All human beings have to go across different developmental stages of life from womb to tomb. These human development stages are inevitable, very common in all human beings and are not very surprising things in human life. What it is interesting in these developmental stages is that each stage has uniqueness and there are many things that can be studied while human beings of different times undergo differently in different settings. The stages can be varied based on the social structure, culture and norms: there are environmental factors contributing the human development and developmental stages (Papalia et al., 2009).
The transitions in the stages are the most interesting stage because it can lead either to positive or negative consequences. According to Golembiewski (1978), he found out that those who are quite aware of this transition can well adapt with the change, having good adjustment while those who are not aware have negative consequences by the transition. Developmental scientists had explained by applying theories that adulthood transition is the major transitional period where physical and psychological changes can be seen obviously.
“Midlife crisis” is the most common that takes attention when we talk about middle adulthood. Papalia et al. states that changes in personality and lifestyle come together to attribute to the crisis, however, whether or not these changes lead to crisis depends on individuals. Hunter and Sundel (1989) speak out that there are some stereotypes about midlife: social problems occur in this period brought about by those midlife persons, especially men. The following are the stereotypes that they presented in their work:
Men at middle age are obsolete at work. They have neither sufficient education nor updated technical training to compete with younger, more educated workers.
Men at middle age leave (or at least want to leave) their wives for young women.
Hunter and Sundel defend that these stereotypes are just myths about transitional crisis in men. They also came up with theories to proof that. These can not be said as myths alone in some settings because the real cases are showing that these are true. There are some other contributing factors that affect these myths.
In this paper, I will try to discuss the contributing factors effecting the midlife transition based on human development. In chapter 2, I will try to explore about the subject for better understanding of the definition of midlife and midlife crisis in middle adulthood.
In chapter 3, I will try to discuss the two myths which are commonly conceptualized by the people. I would also discuss contributing factors to these myths. Then, in chapter 4, I will conclude by bringing up the subject to social work practice and discuss what and how as social workers can intervene in this transition so that the transition would be smooth.
Understanding of middle adulthood and midlife crisis
There is no universally agreed period of middle age or middle adulthood. Papalia et al. defines middle adulthood in the book Human Development as the years between 40 and 65 but it is said to be not absolutely exact considering the facts that different people’s perception about middle adulthood varies depending on social, cultural and geographical factors. It is also explained that middle age can be a time for decline and loss but also for mastery and growth for the rest of the life. Middle adulthood/age is not decided by the chronological age but rather on the perception of oneself.
The mid life crisis was regarded as “second adolescence” and a crisis of identity (Papalia et al., 2009). It does not specifically talk about the stress and problems faced in specific age but the main essence of the midlife is that people in middle adulthood face huge transition period where they can encounter stress and problems (Hunter and Sundel, 1989). It is very interesting that Hunter and Sundal provided two different views in discussing midlife crisis; Crisis View and Transition or Non-Crisis View. They explained that the Crisis View is adopted by the crisis model under which “each individual experiences a particular type of crisis at each stage of development in a particular chronological age range” (p. 14). In Transition view, it is explained that “most major life events are expected according to a timetable largely linked to age such as when one is to marry, raise children and retire” (p. 19). It implies that the crisis is not necessarily stressed on midlife but can occur in different stages of development.
In many of the literature, it is found that the crisis is mainly stressed in men rather than in women although the transition has impacts on both genders. It could be because of the reasons that men are more focused towards self achievement (Papalia et al). It is also found that men are the major participants of research studies of midlife crisis. When this account is taken into consideration, it is hypnotize that gender roles and the shift of gender identity in this stage might also make men more expressive and more obvious to point out. Hunter and Sundel also discussed that why most studies focus on men could be because of the difference between traditional socialization between the two genders where women are more expressive of their emotions while men are potentially more stressful since they are more self-contained.
Discussion on the two myths
1) Men at middle age are obsolete at work. They have neither sufficient education nor updated technical training to compete with younger, more educated workers.
Hunter and Sundel argue that middle age are not obsolete at work but they even get higher satisfaction with their job comparing to younger generations. They claim that there are even more men at middle age who appear to be workaholics and the midlife persons normally hold the managerial levels. However, it would depend on the nature of job and the productivity that the job demands. Considering the facts that job opportunities nowadays are scarcer and more competitive than before, employers and businessmen naturally tend to employ more productive with lower pay. One can not completely claim that the myth is not true but a stereotyping.
The advancement of Information Technology is also a spokesperson in this account. It is obvious that younger generations are better than the middle age persons in these days. In the professions related to the advance technology might very possibly favor younger generations.
It is true that middle age persons have more life experience in problem solving, taking things under control in a mature way. One can not just claim that the middle age persons are obsolete at work and they can not compete with younger generations. To a certain extent the myth is true. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010) also reported in their survey that unemployment rate in middle adulthood had declined. However, the generatively of middle age persons in this stage should be appreciated.
2) Men at middle age leave (or at least want to leave) their wives for young women.
In the discussion of Hunter and Sundel, they argue that marital unfaithfulness is not caused by the transition to middle age but because of poor marriage and unhealthy marriage. According to gender identity shift as explained by Papalia et al., men tend to have intimate relationships in this transition. It is assessed according to Hunter and Sundel that for those men who can not fulfill their needs with within their marriage life because of poor marriage, they tend to leave (or want to leave) their wives to satisfy their needs of intimate relationship with younger women.
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The personality theories by Erickson, 1902-1994 as cited by Boeree (2006) explains this myth with the seventh stage of the developmental stages which talks about the crisis: Generatively vs Self absorption or Stagnation. This explanation tends to prove that the myth about men wanting to leave their wives for extramarital affairs. In the clarification of this theory done by Boeree, he explains that when people arrives this stage, they sometimes look at their lives and ask themselves about their meaning of life which more often leads men to have affairs. The myth, men leave or want to leave their wives depends on the personality of individuals and other environmental factors such as marriage satisfaction and social norms. Whether or not one successfully overcomes the crisis is an answer.
As helping professionals, social workers need to be aware of the situation of midlife crisis and how it can affect individuals and the environment. Hunter and Sundel (as cited in McGill, 1980, p. 267) explained that “many men in mid-life experience events which cause them to dramatically and significantly change their personality and behavior.” There are challenges and difficulties during the transition of midlife. For men, according to gender role, who are stereotyped to be the responsible persons for the family may find it more stressful in terms of their job security and in struggling with the developmental needs for intimacy.
The so called “crisis” is a real crisis only if someone can not over come the changes occur in the transition. The “crisis” can be shaped out to be a positive change. Going back to the myths, the myths are to some extent turn out to be true contributed by different factors. If middle age persons can be able to upgrade and adapt themselves with the speeding advancement, they would be less stressful and be able to make the developmental transition out to be positive change. Similarly, if they are aware of their own developmental needs, if they can build up their personality and enhance marital relationship, they would not need to find their intimacy needs outside the marriage.
Social workers may take the role of providing self awareness to middle age persons, at the same time can advice continuous learning.
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