Development in midlife university of wisconsin

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Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2004. 55:305?31 doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141521 Copyright c 2004 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved First published online as a Review in Advance on October 27, 2003

DEVELOPMENT IN MIDLIFE

Margie E. Lachman

Psychology Department, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454;

email: Lachman@Brandeis.edu

Key Words biopsychosocial changes, generativity, health and well-being, middle age, sense of control, work/family balance

s Abstract The midlife period in the lifespan is characterized by a complex interplay of multiple roles. The goal of this chapter is to summarize research findings on the central themes and salient issues of midlife such as balancing work and family responsibilities in the midst of the physical and psychological changes associated with aging. The field of midlife development is emerging in the context of large demographic shifts in the population. A section on the phenomenology of midlife development presents images and expectations including the seemingly disparate views of midlife as a time of peak functioning and a period of crisis. Conceptual frameworks useful for studying the multiple patterns of change in midlife are presented. Findings demonstrating patterns of gains and losses are reviewed for multiple domains: cognitive functioning, personality and the self, emotions, social relationships, work, and physical health. The need for future research to illuminate and integrate the diverse aspects of midlife is highlighted.

CONTENTS

THE EMERGING FIELD OF MIDLIFE DEVELOPMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 307 DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 308

The Baby Boom Generation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 308 PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIDLIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 310

Subjective Age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 310 Images and Expectations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 312 Salient Issues in Midlife . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 313 The Midlife Crisis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 315 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORKS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 315 SELECTED STUDIES OF MIDLIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 317 MULTIPLE PATTERNS OF CHANGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 318 Cognitive Functioning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 318 Personality and the Self . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 319 Emotional Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 321 Social Relationships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 322 Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323 Health and Physical Changes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 324 DIRECTIONS FOR THE FUTURE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 325

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"Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But, we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning--for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie" (Jung 1933, p. 108).

Midlife, the afternoon of life, as Jung (1933) called it in his essay on "The Stages of Life," has become a period of great interest to scholars of the lifespan. To some extent the research findings support Jung's notion that the salient issues and demands of midlife differ from earlier age periods and require adjustments to negotiate the new challenges. Moreover, midlife serves an important preparatory role in the transition to old age, the evening of life. There is, however, much evidence for continuity throughout adulthood in many realms of life, and the consistent self serves as an important resource and foundation for what comes later. What is perhaps most striking is the wide variability in the nature and course of the midlife period. As scholars begin to focus attention more directly on the middle years, it is apparent that to portray midlife is a challenging and complex task because the experiences of middle-aged adults are so diverse and variable. Nevertheless, it is possible to characterize midlife in broad strokes given that a key set of issues and challenges emerges during the middle years. There are some commonalities in the experiences of middle-aged adults even if the specific content and ways of dealing with them are quite diverse. The nature of midlife varies as a function of such factors as gender, cohort, socioeconomic status (SES), race, ethnicity, culture, region of the country, personality, marital status, parental status, employment status, and health status. The goal of this chapter is to present (a) a summary of the salient issues and experiences associated with midlife, (b) a guide to useful conceptual frameworks for studying development in the middle years, (c) an overview of the key research findings about change and stability during midlife in multiple domains of life, and (d) possible directions for future research. As we shed more light on midlife and begin to understand some of the regularities and unique challenges, the opportunities to prepare for and enhance the afternoon of life will continue to exceed those available in Jung's time.

The experiences of midlife have some common themes involving both gains and losses (Baltes 1987, Baltes et al. 1999). In describing the middle years, a central task is to identify the alternative pathways to health and well-being (Brim et al. 2004). This requires a focus on multiple trajectories of development and their interplay across major areas of life (Lachman & James 1997, Moen & Wethington 1999). The central issues center around generativity, caring, and concern for others in the work and family spheres (McAdams 2001, McAdams & de St. Aubin 1998), in the context of changes associated with aging in physical and psychological resources. Middle-aged adults are linked to the welfare of others-- including children, parents, coworkers, other family members, and friends--and have much to offer society. At the same time, they are addressing their own needs for

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meaningful work (paid or unpaid), health, and well-being. Midlife is often the time when chronic illness or disease starts to surface, and physical problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or arthritis pain often take adults by surprise. These physical ailments, although largely treatable with medications or diet, can trigger distress because they signal aging, which is neither desirable nor valued in our culture. On the other hand, the psychological and social changes experienced in midlife are usually associated with positive changes. These may include better emotional regulation (Magai & Halpern 2001), increased wisdom and practical intelligence (Baltes et al. 1999), or a strong sense of mastery (Lachman & Bertrand 2001). The story of midlife is one of complexity, with the juxtaposition of peaks and valleys across the social, psychological, and physical domains. The need to balance multiple roles and manage the conflicts that arise is a reality that is characteristic of middle age, regardless of one's specific lifestyle or circumstances.

THE EMERGING FIELD OF MIDLIFE DEVELOPMENT

Much of the research on midlife has been conducted in the context of other age periods or specialized problems related to work or family. For example, we know a great deal about middle-aged parents from the literature on child development. From this perspective, the focus is on the children and the types of parental styles or interactions that would be most beneficial for the children's optimal development. Studies from the aging literature have focused on middle-aged adults as caregivers for their aging parents. The primary focus is typically on the older adults' welfare, with some recognition of the stresses and overload for the middle-aged adult children as a consequence of the caregiving role.

The population explosion of middle-aged adults and the increased knowledge about this age period have led to the identification of midlife as a segment of the lifespan worthy of study in its own right. The effort to differentiate midlife from other periods of human development also reflects a growing interest in the optimization of aging. If we can identify the roots of aging earlier in adulthood, it may be possible to delay, minimize, or prevent some of the changes in biological, psychological, and social functioning that occur in later life.

We have made progress over the past decade since Brim (1992, p. 171) referred to the middle years as the "last uncharted territory in human development." Despite the increase in research activity on midlife (e.g., Baruch & Brooks-Gunn 1984, Brim et al. 2004, Eichorn et al. 1981, Giele 1982, Helson & Wink 1992, Lachman 2001, Lachman & James 1997, Rossi 1994, Ryff & Seltzer 1996, Willis & Reid 1999), still less is known about this period than about other age periods such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, or old age. It is important to study the middle years, not only because of the large numbers of adults currently in this stage, but also because this period covers a large portion of an individual's lifespan. This period may have been understudied for so long because of assumptions that

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it is a quiet period with little change, that there is too much diversity and too little regularity to capture the midlife experience, or that middle-aged subjects are difficult to obtain for research because of their busy work and family schedules (Lachman & James 1997). Over the past 10 years there has been a growing effort to collate what we know and to go forward with a systematic examination of this period, usually considered to last between 20 and 40 years (Lachman 2001). It is also important to determine whether the knowledge we have and are gaining about midlife is tied to specific cohorts such as the baby boomers. Longitudinal and panel designs are needed to examine whether the patterns identified are robust and whether they generalize to other cohorts in middle age.

DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS

The U.S. Census Bureau (2000) report shows there are 73.6 million middle-aged adults, between the ages of 40 and 59, comprising about 26% of the population. Over the past decade, the fastest-growing age segment of the population was the 50- to 54-year age group, with an increase of 55%, and the second-fastest growth was in the 45- to 49-year-old group, which increased 45% (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). This large increase represents the movement of the baby boom cohort into middle age. It is not surprising, given this large bulge in the middle-aged population, that interest in research on the middle years of the lifespan has also increased dramatically during this same decade.

At the same time, those over age 90 are also increasing in vast numbers, as the third-fastest growing group over the past decade (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). These demographic changes have a profound impact on the lives of those in midlife. On the one hand, because of the large cohort size, large numbers of adults are reaching retirement age, which strains health care and social security. Increasingly large numbers of those in midlife have parents who are living longer and entering very old age. The demands and rewards of caregiving and multigenerational living are important aspects of middle-aged adults' lives. While they are raising or launching their own children and negotiating the demands of the workplace, concerns about parents' safety and health permeate many middle-aged lives (Putney & Bengtson 2001). In some cases the parents live nearby or with their children and daily attention may be required. In other cases, when parents live a long distance away, the daily concerns are different but not necessarily less stressful. Many of these demographic changes also have benefits and advantages. For example, many older, retired adults can help to care for the children of middle-aged workers. The large baby boom cohort also wields power and has a good deal of influence over sociopolitical issues.

The Baby Boom Generation

The baby boom generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, is moving through midlife in record numbers. In the year 2000, there were more than 80 million baby

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boomers ages 35 to 54 in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). This cohort represents about 30% of the U.S. population.

It is important to place the baby boomers in a sociodemographic context and to consider the implications for their midlife development. A number of factors stemming from the confluence of demographic, historical, and societal changes have created a unique set of circumstances. The most pronounced distinction is that the baby boomers represent an extremely large cohort (Easterlin 1980). Thus, there is more competition for resources and jobs. The effects of history also are important, as was clearly demonstrated by the timing of the Great Depression for cohorts born in the 1920s (Elder 1979). Major historical events such as the Korean and Vietnam wars and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King are part of the collective baby boomer experience. The timing and sequencing of individual life events also may have an impact. The baby boom cohort had fewer children at later ages than their parents. Other lifestyle factors such as the increase in number of mothers of young children in the workforce has led to conflict between work and family needs for dual-career couples. More research is needed to investigate the psychosocial implications of these sociodemographic factors.

Some researchers are investigating the extent to which the baby boom generation is different from other cohorts who have already moved or will move through middle age. Carr (2004) compared the experiences of the baby boom with cohorts born earlier (the pre-World War II, silent generation, born 1931?1943) and later (the baby bust generation, born 1965?1970), and examined the implications of macrosocial patterns for microlevel outcomes. She identified cohort differences in occupational and educational attainment, values, and expectations, and examined the impact of historical shifts in access to opportunities, roles, and resources on psychological well-being. Baby bust women had the greatest access to resources that enhance self-esteem, such as higher education, higher-status occupations, and fewer family obstacles to work, which resulted in higher levels of self-acceptance compared to the older cohorts. Yet the women in both the baby bust and baby boom cohorts had lower levels of environmental mastery than women from the silent generation, perhaps because of the increased pressures of balancing work opportunities and family obligations.

The cultural emphasis on youthful appearance and avoiding or minimizing the physical changes associated with aging is characteristic of the baby boom generation. For example, there has been a widespread interest in procedures to maintain a youthful appearance such as plastic surgery and Botox, as well as many types of physical exercise. In part, this emphasis may reflect the baby boomers' strong desire to take control of the aging process (Clark-Plaskie & Lachman 1999, Lachman & Firth 2004). Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that the baby boomers are a diverse group culturally and ethnically. Not all baby boomers are physically fit, concerned about their appearance, or feel a strong sense of control over life. Moreover, the cohort spans 18 years, and large differences may exist between the midlife experiences of younger (late) and older (early) groups of baby boomers.

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PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIDLIFE

Being in the middle of life may be akin to being in the middle of the term or semester at school, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of a trip or vacation, or in the middle of a book (Lachman & James 1997). When in the middle, it is natural to look back to see what has come before or to evaluate what has been accomplished and to look ahead to determine what comes next or remains to be done. The common experience in the middle is that one has already invested a lot in the enterprise, so one is likely to carefully consider what comes next as the threshold away from the beginning and toward the end is crossed. Not everyone is planful or reflective, so there are likely to be some who do not pause to consider the past and future in midlife. For those who are goal-oriented, midlife is often seen as a time for reflection, but not in the same way as the life review that occurs in later life (Erikson 1963), when time left is presumably shorter and emotional goals are more salient than informational ones (Carstensen et al. 1999, Fredrickson & Carstensen 1990). In later life, achieving ego integrity involves accepting life for what it has been (Erikson 1963). The emphasis in midlife may be on what remains to be done. Although those who have reached midlife are aware that time is advancing, most assume there is still a substantial, but not an infinite, amount of time left. Presumably, there is still just as much time left as has gone by. Of course with life one doesn't know the endpoint, so the timing of the middle is an estimate. Whether one thinks midlife signifies that life is half over or half is still remaining could lead to different outcomes, as optimism research suggests (Isaacowitz et al. 2000). This predicament of being in the middle of life may be an impetus for change but not necessarily a crisis.

In midlife, as in other life periods, one must make choices, and select what to do, how to invest time and resources, and what areas to change (Baltes & Baltes 1990). To the extent that one has some control over outcomes, one also may take responsibility or blame when things do not go well (Lachman & Firth 2004). A serious accident, loss, or illness in midlife often leads to a major restructuring of time and a reassessment of priorities in life (Aldwin & Levenson 2001). Sometimes changes are precipitated by "wake-up calls." Many people know of someone who became sick, developed a chronic illness, or died in middle age, and this can trigger a new appreciation for life. Leisure time typically takes a backseat in midlife, while an increasing amount of time is spent juggling multiple roles and achieving a balance of work and family with personal interests and health needs.

Subjective Age

According to the online Oxford English Dictionary (2000), the word "midlife" first appeared in Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary in 1895. Midlife is defined as "the part of life between youth and old age." The boundaries for midlife are fuzzy, with no clear demarcation. Subjective views of the midlife period show a wide age range (American Board of Family Practice 1990). The most common conception is that midlife begins at 40 and ends at 60 or 65, when old age begins

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