Chapter 16: Social &
in Middle Adulthood
Development Across the Lifespan
Two Perspectives on Adult Personality
1. Normative-crisis models
Argues that people move through fixed
stages, each tied to age
Specific crises lead to growth
Erickson, Gould, Levinson
Critics suggest outdated (based on
traditional models of family & roles)
(Two Perspectives on Adult Personality
2. Life events models
Suggest that things that occur in life determine
personality development (not age)
2 women at different ages could be the
same developmentally at the birth of their
Not clear which model better represents personality
Both models agree that adulthood is not a
time of passivity and stagnation but of
continued psychological growth.
Whichever model is chosen, it
is clear that middle adulthood
is a time of continuing
Erik Erikson suggests that middle
adulthood encompasses the period of
STAGNATION, where people
consider their contributions to family,
community, work, and society.
Generativity is guiding and encouraging future
Generativity may be leaving a lasting
contribution to the world through creative or
Generativity means looking beyond oneself to
the continuation of one's life through others
Stagnation means people focus on the triviality
of their life, and feel they have made only a
limited contribution to the world, that their
presence has counted for little
Psychologist Roger Gould offers another
alternative to Erikson’s view…
Agrees that people move through a
series of stages and potential crises
His specific developmental
transitions differ from Erikson’s
Adults pass through a series of seven
stages associated with specific ages—
table in text
NOT supported by research!
A theory that has received more attention: Levinson’s
ideas about development: Season’s of Life
Daniel Levinson suggests that the early
40’s are marked by transition and crisis
Central to his theory is the concept of a
midlife crisis—a period of intense
He studied 40 men (applicability to
women has NOT been established!), and
suggested that adult men pass through
a series of stages beginning with early
adulthood at age 20 and continuing into
According to Levinson…
Early adulthood is leaving the family and
having "the dream" where men have goals
and aspirations and make long-term decisions
about career and family.
In early adulthood, people make and
sometime discard career choices as they
come to grips with their capabilities and come
to terms with long-term decisions (“settling
Midlife transition occurs at 40/45, a time of
questioning which leads to midlife crisis—
NOT SUPPORTED BY RESEARCH!
Despite the fact that Levinson
overstated the consistency &
generalizability of developmental
patterns, some information in his
theory has been supported by
subsequent research, at least in
During midlife transition, people have similar
They focus on the finite nature of life.
They realize they will not live forever.
They concentrate on the present.
They begin to question some of their
They experience their first signs of aging.
They begin to doubt the value of their
They confront the fact that they will not be
able to accomplish all their aims before they
Those who were less successful in dealing
with the midlife crisis entered a period of
stagnation or decline for the rest of their
Most people got through the crisis and by
their 50s felt secure and looking toward a
This research had a limited sample and was
Levinson claims women go through similar
stages but have a more difficult time with
"the dream“ stage because of inner conflicts
over career versus family.
Midlife Crisis: Reality or Myth
Despite widespread acceptance (and centrality in
Levinson’s model), the evidence for a midlife
crisis do not exist.
For the majority of people, the transition is
smooth and rewarding.
Many middle-aged people find their careers have
We may just pay more attention to the few who
exhibit a midlife crisis.
The significance of middle age significantly
depends on the culture in which one lives
Indian women: social responsibility valued over age
Those experiencing regrets about their lives
do better psychologically if change is
By the time adults enter middle adulthood,
most feel younger than they are (see next
~ In short, the evidence for a midlife crisis does
We attend to and recall marital difficulties
more readily than the lack of them. Midlife
crisis used to explain.
Developmental Psychologist Carol Ryff has identified
several components of well-being in midlife.
Self-acceptance: holding a positive
attitude toward oneself and one's past
Positive relations with people: having
warm, satisfying, trusting relationships
with others and concern and empathy
Autonomy: being self-determined,
independent, and resistant to social
Carol Ryff, continued
Environmental mastery: having a sense of
mastery and competence in managing the
complexities of everyday life.
Purpose in life: having goals, aims, and
objectives that provide meaning in life.
Personal growth: feeling a sense of
continuing development and being open to
More research: A massive survey of 7000+
people across the U.S was conducted.
Designed to identify patterns of midlife
development in psychological well-being,
physical health, and social responsibility
Known as MIDUS (Midlife in the U.S.)
Findings to date suggest that there are
significant cross cultural differences in the
components of well-being
Finds also show that psychological well
being does differ across adulthood
of personality development
Views of personality development during
adulthood have traditionally suggested that
people move through a series of fixed stages
Closely connected to age
Related to specific crisis in which individuals
go through periods of intense self
questioning and psychological turmoil
This traditional perspective is evidenced by the
theories of Erikson and Levinson
(Normative-crisis models continued)
Theorists such as Erikson and Levinson
take as their approach the NORMATIVE-
CRISIS MODEL, which views personality
development in terms of fairly universal
stages, tied to a sequence of age-related
Critics argue that normative-crisis models
They came from a time when gender roles
were more rigid
The Social Clocks of Women: Marking Time
Each of us has a SOCIAL
CLOCK, the psychological
timepiece that records the major
milestones in people's lives
(allows us to measure and
compare our progress against
Promotions, divorce, job
Understanding Adult Personality Development:
Life Events Models
Theorists such as Ravenna Helson focus more
on LIFE EVENTS MODELS, which suggest that
the timing of particular events in an adult's life,
rather than age per se, determine the course of
According to this model, a woman having her
first baby at 21 would experience the same
psychological forces as a woman having her
first baby at 39.
Women began to feel greater independence,
confidence, and were able to cope with stress
and adversity more effectively with time.
Measures of femininity increased from ages 21
to 27, but decreased between ages 27 and 43.
The increase may be due to effects of
The decrease may be due to effects of
decreases in child-care responsibilities.
Helson found that it didn't matter which social
clock the woman focused on (e.g., family or
career), involvement with a socially accepted
and justifiable social clock was the key to
Stability versus change in personality…
Psychologists argue whether personality
changes or remains stable over the course of
Erikson and Levinson suggest that personality
changes substantially over the life span.
Paul Costa and Robert McCrae find remarkable
stability in particular traits across the life span .
The “Big Five”
Well researched personality traits representing the
five major clusters of stable personality
Neuroticism (degree of moodiness, anxiousness,
Extraversion (how outgoing or shy a person is)
Openness (curiosity and interest in new
Agreeableness (how easygoing & helpful a person
Conscientiousness (degree of being organized &
The Stability of Personality
According to Costa & McCrae (1986), basic personality traits
such as openness, extroversion, & neuroticism are stable &
consistent throughout adulthood.
Overall, personality is marked by both stability AND
Developmentalists feel that
personality is both stable (on
some traits) and changeable on
The challenge for developmental
psychologists is to determine
which conditions lead to stability
and which lead to change.
There are 3 major controversies
involving personality development in
Normative-crisis versus life events
Stability versus change in
Relationships: Marriage & Divorce in Middle Age
Marriage and divorce significantly impact social and
personality development in middle adulthood!
The institution of marriage is not stable, and societal
norms change over time
50 years ago, couples that married during early
adulthood were still married at middle adulthood
—to each other!
100 years ago, people in their 40’s often had
experienced the death of a spouse
Now, marriages are mixed; some divorced by
middle adulthood, blended families common, and
many people experience the peak of marital
satisfaction during this period.
The ups & downs of marriage
Even for happily married couples, marriage
has its ups and downs, and satisfaction rises
and falls over the course of the marriage
The most frequent pattern of marital
satisfaction is U-shaped.
Satisfaction begins to decline just after a
marriage begins, and falls till it reaches its
low point at the birth of the child; then it
slowly returns to high levels
Marital satisfaction begins to
decline after marriage and falls to
its lowest point following the birth
Marital satisfaction begins to grow
after the children leave
adolescence and reaches its
highest point when the kids have
Middle-aged couples cite several sources of
Many couples state that their spouse
is their "best friend“ and that they like
their partner as a person
They also view marriage as a long-
They believe their spouse has grown
more interesting over the years.
Most feel their sex lives (although
frequency goes down) are satisfying.
These marriages may end in divorce and many
experiencing this become a "blended family".
About 1 woman in 8 will get divorced after
Divorce can be especially hard for traditional
women over 40 who stayed home with the
kids and never worked.
75 % to 80 % of divorced people eventually
remarry (usually within 2-5 years).
For some the “U pattern” does
not apply, and satisfaction keeps falling
Although the overall remarriage rate is high, it’s
far higher in some groups than others
75% of white women remarry,
whereas less than ½ of African
American women marry again.
It's harder for a middle-aged woman
to remarry .
90 % of women under 25 remarry.
Less than 33 % over the age of 40
The marriage gradient pushes men
to marry younger women.
Older women are victims of the
harsh societal standards regarding
Older men seen as “distinguished” but
not so for older women (media affects)
Remarriage is common though!
Second marriages are different than first
Roles are more flexible.
The couple looks at marriage less romantically and
is more cautious.
The divorce rate is higher for second marriages.
More stress especially with blended families.
Once you have experienced divorce it is easier
to walk away a second time.
BUT, many remarried people report satisfaction
rates as high as those is successful first marriages
For many couples, a major transition that typically
occurs during middle adulthood is the departure of
This is labeled the EMPTY NEST SYNDROME when
parents experience feelings of unhappiness, worry,
loneliness, and depression resulting from their
children's departure from home.
Although this challenge is harder for many stay-
at-home moms to face than for working moms,
the empty nest syndrome is more myth than
Although temporary feelings of
sadness & distress may occur…
there are many benefits when
children leave home.
Parents can work harder.
More time alone.
House stays cleaner.
Phone doesn't ring so much
Boomerang Children: Refilling the Empty Nest
There has been a significant
increase in the U.S. in
the number of young
adults who come back to
live in the homes of their
middle-aged parents, a
(Boomerang Children, continued)
~ Men are more likely to do it than
Parents tend to give sons more
freedom than daughters.
Unable to find a job.
Difficulty making ends meet.
People are marrying at later ages.
Parents' reactions are both
positive and negative.
The Sandwich Generation: Between
Parents & Children
Another new trend is that middle-aged
couples become the SANDWICH
GENERATION, because they must
fulfill the needs of both their children
and their aging parents.
Couples are marrying and having
Parents are living longer.
This is difficult because of role
(Sandwich generation, continued)
The care of parents ranges from
financial aid to having parents live in
Most of the burden falls on the wife.
Even though being sandwiched in
the middle of two generations can
stretch a couple’s resources, this
can be a rewarding situation for both
children and parents.
Becoming a Grandparent
Middle adulthood often brings
one of the unmistakable symbols of
aging: becoming a grandparent.
Grandparents tend to fall into style categories
Involved grandparents are actively engaged
in grand parenting and have influence over
their grandchildren's lives.
Companionate grandparents are more
relaxed, and act as supporters and buddies
to their grandchildren.
(Grand parenting, continued)
Remote grandparents are detached
and distant, and show little interest in
Grandmothers tend to be more
involved than grandfathers.
African-American grandparents are
more involved with their
grandchildren than White
Family Violence: The Hidden Epidemic
~Domestic violence is one of the ugly
truths about marriage and is
occurring at epidemic levels.
Some form of violence happens in
one-fourth of all marriages.
More than half of all women
murdered are murdered by a
(Spousal abuse, continued)
Close to 15 % of marriages in the U. S.
are characterized by continuing, severe
Violence occurs across social strata,
ethnic groups, and religions.
Mostly it is men abusing women, but
8 % of the cases involve the wife
physically abusing the husband.
(Spousal abuse, continued)
Certain factors increase the likelihood of abuse.
Families with 4 or more children
• Increased stress, fewer resources
• $15, 000 or less annual income = 7x higher
Growing up in a violent home
• According to the CYCLE-
OF-VIOLENCE HYPOTHESIS, abuse and
neglect of children leads them to be
predisposed to abusiveness as adults.
The Styles of Abusers…
Psychologists Neil Jacobson & John Gottman
suggest that abusers fall into 2 categories…
Pit bulls: confine violence to those they love,
strike out in rage or when jealousy or fear of
abandonment is aroused
Cobras: generally aggressive to everyone,
violence more likely to involve weapons,
more calculating (little emotional or overt
physiological arousal when acting
According to Lenore Walker, marital abuse
by a husband occurs in three stages.
1) The tension-building stage is where a batterer
becomes upset and shows dissatisfaction
initially through verbal abuse.
2) The acute battering incident is when the
physical abuse actually occurs.
3. The loving contrition Stage occurs in some,
but not all cases, and involves the husband
feeling remorse and apologizing. This stage
helps explain why women main remain in
Some women women stay in abusive
relationships because they mistakenly feel
that they are somewhat at fault.
Some stay out of fear (that husband may
come after them, or that there are no
Many women stay because they have
grown up in a violent home and think that
violence is a way of life
~Despite these pleas for forgiveness, research
shows that without therapy, abusers will repeat
the stages of relationship violence.
The Cultural Roots of Violence
Although the tendency is often to see marital
violence as a particularly North American
event, other cultures have traditions that
establish violence as acceptable
Wife battering is particularly prevalent in
cultures in which women are viewed as inferior
Western society also historically considered
wife abuse as acceptable
Original English law allowed husbands to beat
This law was amended to permit beating
only with a stick that was no thicker than
his thumb (where the phrase "rule of
thumb" comes from).
~~ Wife beating was not removed from law
until the late 1900s. Some experts on abuse
suggest that the traditional power structure
in society is a root cause of abuse
When women have low status they become
easy targets; when they have high status
they are threatening to their husbands.
Work and Leisure in
For many, middle age is the time of
greatest productivity, success, and
The factors that make work satisfying
undergo a transformation during middle
Middle-aged workers care more about
the here-and-now qualities of work.
The older workers are, the more overall
job satisfaction they experience
Job Satisfaction in Middle Adulthood?
Job satisfaction is not universal in
Some people experience
BURNOUT, which occurs
when highly trained professionals
disillusionment, frustration, and
weariness from their jobs.
Unemployment: The Dashing of the Dream
For many workers, unemployment is a hard
reality of life and the implications are more
psychological than economic.
Middle-aged adults tend to stay unemployed
longer than do young workers.
Employers may discriminate because of age.
Research shows that older workers have less
absenteeism, hold their jobs longer, are more
reliable, and more willing to learn new skills
Switching & Starting Careers at Midlife
Some people change their jobs
voluntarily in middle adulthood.
Their old job gave little
They achieved mastery of the old
They no longer enjoy what they
For those who switch or start new careers, the
outcome can be positive or negative
Some middle aged job switchers are disappointed
due to overly high expectations
Entry level jobs
peers that are much younger
Others have extremely positive experiences!
Feel invigorated by their work
Especially valued because of their prior work
experience and commitment
~ Some suggest that career changing may become
the rule in our society rather than the exception!
Many women return to the job market
after raising children.
65 % of women between ages of 50 and 60
(80 % of those who graduated from college)
are now in the workforce.
¾ are in full-time jobs.
Although returning to the job market
after taking a break to raise children can
be challenging, support groups and training
Many women report high levels of personal
satisfaction after returning to work
Women at Work The number of
women in the
work force has
over the last 50
Leisure Time: Life Beyond Work
Most middle-aged adults have 70 hours
a week for leisure time.
The average middle-aged person
watches 30 hours of TV per week.
Some turn to charity, or community
Many are learning to use computers and
"surf the net".
are choosing early retirement.
Although leisure time is increasing in the
U.S., our pace of life is still faster than
Latin America, Asian, Middle Eastern,
~ Several countries outpace the United States
Japan, Western Europe
Table in text