Running head: Middle Adulthood 1 AbstractMiddle adulthood is a time of change. During middle adulthood, the period from 40 to 65, thereare slow declines in health and members in this group are more prone to diseases. Middle adultsof higher socioeconomic status have less incidents of disease, and middle adults of lowersocioeconomic have more incidents of disease. Changes in sexuality occur however, thesechanges are not considered as significant as once thought. Despite declines in some areas ofintellectual activity, middle adults maintain a high degree of cognitive competence. Thenormative-crises and life events models provide insights into how middle adults live their lives.However, the belief that many middle adults will experience a midlife crisis filled with fear,turmoil, and stagnation is not support by research. This paper presents data which suggests thatfor many middle adulthood is a time of mellowing and enjoying life.
Middle Adulthood2 Middle adulthood is a time of transition; however, there is more than one viewpointconcerning personality development during middle adulthood (Bode et al., 2007, p. 42): theseviewpoints are currently known, according to Feldman, as the normative-crises versus life eventsmodels. The traditional view of development, the normative-crisis model, focuses on a set ofstages associated with “…age-related crises” (Feldman, 2011, p. 511), in contrast, the life eventsmodel view indicates that events in middle adulthood influences personality development(Feldman, 2011, p.511). Middle adults can develop proactive reactions to events (Bode et al.,2007, p.42). During middle adulthood, the time period from 40 to 65, there are slow declines in health;members in this group are, according to Feldman, more prone to diseases (2011). Feldman tellsus: “(m)iddle adulthood is generally a healthy period, but people become moresusceptible to … arthritis, diabetes, and hypertension, and they have a higherdeath rate than before. However, the death rate among people in middle adulthoodin the United States has been steadily declining” (2011, p. 506). Middle adults of higher socioeconomic status have fewer incidents of disease and middleadults of lower socioeconomic have more incidents of disease (Feldman 2011). People gainweight, decline in height and strength, and the lens of the eyes change causing diminished nightvision; middle adults, also, experience declines in near vision and awareness of three dimensions(Feldman 2011). Also, cases of glaucoma, one of the diseases that causes blindness, increasesduring middle adulthood; hearing ability also declines, this involves being unable to pick somehigh-frequency sounds and some loss of “sound localization” (Feldman, 2011, p.505). Middleadults often have increased reaction times and slower reactions “…are largely offset in complex
Middle Adulthood3tasks by increased skill due to years of task rehearsal” (Feldman, 2011, p. 505). Changes insexuality occur , among middle adults, according Feldman, however, these changes are notconsidered as significant as once thought (Feldman 2011). According to Feldman, despite declines in some areas of intellectual activity, middle adultsmaintain a high degree of cognitive competence (Feldman, 2011, p. 506). Moreover, “(t)hosewho divide intelligence into two main types-fluid and crystallized-generally find that fluidintelligence slowly declines through middle adulthood while crystallized intelligence holdssteady or even improves” (Feldman, 2011, p. 506). Aging does not appear to lead to declines inshort term or long term memory; middle adults may have problems with how they map, access ,store, and retrieve information middle adults: “…interpret, store, and recall information in the form of memory schemas,which organize related bit of information, set up expectation, and add meaning tophenomena. Schemas are based on prior experiences and facilitate interpretation of newsituations and recall of information that fits the schema” (Feldman, 2011, p. 506). Mnemonicaids can help middle adults enhance their memories: “by forcing them to pay attention toinformation as they store it (the keyword technique), to use cues to enable retrieval (the encodingspecificity phenomenon), or to practice information retrieval (rehearsal)” (Feldman, 2011, p.506). Moreover, according to Allemand, after testing 445 middle aged adults, 42-46, and 420older adults, 60-64, results indicated that during middle adulthood average changes in personalityoccur, and each person changes differently (Allemand, Zimprich, et al., 2007). In context ofthe normative-crisis model, Erik Erikson, who studied with the father of psychoanalysisSigmund Freud, views middle adulthood as a stage of psychosocial development which
Middle Adulthood4occurs, according Martin, as the result of the blending of two energies: “…each stage ofdevelopment presented a unique challenge or crisis brought about by the combining forces ofboth physiological change and psychosocial need” (Martin, 2008, p. 123). Erikson’s theory views personality in context of fixed stages which are considereduniversal and one must successfully complete one stage at a time; Michelle Martin, a well-known author and human service professional tells us that “(t)he successful navigation of eachstage is dependent the preceding stages” (2008, p. 124). Therefore, for example, people whofailed to develop an understanding of stage one’s basic trust would have a very limitedunderstanding of stage two’s personnel autonomy; their limited understanding causes them tofail to evolve beyond stage one to stage two successfully (Martin 2011). Erikson seeks topredict a series of stages which are connected to crises which occur from birth to death: “(t)hesestages are related to specific crises in which an individual goes through an intense period ofquestioning and even psychological turmoil” (Feldman, 2011, p. 511). Research indicates thatthose who are successful in going through the stages may have a greater sense of life havingmore meaning (Hill, Brandenberger, et al., 2010). Research also suggests that crises duringmiddle adulthood enhance problem solving skills (Chang, D’Zurilla, et al., 2009). According to Erikson, middle adulthood is the generativity-versus-stagnation stage; duringthis time, people focus on “…making a personal contribution to family, work, and society as awhole, or in stagnation…focusing on the triviality of their own activity, people may come to feelthat they have made limited contributions to the world, that their presence has counted for little”(Feldman, 2011, p. 511). Critics believe that the normative-crisis models are no longer helpfulbecause they are outdated: “(t)hey arose at a time when society had fairly rigid and uniform rolesfor people. Traditionally, men were expected to work to support a family; women were expected
Middle Adulthood5to stay at home, be housewives, and take of the children” (Feldman, 2011, p. 511). Moreover,according to some theorists, people today do not age through fixed patterns: some people marrylate, some people never marry, others live together without marrying, and some people marryand decide not to have children (Feldman, 2011). At 21, a woman may have her first child andexperience the same psychological changes as a woman of 39 having her first child; “(t)he resultis two women, despite their very different ages, share certain commonalities of personalitydevelopment” (Feldman, 2011, p. 511). In context of the life events model, Daniel Levinson, an adult developmental theorist, wrotetwo well-known books: The Seasons of a Man’s Life and The Seasons of a Woman’s Life.Levinson indicates that “adults do not continue to grow and develop on an age-relatedtimetable…Levinson also believed that individuals progress through periods of stability that arefollowed by shorter stages of transition” (Martin, 2011, p. 124). Levinson, also, indicates thatmiddle adults may experience a midlife crisis, and this crisis is experienced as a state ofuncertainty and indecision caused by people realizing that their life is not forever: “(l)ooking toward the past, they may seek to define what went wrong andlook for ways to correct their past mistakes. The midlife crisis, then, is apainful and tumultuous period of questioning” (Feldman, 2011, p. 512). Levinson believes many middle adults will experience a midlife crisis (Feldman 2011). Robert Feldman, the author of Development Across the Life Span, a popular graduate leveltextbook, believes Levinson’s view, that most middle adults will have a midlife crisis, is basedon research that is limited; “…his initial theorizing was based on a group of only 40 men, and hiswork with women was carried out years later and once again on only a
Middle Adulthood6small sample. Furthermore, Levinson overstated the consistency and generalityof the patterns he found in the samples he used to derive his theory” (Feldman, 2011, p. 513). According to Feldman, there is little evidence supporting a large number of middle adultshaving a midlife crisis (Feldman 2011). Most middle adults report that they are not experiencinga midlife crisis and research indicates that, for many middle adults, this may be a peaceful time; “(m)any middle-aged people find that their careers have blossomed…and farfrom being in a crisis, they may feel quite content with their lot in life. Ratherthan looking toward the future, they focus on the present, seeking to maximizetheir ongoing involvement with, family, friends, and other social groups”(Feldman, 2011, p. 513).Feldman tells us research indicates that middle adults, who feel negative about how theymanaged their past, will work hard to make positive changes to improve their lives and “… endup better off psychologically” (Feldman, 2011, p. 513). Feldman points out that research indicate that middle adults feel younger than their age:“…most people feel younger than they actually are” (2011, p. 513). Research also shows thatwhat people believe about the midlife crisis is not supported by evidence:“ (i)n short, the evidence for a midlife crisis experienced by most people is no morecompelling than the evidence for a stormy adolescence… Yet, like that notion, the idea thatthe midlife crisis is nearly universal seems unusually well entrenched in “commonwisdom” (Feldman, 2011, p. 513).Those who do experience turmoil during middle age draw a lot of attention to themselvesand are more remembered by observers. For example, Feldman tells us:
Middle Adulthood7a 40-year-old man who divorces his wife, replaces his sedate Volvo stationwagon with a red Saab convertible, and marries a much younger woman is likelyto be more conspicuous than a happily married man who remains with his wife (andTaurus) throughout middle adulthood. As a consequence, we are more likely to noticeand recall marital difficulties than the lack of them” ( 2011, p.513). During our life time, both Erikson and Levinson suggest that our personality experiences manychanges and these changes occur in patterns; “Erikson’s stages and Levinson’s seasons describeset patterns of change” (Feldman, 2011, p. 515). However, research indicates that “..at least in terms of individual traits, personality is quite stable andcontinuous over the life span. Developmental psychologists Paul Costaand Robert McCrae find remarkable stability in particular traits. Even-tempered 20-year-olds are even-tempered at age 75; affectionate 25-year-olds becomeaffectionate 50-year-olds; and disorganized 26-year-olds are still disorganized at age 60”(Feldman, 2011, p. 515). The empty nest syndrome is also time of transition for many middle adults. The empty nestsyndrome refers to the sadness, depression, worry, and sense of aloneness some parentsexperience when the kids grow up and leave home (Feldman 2011). This can be a difficult timefor stay at home mothers who focus most of their time on taking care of the children, and littleresearch is devoted to the empty nest effects on fathers (Feldman 2011). 25% of fathers, in oneof the studies that did occur, experienced sadness in context of not having more time to spendwith their children (Feldman 2011). According to research, the stage of motherhood is not easy,and data indicates that many mothers feel a great sense of freedom when this stage is completed
Middle Adulthood8(Feldman 2011). Research also indicates that, for many moms and dads, the sense of loss andsadness they experience when the kids grow up and leave is temporary (Feldman 2011). Moreover, Feldman tells us, that after the kids leave, mothers have more time and choices:they can go back to school, start a new career, and become more active in their church andcommunity (2011). Feldman also suggests, that after the kids go, there’s more time for mom anddad to be alone together which can lead to greater happiness for each partner (2011). Researchindicates that children may need to return home after leaving: mothers understand, but fathersmay have to adjust (Feldman 2011). When the kids return home after graduating from college,fathers need to try to be more understanding; they should realize that the kids are back becausethe job market is in a difficult state (Feldman 2011). In conclusion, each of the models and research data provide insights into how middle adultslive their lives. However these models and research data do not provide absolute answers.Middle adulthood is a time of change; however, the belief that many middle adults willexperience a midlife crisis filled with fear, turmoil, and stagnation is not support by research.Research indicates that for many middle adulthood is a time of mellowing and enjoying life.If changes need to be made, they happen based on proactive efforts. The proactive approach isalso helpful when many middle adults must adjust to declines in body functioning and health.
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