to
adjust to empty nest, effects of aging, competition with younger workers
Entering Midlife: Crisis, Turning Point, or Prime of Life?
Theorists mention 35 or 40 as entering midlife; 35 crucial to journalist Gail
Sheehy in her book Passages published in the 1970s.
Age of 35: advised to stop using birth control pill, start using amniocentesis,
biological clocks running out
People living longer – into their late 70s or 80s; 40s has become a much more
realistic halfway point (turning point)
Levinson – midlife crisis – taking stock of unrecognized dreams; psychotherapy
should not be minimized at this time of life
Those outlooks are negative – focusing on tragedy, loos, or doom ~ others see it
as ‘entering the prime of life’ though physically declining
Midlife – earning more money than young adults, settled geographically and
vocationally; have built systems of social support, may be involved in enduring
romantic and social relationships and have children
oFlip side: overwhelming responsibility (caring for children, spouse,
parents, workplace)
Height of productivity and resiliene
The Life-Events Approach
Focuses on particular challenges and changes people are likely to face at this age
Most tragic events: death of spouse or child; death of parent or sibling; divorce or
separation; hospitalization or health; caring for parents; finances; appearance;
moving or employment change; change in social network
Empty nest syndrome: a feeling or loneliness or loss of purpose that parents, and
especially the mother, are theorized to experience when the youngest child leaves
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