Chapter 16


Social and Personality Development in Middle Adulthood





Chapter Outline


I.        Personality Development

A.     Two Perspectives on Adult Personality Development:  Normative-Crisis Versus Life Events

1.      The traditional approach to adult personality development is the NORMATIVE-CRISIS MODEL, which views personality development in terms of fairly universal stages, tied to a sequence of age-related crises.

a)      Erikson, Gould, and Levinson’s models are stage models.

b)      Critics argue that normative-crisis models are outdated.

c)      They came from a time when gender roles were more rigid.

2.      Theorists such as Revenna 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 personality development.

a)      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.

b)      Both models agree that adulthood is not a time of passivity  and stagnation but of continued psychological growth.

B.     Erik Erikson suggests that middle adulthood encompasses the period of GENERATIVITY VERSUS STAGNATION, where people consider their contributions to family, community, work, and society.

1.      Generativity is guiding and encouraging future generations.

2.      Generativity may be leaving a lasting contribution to the world through creative or artistic output.

3.      Generativity means looking beyond oneself to the continuation of one's life through others.

4.      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.

C.     Psychiatrist Roger Gould suggests that adults pass through a series of seven stages associated with specific age periods.

1.      People in their late 30s and early 40s begin to feel a sense of urgency in terms of attaining life’s goals – this reality propels them to adulthood.

2.      Little research supports his descriptions.

D.     George Vaillant suggests that middle adulthood is keeping the meaning versus rigidity.

1.      Occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.

2.      Adults seek to extract the meaning from their lives by accepting the strengths and weaknesses of others.

3.      Those who are rigid become increasingly isolated from others.

E.      According to Daniel Levinson, the early 40s are a period of transition and crisis.

1.      Studying 40 men (no women), Levinson suggests that adult men pass through a series of stages beginning with early adulthood at age 20 and continuing into middle adulthood.

a)      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.

b)      In their late 30s, men settle down and establish themselves in their chosen roles moving toward "the dream".

c)      Between 40 and 45 people move into a period Levinson calls the midlife transition, or a time of questioning.

(1)   They focus on the finite nature of life.

(2)   They question their assumptions.

(3)   They experience their first signs of aging.

(4)   They begin to doubt the value of their accomplishments.

(5)   They confront the knowledge that they will be unable to accomplish all their aims before they die.

d)      This period of assessment may lead to a MIDLIFE CRISIS, a stage of uncertainty and indecision brought about by the realization that life is finite.

(1)   Facing signs of physical aging, men may also discover that even the accomplishments they are proudest of brought them less satisfaction than expected.

(2)   Looking toward the past, they may seek to define what went wrong and look for ways to correct their past mistakes.

(3)   Levinson claims women go through similar stages but have a more difficult time with "the dream" because of inner conflicts over career versus family.

e)      Despite widespread acceptance, the evidence for a midlife crisis does not exist.

(1)   For the majority of people, the transition is smooth and rewarding.

(2)   Many middle-aged people find their careers have blossomed.

(3)   They feel younger than they actually are.

(4)   We may just pay more attention to the few who exhibit a midlife crisis.

F.      Psychologists argue whether personality changes or remains stable over the course of development.

1.      Erikson and Levinson suggest that personality changes substantially over the life span.

2.      Paul Costa and Robert McCrae find remarkable stability in particular traits across the life span.

3.      Developmentalists feel that personality is both stable (on some traits) and changeable on others.

II.     Relationships:  Family in Middle Age

G.     Marriage

1.      The most frequent pattern of marital satisfaction is U-shaped.

a)      Marital satisfaction begins to decline after marriage and falls to its lowest point following the birth of children.

b)      Marital satisfaction begins to grow after the children leave adolescence and reaches its highest point when the kids have left home.

c)      Many couples state that their spouse is their "best friend."

d)      They also view marriage as a long-term commitment.

e)      They believe their spouse has grown more interesting over the years.

f)       Most feel their sex lives (although frequency goes down) are satisfying.

2.      For some the satisfaction keeps falling and experience their marriage ending in divorce.

a)      About 1 woman in 8 will get divorced after 40.

b)      Why do marriages unravel?

(1)   People are more individual, spending less time together.

(2)   Many feel concerned with their own personal happiness and leave an unhappy marriage.

(3)   Divorce is more socially acceptable.

(4)   Feelings of romantic, passionate love may subside over time.

(5)   There is a lot of stress in households where both parents work.

c)      Divorce can be especially hard for traditional women over 40 who stayed home with the kids and never worked.

d)      75 percent to 80 percent of divorced people eventually remarry.

e)      It's harder for a middle-aged woman to remarry.

(1)   90 percent of women under 25 remarry.

(2)   While 75 percent of white women remarry, less than half of African American women remarry.

(3)   Less than 33 percent over the age of 40 remarry.

(a)    The marriage gradient pushes men to marry younger women.

(b)   Older women are victims of the harsh societal standards regarding physical attractiveness.

f)       A major reason many remarry is that being divorced carries a stigma.

g)      Second marriages are different than first marriages.

(1)   Older couples are more mature and realistic.

(2)   Roles are more flexible.

(3)   The couple looks at marriage less romantically and is more cautious.

(4)   The divorce rate is higher for second marriages.

(a)    More stress especially with blended families.

(b)   Once you have experienced divorce it is easier to walk away a second time.

H.     Family Evolutions:  From Full House to Empty Nest

1.      For many couples, a major transition is the EMPTY NEST SYNDROME when parents experience feelings of unhappiness, worry, loneliness, and depression resulting from their children's departure from home.

a)      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 reality.

b)      There are many benefits when children leave home.

(1)   Parents can work harder.

(2)   More time alone.

(3)   House stays cleaner.

(4)   Phone doesn't ring so much.

2.      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 phenomenon called BOOMERANG CHILDREN.

a)      Men are more likely to do it than women.

b)      Parents tend to give sons more freedom than daughters.

c)      Unable to find a job.

d)      Difficulty making ends meet.

e)      People are marrying at later ages.

f)       Parents' reactions are both positive and negative.

3.      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.

a)      Couples are marrying and having children later.

b)      Parents are living longer.

c)      This is difficult because of role reversal.

d)      The care of parents ranges from financial aid to having parents live in their home.

e)      Most of the burden falls on the wife.

f)       This can be a rewarding situation for both children and parents.

I.        Middle adulthood often brings one of the unmistakable symbols of aging:  becoming a grandparent.

1.      Involved grandparents are actively engaged in grandparenting and have influence over their grandchildren's lives.

2.      Companionate grandparents are more relaxed, and act as supporters and buddies to their grandchildren.

3.      Remote grandparents are detached and distant, and show little interest in their grandchildren.

4.      Grandmothers tend to be more involved than grandfathers.

5.      African-American grandparents are more involved with their grandchildren than white grandparents.

J.       Family Violence:  The Hidden Epidemic

1.      Domestic violence is one of the ugly truths about marriage and is occurring at epidemic levels.

2.      Some form of violence happens in one-fourth of all marriages.

3.      More than half of all women murdered are murdered by a partner.

4.      Between 21 and 34 percent of women will be slapped, kicked, beaten, choked, or threatened or attacked with a weapon at least once by a partner.

5.      Close to 15 percent of marriages in the U. S. are characterized by continuing, severe violence.

6.      Violence occurs across social strata, ethnic groups, and religions.

7.      Mostly it is men abusing women, but 8 percent of the cases involve the wife physically abusing the husband.

8.      Certain factors increase the likelihood of abuse.

a)      Low SES

b)      Growing up in a violent home

c)      Families with more children have more violence.

d)      Single parent families with lots of stress

e)      Incest is more likely to occur in affluent families.

9.      According to Neil Jacobson and John Gottman, husbands who abuse fall into two categories.

a)      “Pit bulls” confine violence to those they love and strike out against their wives when they feel jealous or when they fear being abandoned.

b)      “Cobras” are likely to be aggressive to everyone, are more likely to use weapons, and are more calculating, showing little emotion or arousal.

10.  According to Lenore Walker, marital abuse by a husband occurs in three stages.

a)      The first is the tension-building stage where a batterer becomes upset and shows dissatisfaction initially through verbal abuse.

b)      The next is the acute battering incident when the physical abuse actually occurs.

c)      Finally, some, but not all, cases move into the loving contrition stage where the husband feels remorse and apologizes for his actions.

(1)   The wife feels somewhat at fault.

(2)   This explains why women stay in abusive relationships.

(3)   Some stay out of fear.

(4)   Many women have grown up in a violent home and think that violence is a way of life.

11.  According to the CYCLE OF VIOLENCE HYPOTHESIS, abuse and neglect of children leads them to be predisposed to abusiveness as adults.

a)      However, only about one-third of people who were abused or neglected as children abuse their own children.

b)      Two-thirds of abusers were not abused as children.

12.  Wife battering is particularly prevalent in cultures in which women are viewed as inferior to men.

13.  Original English law allowed husbands to beat their wives.

14.  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).

15.  Wife beating was not removed from law until the late 1900s.

16.  When women have low status they become easy targets; when they have high status they are threatening to their husbands.

III.   Work and Leisure

A.     For many, middle age is the time of greatest productivity, success, and earning power.

B.     The factors that make work satisfying undergo a transformation during middle age.

1.      Middle-aged workers care more about the here-and-now qualities of work.

2.      The older workers are, the more overall job satisfaction they experience.

C.     Job satisfaction is not universal in middle adulthood.

1.      Some experience BURNOUT, which occurs when highly trained professionals experience dissatisfaction, disillusionment, frustration, and weariness from their jobs.

2.      For many workers, unemployment is a hard reality of life and the implications are more psychological than economic.

a)      Middle-aged adults tend to stay unemployed longer than do young workers.

b)      Employers may discriminate because of age.

c)      Research shows that older workers have less absenteeism, hold their jobs longer, are more reliable, and more willing to learn new skills.

D.     Some people change their jobs voluntarily in middle adulthood.

1.      Their old job gave little satisfaction.

2.      They achieved mastery of the old job's challenges.

3.      They no longer enjoy what they do.

4.      Many women return to the job market after raising children.

a)      65 percent of women between ages of 50 and 60 (80 percent of those who graduated from college) are now in the workforce.

b)      Three-quarters are in full-time jobs.

E.      Developmental Diversity:  Immigrants on the Job:  Making It in America

1.      Critics of immigration contend that today's immigrants (10 percent of our population) are different than before.

2.      Only 38 percent are white (88 percent were white before).

3.      Critics argue that immigrants lack skills, however, they are wrong in many respects.

a)      Most legal and illegal immigrants are doing well financially.

b)      Only a few are on welfare.

c)      Given time, immigrants contribute more to the economy than they take away  (they eventually pay $25 to $30 billion more in taxes than they use in government services).

F.      Most middle-aged adults have 70 hours a week for leisure time.

1.      The average middle-aged person watches 15 hours of TV per week.

2.      Adults spend about 6 hours a week socializing.

3.      Some turn to charity, or community organizations.

4.      Life is faster-paced in the U.S. than in many other countries, with the exception of Japan and Western European countries.




Key Terms and Concepts


Normative-crisis models

Life events models

Generativity versus stagnation

Midlife crisis

Empty nest syndrome

Boomerang children

Sandwich generation

Cycle of violence hypothesis