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Social and Personality Development in Middle Adulthood
Chapter 16
Robert S. Feldman
Two Perspectives on Adult Personality Development
Normative-Crisis Versus Life Events
Normative-Crisis Model: views personality development in terms of fairly universal stages, tied to a sequence of age-related crises
Critics argue that normative-crisis models are outdated, & came from a time when gender roles were more rigid.
Two Perspectives on Adult Personality Development

Erik Erikson
People consider their contributions to family, community, work, and society.
Generativity = looking beyond oneself to continuation of one's life through others
Guiding & encouraging future generations
Leaving a lasting contribution through creative output
Stagnation = focusing on the triviality of their lives, feeling they have made limited contribution to the world

Building on Erikson’s Views: Vaillant, and Levinson
George Valliant
Keeping meaning versus rigidity
Occurs between the ages of 45 and 55

Adults seek to extract meaning from their lives by accepting strengths & weaknesses of others
Those who are rigid become increasingly isolated from others
“Seasons of Life”:
Most people are susceptible to fairly profound midlife crisis
Early 40s: period of psychological tumult
40 – 45: move into the midlife transition, a time of questioning
May lead to a midlife crisis: a stage of uncertainty and indecision about their lives
Realize won’t accomplish all goals
May discover accomplishments have brought less satisfaction than expected

Levinson: Critiques
Interviewed males only, so female development is unknown
Small sample – 40 men
Research does not support a crisis for most men. Most make a smooth transition & enjoy midlife.
Why does the myth continue? A few obvious cases are easily recalled.

Non-Midlife Life Crisis
Does personality change or remains stable over course of development?

Erikson and Levinson = substantial change
Paul Costa and Robert McCrae = stability in traits across development
Same ol’…same ol’?
Middle Age Marriages
Most frequent pattern of marital satisfaction is U-shaped

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

Marital satisfaction begins to grow after children leave adolescence and reaches its highest point when kids leave home
Do you know about U?
Marital Satisfaction

Current research employing longitudinal methods confirmed marital satisfaction decline but failed to find evidence of an upswing after the childbearing years
Too early to know which model is correct

Good Marriages
Many couples state that their spouse is their "best friend“

They also view marriage as a long-term commitment

They believe their spouse has grown more interesting over the years

Most feel their sex lives (although frequency goes down) are satisfying
Struggling Marriages
About 1 woman in 8 will divorce after 40 -WHY?

Couples spend less time together
Concern with personal happiness
More socially acceptable & financially feasible
Stresses of modern life
Romantic, passionate love subsides
Effects of Divorce
Economic problems, especially for women

Stigma of divorce

Loneliness & increase in mental health problems, especially for men
75-80% of divorced people eventually remarry.
Harder for a middle-aged woman to remarry:
90% of women under 25 remarry
Less than 33% over the age of 40 remarry
75% of white women remarry, but less than half of African American women remarry.
Marriage Gradient
The marriage gradient pushes men to marry younger women.
Older women are victims of the harsh societal standards regarding physical attractiveness.
Second Marriages
Older couples are more mature and realistic.
Roles are more flexible and egalitarian.
Couple looks at marriage less romantically and are more cautious.
But, the divorce rate is higher for 2nd marriages.
More stress, especially with blended families
Issues that caused first divorce unresolved
Once divorce experienced, is it easier to walk away a second time?
Family Evolutions: From Full House to Empty Nest
Empty Nest Syndrome: When parents experience feelings of unhappiness, worry, loneliness, and depression resulting from their children's departure from home
More myth than reality
Feelings of loss may be most intense for parents who centered their lives around the children, or those with regrets about parenting.
Also positive aspects: more time, space, money
Boomerang Children: Refilling the Empty Nest

Young adults who come back to live in homes of their middle-aged parents
Men are more likely to do it than women
Parents tend to give sons more freedom than daughters
Unable to find a job
Difficulty making ends meet

Sandwich Generation
Fulfill needs of both their children and their aging parents
Couples are marrying and having children later.
Parents are living longer.
Difficult because of role reversal
Care ranges from financial aid to living in their home
Responsibilities often fall more on the wife
Becoming a Grandparent
Involved: actively involved in grandparenting and have influence

Companionate: more relaxed, act as supporters and buddies to grandchildren

Remote: detached and distant, show little interest in grandchildren
Marked gender differences in ways people enjoy grandparenthood

Grandmothers are more interested and experience greater satisfaction than grandfathers

African American grandparents are more apt to be involved

Family Violence: The Hidden Epidemic
Prevalence: ¼ or more of all marriages
15% of marriages have continuing severe violence
21% - 34% women will be slapped, kicked, beaten, choked, etc. at least once by an intimate partner
More than ½ of female murder victims
Occurs in all groups

Parents who grew up in a violent home: “cycle of violence”
Large families

Single parent families with lots of stress
Jacobson and Gottman
Husbands who abuse fall into two categories:

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

“Cobras” are likely to be aggressive to everyone, are more likely to use weapons, and are more calculating, showing little emotion or arousal
Stages of Violence
Marital abuse by a husband occurs in three stages:
Tension-building stage where a batterer becomes upset and shows dissatisfaction initially through verbal abuse
Acute battering incident when the physical abuse actually occurs
Loving contrition stage where the husband feels remorse and apologizes for his actions

Stages of Marital Abuse
Why Women Stay
Wife feels somewhat at fault
This explains why women stay in abusive relationships
Some stay out of fear
Economic issues
Believe it won’t happen again
Cultural Differences
Cultural correlates: wife battering most prevalent in cultures in which women are viewed as inferior to men
Low status = easy targets
High status = threat to husbands
Rule of thumb
Jobs at Midlife
Productivity: for many midlife time of greatest productivity & success

Job satisfaction: based on “here-and-now” aspects of work

Worker characteristics and attitudes
Challenges of Work: On-the-Job Dissatisfaction
What is the greatest underlying cause of burnout?
When highly trained professionals experience dissatisfaction, disillusionment, frustration, and weariness from their jobs
Causes growing cynicism about job
May feel indifference, lack of concern about performance
Idealism replaced by pessimism
Middle-aged adults tend to stay unemployed longer than do young workers.
Causes economic and psychological consequences:
Feeling anxious, depressed, and irritable
Self-confidence and concentration plummet
Sometimes depression and/or suicide

Seeking Work After Job Loss in Middle Age
Employers may discriminate because of age and not hire older applicants
Research shows that older workers have less absenteeism, hold their jobs longer, are more reliable, and more willing to learn new skills
Switching—and Starting—Careers at Midlife
Some people change or seek jobs voluntarily in middle adulthood.
Old job gave little satisfaction
Mastery of the old job's challenges achieved
No longer enjoy what they do
Need employment after raising children, divorce, or death of spouse
Women in the Workplace
Number of middle age women in workforce has increased dramatically in past 20 years
65% of women between ages of 50 and 60 (80% of those who graduated from college) are now in the workforce
Three-quarters are in full-time jobs
Leisure Time
Leisure activities
Average number of hours – 70/wk
Nature of activities –
15 hrs/wk TV
6 hrs/wk socializing
Charity, community work
Pace of life differs across countries