Middle adulthood

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Chapter 17: Socioemotional Development in Middle Adulthood


© 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

Personality Theories and Development

•  Many personality and development theories of middle age have adult stages:
–  Erikson’s “generativity versus stagnation” •  Generativity is highly related to intimacy •  Middle-aged adults develop generativitythrough parenting, work, and culture –  Levinson’s “seasons of a man’s life” emphasizes developmental tasks

Changes in Generativity and Identity Certainty from the Thirties Through the Fifties
Thirties Forties Fifties 3.0 2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0

Mean score


Identity certainty

Fig. 17.1

•  Levinson’s research: middle age lasts about 5 years
–  Adult men face reality aboutaging and midlife crisis –  Personal worth of one’s life is questioned

•  Smooth midlife transition brings acceptance of past and adjustment may include memory distortion •  Vaillant’s Grant Study: a minority of adults experience midlife crisis – Sheehy’s results rarely observed in men

Emotional Instability and Age
Females Males 24

16 Percentage of individuals 8 who rated themselves asemotionally unstable 0

33 36 39 42 45 48 51 54 Age (years)

Fig. 17.4

•  Other studies:
–  Middle-age adults feel a growing sense of control in work and personal life –  Individuals’ emotional instability did not significantly increase through middle-age years –  Environmental mastery and self-determination increased in middle-age –  Midlife crisis has been exaggerated – individuals varyin middle adulthood development

Age and Well-Being
Self acceptance Purpose in life Positive relations Environmental mastery Personal growth Autonomy

18 17 16 15 14

Mean well- 13 being score 12


Midlife Age group


Fig. 17.5

•  The contemporary life events approach is an alternative to age-related stage development
–  Life events like death of spouse, marriage,and divorce cause varying degrees of stress –  Mediating factors like physical health and family support can reduce stress effects and allow more effective coping strategies –  Weaknesses of life events approach include too much emphasis on change and what are primary sources of stress

Life-stage context
Life event: Marriage Widowhood New job Accident Birth of child Mediating variables:Physical health Intelligence Personality Family supports Income

Adaptation process
Appraisal of threat Coping strategies Adult development change

Sociohistorical context
Fig. 17.6 A Contemporary Life-Events Framework for Interpreting Adult Developmental Change

•  Overall, stress is highest in young and middle-aged adults; declines in older adults •  Middle-age development appears to beinfluenced by historical contexts, gender, and culture •  Historical changes have affected values, attitudes, behaviors, and expectations of cohort groups •  Cohorts can alter the “social clock” that guides our lives

•  Each cohort decides what is the “right age” for major life events and achievements •  Most stage theories are accused of male bias – focusing on career choices and workachievement with little attention to women’s family roles •  Female experiences are qualitatively different from those of men, and men and women do not enter all of the developmental stages at the same time •  Cultural and social attitudes affect women’s roles

Late 1950s study Late 1970s study Activity/Event
Best age for man to marry Best age for woman to marry When most should become grandparents Bestage to finish school and go to work When most men should be settled in career When most men hold top jobs When most should be ready to retire When a man has most responsibilities When a man accomplishes the most The prime of life for a man When a woman has most responsibilities When a woman accomplishes the most

Appropriate age range M W M W
20–25 19–24 45–50 20–22 24–26 45–50 60–65 35–50...
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