Middle Adulthood Development
During middle adulthood, a person’s vision is usually one aspect of the human body that begins to feel the effects of aging. It becomes increasingly difficult to read small print due to thickening of the lens and weakening of the muscles that enable the eye to accommodate to nearby objects. As new fibers begin to appear on the surface of the lens and they compress older fibers toward the center. This helps creates thicker, denser, less pliable structure that eventually cannot be transformed at all. Berk states, “By age 50, the accommodative ability of the lens is one-sixth of what it was at age 20. Around age 60, the lens loses its capacity to adjust to objects at varying distances entirely, a condition called presbyopia (“Old eyes”)” (Berk 398). Due to this increase in the lens, the eye rapidly becomes farsighted between the ages of 40 and 60. Another set of changes arises inhibits the ability to see in dim light, which declines at twice the rate of daylight vision. Throughout adulthood, the pupil continues to shrink and the lens yellows. Starting at age 40, the vitreous (transparent gelatin-like substance that fills the eye) develops areas that reduce the amount of light that reaches the retina. The multiple changes of the lens and the vitreous cause light to become scattered in the eye; therefore, increasing sensitivity to glare. The yellowing of the lens and increasing density of the vitreous limit color discrimination, especially at the green-blue-violet end of the spectrum. In addition, neural changes in the visual system also change. There tends to be gradual loss of rods and cones (light/color receptors) in the retina and of neurons in the optic nerve (pathway between retina and cerebral cortex). Middle-aged adults are at increasingly high risk for glaucoma. This is a disease where poor fluid drainage leads to a buildup of pressure within the eye; thus, damaging the optic nerve. Glaucoma affects nearly 2% of people over the age of 40, more often women than men. It usually goes unnoticed without any symptoms, but it eventually can lead to blindness. Glaucoma typically runs in the family: siblings of people with glaucoma have a tenfold increased risk, while African Americans have a 3-4X more likeliness of getting the disease. Midlife should be the starting point to regular eye exams to check for glaucoma. There are drugs that can promote the release of fluid and surgery to open blocked drainage channels prevents vision loss (Berk 398).
In addition to eyesight loss, a person in the early stages of middle adulthood also experiences a decrease on hearing abilities. Berk expresses, “An estimated 14% of Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 suffer from hearing loss…although some conditions run in the families and may be hereditary, most are age-related a condition called presbycusis (“Old hearing”)” (Berk 398). With age, our inner ear structure that transform mechanical sound waves into neural impulses deteriorate through natural cell death or reduced blood supply caused by atherosclerosis. At the age of 50, the first sign of hearing loss occurs with loss of certain frequency hearing abilities. It gradually extends across all frequencies, and speech becomes more difficult to make out. But, people in middle adulthood still tend to hear quite well across a wide frequency range. These findings have led researchers to believe that it’s due to biological aging. Men’s hearing usually declines before women’s, a big difference associated with cigarette smoking, intense noise and chemical pollutants in some male-dominated occupations. Also, high blood pressure, cerebrovascular disease, or strokes can cause damage to brain tissue. Fortunately, there are hearing aids that can make it a lot easier for people to hear (Berk 398).
We also begin to see a distinctive change in the skin during middle adulthood. The skin consists of three layers: 1) epidermis, 2) the dermis (middle supportive layer), and 3) the hypodermis (inner fatty layer that adds to the soft lines and shape of the skin). With age, the epidermis begins to become less firmly attached to the dermis, fibers in the dermis start to thin out, and the cells in both the dermis and epidermis decline in water content. Also, the fat in the hypodermis diminishes, which leads to wrinkling, loose and dry feeling of the skin. In our thirties, lines start to develop on the forehead as a result of smiling, furrowing the brow, and other facial expressions. The forties are a time of “crow’s-feet” around the eyes! Gradually, the skin loses elasticity and begins to sag, especially in the face, arms, and legs. Berk states, “After the age of 50, “age spots,” collections of pigment under the skin, increase. Blood vessels in the skin become more visible as the fatty layers thin” (Berk 399). Individuals who spend more time in the sun are more likely to accumulate wrinkles and spotting. This can also be prolonged as long as a person wears protection while outdoors (sunscreen, hat, etc.). Usually, women’s skins ages faster than men because the dermis is not as thick as in men (Berk 399).
There tends to be a gradual increase in muscle-fat makeup in middle adulthood as well. This tends to be due to an increase in body fat and a loss of lean body mass (muscle and bone). This rise in fat is largely affects the torso, and occurs as fatty deposits within the body cavity start to accumulate. On average, the size of the abdomen increases 6-16% in men, 25-35% in women from early through middle adulthood. Men typically accumulate more fat on the back and upper abdomen, women around the waist and upper arms. Also, muscle mass decreases gradually in the forties and fifties, mainly due to atrophy of fast twitch fibers, responsible for explosion and speed strength. However, large weight gain and loss of muscle power are not inevitable! With age, people must gradually reduce their calorie intake to adjust to the age-related desires of the human body. The basal metabolic rate also decreases over time. A study of over 30,000 U.S. 50-79-year-old women diverse in different SES and ethnicity resulted in findings when a diet that involved an increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains was associated with greater initial weight loss and success at maintaining that loss over a seven-year period. Furthermore, weight-bearing exercise that includes resistance training offsets both excess weight and muscle loss (Berk 399).
Lastly, we shall look at the skeleton build during middle adulthood. New cells are starting to accumulate on the outer layers, so the bones broaden, but their mineral content declines and become more porous. This leads to a gradual loss in bone density that begins in the late thirties and accelerates in the fifties, especially among women. Women’s reserve of bone minerals is lower than men’s to start with. Following menopause, the favorable impact of estrogen of bone mineral absorption is lost. There is also a reduction of bone density during adulthood is substantial—about 8-12% in men and 20-30% in women. Bone strength also tends to decrease, which causes the disks in the spinal column to collapse. Unfortunately, height may drop as much as an inch by age 60, a change that hastens thereafter. The weakened bones can no longer support as much load: They fracture more easily and heal more slowly. A healthy lifestyle—including weight-bearing exercise, adequate calcium and vitamin D intake, and avoidance of smoking and heavy alcohol consumption—can slow bone loss in postmenopausal women by as much as 30-50%. Osteoporosis is a severe loss of bone, which is considered a very debilitating disease (Berk 399).
The reproductive change is a big deal for both men and women during middle adulthood. There are so many different emotions, benefits, and various other aspects involved. First, we will look at a midlife transition in which fertility declines is called climacteric. In women, it brings an end to reproductive capacity; in men, by contrast, fertility diminishes but is retained. Reproductive changes in women are usually over a ten-year period. This is mainly due to a decrease in estrogen levels. As a result, women’s monthly cycles become much shorter, and they become more irregular by the age of 40. In some women, the ovum is released; however, it’s more defective. The climacteric period involves menopause, the end of menstruation and reproductive capacity. This occurs around the age of 50 among North American, European, and East Asian women, although the age range stretches from 30-50-years-old. After menopause, estrogen levels decline further, causing the reproductive organs to shrink, the genitals to be less easily stimulated, and the vagina to lubricate more slowly during arousal. As a result, complaints about sexual functioning increases, with about 35-40% of women noting difficulties, especially among those with health problems or whose partners have sexual performance difficulties. A decrease in estrogen also leads to a decrease in the elasticity in skin and bone loss; furthermore, it can lead to more plaque buildup in arteries. The period before and after leading to menopause can be a very emotionally and physical one, including mood fluctuations and hot flashes—sensations of warmth accompanied by a rise in body temperature and redness in the face, neck, and chest, followed by intense sweating. Night flashes (hot flashes during the night) occur in more than 50% of women in industrialized nations. Research through EEG machines and other psychological measures finds no correlation between menopause and quality of sleep. Also, studies have further shown that there in no link between depression and menopause in the general population. Those women that are depressed are typically inactive, or are experiencing highly stressful life situations during their climacteric period (Berk 399-401).
There have been many advances in the uses of hormone therapy for women going through menopause. In order to reduce physical discomforts of menopause, doctors may prescribe a low daily dosage of estrogen. Hormone therapy typically comes in two different forms: 1) estrogen alone, or estrogen replacement therapy for women who have had hysterectomies, and 2) estrogen plus progesterone or hormone replacement therapy for other women. Combining estrogen and progesterone lessens the risk of cancer of the endometrium (lining of the uterus), which has long been known as a serious side effect of hormone therapy. Hormone therapy has been great at reducing hot flashes and vaginal dryness. It also promotes some protection against bone deterioration and colon cancer. Hormone replacement therapy causes a mild increase in heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. HRT also is taken from more than four years slightly elevated the incidence of breast cancer. Furthermore, as additional experiment involving 4,500, 65-79-years-old indicated that HRT slightly elevated the risk of mild cognitive declines and nearly doubled the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. However, timing of intervention may make a huge difference. Hormone therapy begun before menopausal age may actually reduce the risk cardiovascular disease. The number of alternative treatments for menopausal symptoms is increasing (Berk 401)!
Now, let us look at the psychological reactions women have to menopause. There can be many physical and emotional changes that women experience during this time of their life. Society values a youthful appearance, so some women respond to climacteric with disappointment about a loss of sex appeal. Many women find menopause to be little or no trouble at all, and they regard it as a new beginning. More than 2,000 women were asked to describe their feelings about menopause, and nearly 50% of those currently experiencing changes in their menstrual cycles, and 60% of those whose periods had ceased, said they felt relieved. A lot of the women didn’t want more children and are thankful to be freed from worrying about birth control. Usually, more career-oriented Caucasian-American women with fulfilling lives outside the home usually have more positive attitudes toward menopause than those with less education. Further research suggests that African-American and Mexican-American women hold especially favorable views. They experienced less irritability and moodiness than Caucasian Americans. They rarely spoke of menopause in terms of physical aging, but instead they regard it as normal, inevitable, even welcome the idea. Berk expresses, “Among an investigation of a large sample of ethnically diverse 40-55-year-old U.S. women, other factors—SES, physical health, lifestyle factors (smoking, exercise, weight gain) and especially psychological stress—overshadowed menopausal status and symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness) in impact on self-related quality of life” (Berk 401-402). There is a wide variety of physical symptoms and attitudes indicates that menopause is not just a hormonal event. It can also be affected by cultural practices and beliefs (Berk 402).
Finally, there are various reproductive changes in men as well. No male counterpart to menopause exists, but they do experience climacteric. Both motility and quantity of sperm decrease from the twenties on, and quantity of semen diminishes after the age of 40, which negatively affects the fertility in middle age. Still, sperm production does continue throughout life, and men in his or her nineties have fathered children. Testosterone production also declines with age, but there is minimal change in healthy men who continue to engage in sexual activity, which stimulates cells, that release testosterone. However, reduced blood flow changes in connective tissue in the penis, more stimulation is required for an erection, and it may be harder to maintain. Since an erection is harder to come by when a man gets older, Viagra and other drugs that increase blood flow to the penis offer temporary relief from erectile dysfunction. Those that take the medication are often not adequately screened for the host of factors besides declining testosterone that contribute to impotence, including disorders, such as nervous, circulatory, and endocrine systems; anxiety and depression; pelvic injury; and loss of interest in one’s sexual partner (Berk 402).
Want to learn more about menopause?? Go here: http://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/
There are many negative stereotypes of aging, which can lead middle-ages adults to fear physical changes. These standards are more applied towards to women opposed to men. This is what we refer to as a double standard. Quite a few women in midlife say that they “hit their stride”—feel assertive, confident, versatile, and capable of resolving life’s problems—people often rate them as less attractive and as having more negative personality characteristics than middle-ages men. Men tend to judge aging women more harshly than women do. These effects appear more often in when people rate photos as opposed to verbal descriptions. Berk states, “The ideal of sexually attractive woman—smooth skin, good muscle tone, lustrous hair—may be at the heart of the double standard of aging” (Berk 408). Some research has showed that the end of a woman’s ability to bear children contributed to negative judgments of physical appearance, especially by men. Societal forces exaggerate this view. For instance, middle-aged people in the media ads are typically male executives, fathers, and grandfathers—handsome images of competence and security. There are many cosmetic drugs and lotions that are being produced to help reduce the signs of aging in women. Fortunately, recent evidence has shown that the double standard is declining, but more people are viewing middle age as a potentially upbeat, satisfying time for both men and women. Models of older women with lives full of intimacy, accomplishment, hope, and imagination are promoting acceptance of physical aging and a new vision of growing older, and it should be one that emphasizes gracefulness, fulfillment, and inner strength (Berk 408)!
Want to learn more about the double standard?? Go here: http://www.teuscher.ch/ursina/download/papers/Teuscher_PAID_07.pdf
During middle adulthood, a person experiences a huge development of practical problem solving abilities. All middle-age adults encounter opportunities to display continued cognitive growth in the realm of practical problem solving, which requires people to size up real-world situations and analyze how best to achieve goals that have a high degree of uncertainty. Then, an adult will experience a gain in expertise—an extensive, highly organized, and integrated knowledge base that can be used to support a high level of performance—helps us better understand why practical problem solving takes its leap forward. Expertise reaches its height in midlife, leading to a highly efficient and effective approach to solving problems. Expertise isn’t just a province of the highly educated and of those who rise to the top of the administrative ladder. Researchers identified amongst a group of food service workers that the ingredients of expert performance in terms of physical skills (strength and dexterity); technical knowledge (of menu items); organizational skills (setting priorities); and social skills (confident presentation). Compared to younger adults with similar years of experience, middle-aged employees performed more competently, serving customers in especially adept, attentive ways. Age-related advantages are also evident in solutions to everyday problems, such as how to resolve disagreements between two friends, or whether to make a costly repair to one’s home. Berk states, “From middle adulthood, adults place greater emphasis on thinking through practical problem—trying to understand it better, interpreting if from different perspectives, and solving it through logical analysis” (Berk 413). Adults are more rational decision makers, but they are less likely than young adults to select attractive-looking options that, on further reflection, are not the best. Therefore, adults are becoming better problem solvers as time progresses (Berk 413).
Creativity also increases during middle adulthood development. These abilities tend to peak in the late thirties or early forties ad then decline, but with considerable variation. As problem solving increases, the quality of creativity may change with advancing age—in at least three ways. First, youthful creativity in literature and the arts is often spontaneous and intensely emotional, while the creative works are produced after the age of 40 and often appear more deliberately thoughtful. With age, many creators shift from generating unusual products to combining extensive knowledge and experience into various unique ways of thinking. Creative works by older adults more often sum up or integrate ideas. Academics for mature adults typically devote less energy to new discoveries in favor of writing memories, histories of their field, and other reflective works. Finally, creativity in middle adulthood frequently reflects a transition from a largely egocentric concern with self-expression to more altruistic goals. Once an adult in their midlife begins to overcome the youthful illustration that life is eternal, the desire to give to humanity and enrich the lives of others increases (Berk 413-414).
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Many adults are deciding to go back to their undergraduate and graduate school programs in college. Life transitions often trigger a return to formal education. Divorced women, widows, or job layoffs trigger this return to school. About 60% of adult learners are women. First-year re-entry women reported feeling more self-conscious, inadequate, and hesitant to talk in class than either retuning men or traditional-age students. Their anxiety is mainly due to not having practical academic learning for many years but is also prompted by negative aging and gender stereotypes—erroneous beliefs that traditional-age students are smarter or that men are more logical and therefore more academically capable. Outside sources, such as spouses, children, and jobs make it very difficult for women to remain in school because they experience so many conflicting views. They usually report high levels of psychological stress typically have career rather than enrichment goals, young children, limited financial resources, and nonsupportive husbands. Marriages don’t tend to work out when the parents don’t discuss child-care responsibilities to accommodate the women’s return to school. Women with more priorities at home, they tend to take fewer units, experience more interruptions in their academic programs, and progress at a slower pace than mature-age men. However, Berk expresses, “Many women express high motivation to work through those difficulties, referring to the excitement of learning, to the fulfillment academic success brings, and to their hope that a college education will improve both their work and family lives” (Berk 415).
Now, let’s look at the ways to support retuning students going back to school. Social supports for retuning students can make a huge difference between continuing in school and dropping out. Adult students need the support of their families and friends who encourage their efforts and enable them to find time for uninterrupted study. Institutional services for returning students are also essential, Personal relationships with faculty, peer networks enabling adults to get to know one another, conveniently scheduled evening and Saturday classes, online courses, and financial aid for part-time students to increase academic success. Adults rarely require assistance with schoolwork in setting career goals, but they report a strong desire for help in choosing the most appropriate courses and in exploring jobs related to their talents. There is a lot of academic advising and professional internship opportunities responsive to their needs are vital. Low-income students often require tutoring, financial assistance, and multiple sessions in confidence building and assertiveness. When support systems are in place, most returning students gain self-efficacy and do well academically. Education can grant new life options and opportunities. In middle adulthood, education transforms development, often powerfully reshaping the course of life (Berk 415-416).
Want to learn more about adult learning?? Go here: http://www.fsu.edu/~adult-ed/jenny/learning.html
Erikson’s psychological conflict during middle adulthood is known as generativity versus stagnation. Generativity usually involves reaching out to others in ways that give to and guide the next generation. It expands during the middle adulthood stage of development when commitment extends beyond oneself and one’s life partner to a larger group—family, community, or society. Erikson selected the term generativity to encompass everything generated that can outline the self and ensure society’s continuity and improvement: children, ideas, products, and works of art. Although parenting is a major way to realize generativity, it is not the only means: adults can be generative in other family relationships as mentors in the workplace, in volunteer endeavors, and through many forms of productivity and creativity. Generativity brings together personal desires and cultural demands. On the personal side, middle-aged adults tend to feel a need to be needed—to attain symbolic immortality by making a contribution that will survive death. This desire may stem for a deep-seated evolutionary urge to protect and advance the next generation. Society imposes a social clock for generativity in midlife, requiring adults to take responsibility for the next generation through their roles as parents, teachers, mentors, and leaders. The negative outcome of this stage is stagnation: once people attain certain life goals, such as marriage, children, and career success, they may become self-centered and self-indulgent. They may express a sense of stagnation through lack of interest in young people, through a focus on what they can get from others rather than what they can give, and through taking little interest in being productive at work, developing their talents, or the bettering the world around them. Research shows that generativity increases in midlife. At the same time, participants expressed greater concern about aging, increased security with their identities. Erikson suggests that highly generative people appear especially well adjusted—low in anxiety and depression; high in autonomy, self-acceptance, and life satisfaction; and more likely to have successful marriages and close friends. They are more open to differing viewpoints, possess leadership skills, desire more from work than financial rewards, and care greatly about the welfare of children, their partner, their aging parents, and the wider society. Generativity is more associated with the effective child rearing—higher valuing of trust, open communication, transmission of values to children, and authoritative parent styling. Having children seems to foster men’s generative development more than women’s. Parenting may awaken in men a tender, caring attitude toward the next generation that have women have opportunities to develop in other ways. Compared to with Caucasians, African Americans more often engage in certain types of generativity. They are more likely to be involved in religious groups and activities, offer more social support the members of their community, and are more likely to view themselves as role models and sources of wisdom for their children. A long history of support from church and extend family may strengthen these generative values and actions (Berk 420-421).
Want to learn more about Erikson’s theory?? Go here: http://currentnursing.com/nursing_theory/theory_of_psychosocial_development.html
Levinson’s seasons of life are a very good explanation for middle adulthood development. During middle adulthood, there is a transitional period (age 40-45), during which people evaluate their success in meeting early adulthood goals. Levinson believed that there are four developmental tasks a person must confront in order to gain a sense of internal harmony. First, we have the young-old task. This involves a middle age person must seek new ways of being both young and old. This means giving up certain activities, youthful qualities, retaining and transforming others, and finding positive meaning in being older. Perhaps this is due to the double standard of aging, so most middle-aged women express concern about appearing less attractive. Blue-collar men are typically sensitive to physical aging. Compared with previous midlife cohorts, the baby boomers are especially interested in controlling physical changes—a desire that has helped energize a huge industry of anti-aging cosmetic products. Second, we have destruction-construction. With greater awareness of mortality, the middle-aged person focuses on ways he or her has acted destructively and how others have done the same. Berk expresses, “Past hurtful acts toward family members, friends, and coworkers are countered by a strong desire to participate in activities that advance human welfare, thereby leaving a legacy for future generations” (Berk 421). Third, we have masculinity-femininity. The middle-aged person must create a better balance between masculine and feminine parts of the self. For men, the greater acceptance of “feminine” traits of nurturance and caring, which enhance close relationships and compassionate exercise of authority in the workplace. For women, it generally means being more open to “masculine” characteristics of autonomy and assertiveness. Finally, we have engagement-separateness. The middle-age person must forge a better balance between engagement with the external world and separateness. For many men, and for women who have had successful careers, this may mean reducing concern with ambition and achievement and attending more fully to the self. However, children that have been devoted to child rearing or an unfulfilling job often feel compelled to move in the other direction. Those that modify their identities in response to age-related changes yet maintain a sense of self-continuity are more aware of their own thoughts and feelings and are higher in self-esteem. But when poverty, unemployment, and a lack of a respected place in society dominate the life course, energies are directed toward survival rather than realistically approaching age-related changes. Opportunities for advancement ease the transition to middle adulthood. However, there are far less available to women than to men. Many find compensating relationships amongst one another (Berk 421-422).
Finally, we need to evaluate Valliant’s adaptation to life. After his studies, Valliant concluded that the most successful and best adjusted entered a calmer, quieter time of life. “Passing the torch” is the concern that the positive aspects of their culture survive and become a major occupation. Societies around the world have older people as guardians of traditions, laws, and cultural values. This stabilizing force holds in check too-rapid change sparked by the questioning and challenging of adolescents and young adults. As people approach the end of middle age, they tend to focus more on long-term, less personal goals, such as the state of human relations in their society (Berk 422).
Want to learn more about Valliant’s theory?? Go here: https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/bitstream/handle/1805/341/Nolan%20%26%20Kadavil.pdf?sequence=1
Levinson expressed that most of the people he interviewed experiences an inner turmoil or midlife crisis during middle adulthood. While Valliant stated that he saw very few of these cases, but they did change slow and steadily. These contrasting views raise the true questions as to whether there is a midlife crisis or not. Self-doubt and stress especially great during the forties, and do they prompt major restructuring of the personality, as the term midlife crisis implies. When MIDUS participants were asked to describe “turning points” that had occurred in their lives in the past five years, most of the ones reported concerned work. Women’s work-related turning points peaked in early adulthood, when any adjusted their work lives to accommodate marriage and childrearing. The peak for men usually occurs at midlife, a time increased career responsibility and advancement. Many turning were positive: They involved fulfilling a dream and learning something good about oneself. Overall, these turning points rarely resembled a turning point in ones’ life. Only one-fourth of the MIDUS respondents said “yes” to if they experienced in something was experienced as a midlife crisis. Some reported a crisis before the age of 40, others well after 50. Most attributed this to change in age to challenging life events. Another way to explore midlife crisis is to ask about life regrets—attractive opportunities they didn’t pursue or lifestyle changes they didn’t make. By late midlife, with less time ahead to make life changes, people’s interpretations of regrets plays a major role in their well being. Mature adults acknowledge a past characterized by some losses but are able to disengage from them, investing in personally rewarding goals. Life evaluation is very common during middle adulthood. Most people make changes that are best described as turning points rather than drastic alterations of their lives. Those who can’t modify their paths often look for the “silver lining” in life’s difficulties. The few mid-lifers who are in crisis typically have had an early adulthood in which gender roles, family pressures, or low income severely limited their ability to fulfill personal needs (Berk 422-423).
The middle adulthood phase of the family cycle is one that is well known. It is referred to as the “launching of children ad moving on.” In the past, it has been called the “empty nest,” but this phrase implies a negative transition, especially for women. When a parent devotes all of their time to their children, the end of the active parent cycle can trigger a myriad of different emotions and regret. But for most, middle adulthood is the liberating period, offering a sense of completion and an opportunity to strengthen existing ties and build new ones. As adult children leave the home, middle-aged people must adapt to new roles of parent-in-law and grandparent. At some point, they must establish a new relationship with their aging parents (Berk 428).
That brings us to the idea of marriage and divorce in marital relationships. Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 have the highest average annual income. By middle age, parents have permitted satisfaction of family and individual needs, endured many changes, and cumulated in deeper feelings of love. Marital satisfaction is a strong predictor of midlife psychological well-being. Although most divorces occur within the first 5-10 years of marriage, about 10% take place after 20 years or more. Divorce at any age takes to toll, but mid-lifers seem to adapt more easily than younger people. Moreover, for many women, marital breakup, especially when repeated, severely reduces standard of living. For this reason, it’s a strong contributor to the feminization of poverty—a trend in which women who support themselves of their families have become the majority of the adult population living in poverty, regardless of age and ethnic group. Evidence reveals that middle-aged women who weather divorce successfully tend to be more tolerant, comfortable with uncertainty, nonconforming, and self-reliant in personality; factors believed to be fostered by divorce-related independence. Men and women reevaluate what they consider important in a healthy relationship, placing greater weight on equal friendship and less on passionate love than they had the first time (Berk 428).
A relationship between a child and a parent is constantly changing. The positive relationship with their children are the result of a gradual process of “letting go,” culminating in children’s independent living. Whether or not they reside with parents, adolescent and young-adult children who are “off-time” in development—not showing expected signs of independence and accomplishment—can prompt parental strain. Berk states, “In the Southern European countries of Greece, Italy, and Spain, parents often delay their children’s leaving. In Italy, for example, parents believe that moving out without a “justified” reason signifies that something is wrong in the family” (Berk 429). Thus, more Italian kids end up living with their parents for a while. At the same time, Italian parent-adult-child relationships are typically positive, making shared living attractive. In the end of parent-child coresidence, parental authority declines sharply. Continued communication is very important to middle-aged adults. Parents’ life satisfaction seems to decrease when they lose touch with their parents. When children marry, parents face additional challenges in enlarging the family network to include the in-laws. Difficulties arise when the parents don’t approve of the partner that their child has chosen. Once young adults strike out on their own, members of the middle generation, especially mothers, usually take on the role of the kinkeeper, gathering the family for celebrations and making sure everyone stays in touch (Berk 429).
Then, we have the grandparenthood relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren. The meaning of grandparenthood is simple. Most people experience this as a significant milestone, mentioning one or more of the following gratifications: 1) valued elder (being perceived as a wise, helpful person), 2) immortality through descendants (leaving behind not just one but two generations after death), 3) reinvolvement with personal past (being able to pass family history and values to a new generation), and 4) indulgence (having fin with children without major childrearing responsibilities. The age of the grandchild really helps dictate the idea of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Living nearby is the strongest predictor of frequent, face-to-face interaction with young grandchildren. A strong desire to affect development of grandchildren can motivate grandparents’ involvement. Berk states, “Once grandchildren become older, distance becomes less influential and relationship quality more so: the extent to which adolescent or young-adult grand children believe their grandparent values contact is a good predictor of a close bond” (Berk 429-430). Typically, relationships are closer to between grandparents and grandchildren of the same sex, and especially between maternal grandmothers and granddaughters. Grandmothers also have a higher satisfaction with the grandparent role than the grandfathers, maybe because grandmothers are more likely to participate in recreational, religious, and family activities with grandchildren. SES and ethnicity influence grandparent-grandchildren ties. In low-income families, grandparents are more likely to perform essential activities. In some cultures, grandparents are absorbed into an extended-family household and become actively involved in child rearing. Increasingly, grandparents have stepped in as primary caregivers in the face of serious family problems. Despite their willingness to help and their competence at child rearing, grandparents who take full responsibility for young children experience considerable emotional and financial strain. They need much assistance from the community and government agencies. After marital breakup, grandparents related to the custodial parents (typically the mother) have more frequent contact with grandchildren. When parent relationships are strong and positive, grandparenthood provides an important means of fulfilling personal and societal needs in midlife and beyond (Berk 430-431).
There is a frequency and quality of care that middle-aged adults give to their aging parents. About two-thirds of older adults in the United States live close to at least one of their children, and frequency of contact is high through both visits and telephones. Younger people tend to move in the direction of where their aging parents live. Middle age is a time when adults reassess relationships with their parents, just as they rethink other close ties. Many adults become more appreciative of their parents’ strengths and generosity and mention positive changes in the quality of the relationship. As the tensions of the adolescent years ease, many young-adult daughters and mothers build rewarding, intimate bonds. A lot of women move into their aging mothers house, so she can take care of them. In collectivist cultures, older adults most often live their married children. For instance, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean elderly moved in with a son and his wife and children; today, many live with a daughter and her family as well. Berk expresses, “Help exchanged between adult children and their aging parents is responsive to past and current family circumstances. The more positive the history of the parent-child tie, the more help given and received” (Berk 432). Children give more to widowed parents and parents in poor health—usually emotional support and practical help, less often financial assistance. Even when parent-child relationships have been emotionally distant, adult children offer more support as their parent’s age, out of a sense of altruism for their own parents. About 16% of the U.S. adult population provides unpaid care to an aging adult, and roughly 25-35% of those in the work force report doing the same. The burden of caring for aging parents can be great. Berk expresses,” The term sandwich generation is widely used to refer to the idea that middle-aged adults must care for multiple generations above and below them at the same time” (Berk 432). The term “sandwich” simply refers to those middle-aged adults that care for their parents to feel “sandwiched,” or “squeezed” between the pressures of older and younger generations. Middle-aged adults living far from aging parents and who are in poor health often substitute financial help for direct care at home. Regardless of family income level, African American, Asian American, and Hispanic adults give aging parents more direct care and financial support than Caucasian Americans adults do. In all ethnic groups, providing care to aging parents falls more on daughters than on sons. Families turn to the person who seems most available—living nearby and with fewer commitments regarded as interfering with the ability to assist. Also, daughters feel more obligated to help their parents. Roughly 50% of American women caregivers are employed; another 10-30% quit their jobs to provide care. They even average 10-20 hours per week of care. Men do help, but they spend much less time helping on average. As adults move from early to middle adulthood, the sex difference in parental caregiving declines. Caring for a disabled parent can be very stressful, and radically different from caring for a young child. The need for care typically arises after a stroke, heart attack, fall, or diagnosis of cancer, leaving little time for preparation. Adults who share a household with ill parents—roughly 10% of American caregivers—experience the most stress. Parental caregiving often has emotional and physical health consequences. It can lead to an overload, high job absenteeism, anxiety about aging, and rates of depression as high as 30-50%. African American caregivers typically endorse cultural reasons for helping (“It’s what my people have always done”) fared less well in mental health two years later than women who only moderately endorse caregiving. Social support is highly effective in reducing caregiver stress. For instance, in Denmark, Sweden, and Japan, a government-sponsored home-helper system eases the burden of parental care by making specially trained nonfamily caregivers available. Overall, the community, and family can help take care of aging parents (Berk 433-434).
The role of siblings is a very important aspect of support for caregiving. A survey of a large sample of ethnically diverse Americans revealed that sibling contact and support decline from early to middle adulthood, and then shifting at about the age of 70 for siblings. Despite reduced contact, many siblings feel closer in midlife, often in response to major life events. This launching and marriage of children seem to prompt siblings to think about more about one another. When a parent becomes ill, brothers and sisters who previously had little to do with one another may find themselves in touch about parental care. Not all sibling bonds improve. A lot of people can have differing viewpoints on varying problems. In industrialized nations, sibling relationships are voluntary. In village societies, they are generally involuntarily and basic to family functioning. Countries norms are to reduce sibling conflict, thereby ensuring family cooperation (Berk 434).
Finally, we shall look at friendships in the middle adulthood. As family responsibilities declined in middle age, young adults have more time to spend with friends. Middle-aged friendships reflect the same trends of early adulthood. At all ages, friendships between men and less intimate than those between women. Men tend to talk about sports, politics, and business, whereas women focus on feelings and life problems. Women report a greater number of close friends and say they both receive and provide their friends with more emotional support. However, both sexes experience a decline in their friends with age, probably because people become less willing to invest in nonfamily ties unless they are rewarding. The selectivity of friendship increases, older adults try harder to get along with friends. Berk states, “Having chosen a friend, middle-aged people attach great value to the relationship and take extra steps to protect in” (Berk 435). By midlife, family relationships and friendships support different aspects of psychological well being. A families tie protect against serious threats and losses, offering security within a long-term timeframe. Friendships act as current sources of pleasure and satisfaction. Once middle-aged couples renew their sense of companionship, they may combine the best of family and friendship. Research indicates that viewing a spouse as a best friend contributes greatly to marital happiness (Berk 434-435)!
Work continues in middle adulthood and career opportunities are constantly changing. Job satisfaction increases in midlife in diverse nations and at all occupational levels. The trend is weaker for women then for men, probably because women’s reduced chances for advancement result in a sense of unfairness. Different aspects of jobs are considered; intrinsic satisfaction—happiness with the work itself—shows a strong age-related gain. Extrinsic satisfaction is contentment with supervision, pay, and promotions changes very little. An improved capacity to cope effectively with difficult situations and a broader time perspective probably contributes. Older people also seem to have key job characteristics that predict well-being—involvement in decision-making, reasonable workloads, and good physical working conditions. Moreover, there are fewer alternative positions for people to move, so their career aspirations go down. Berk states, “Although emotional engagement with work is usually seen as psychologically healthy, it can also result in burnout—a condition in which long-term job stress leads to mental exhaustion, a sense of loss of personal control, and feelings of reduced accomplishments” (Berk 436). Burnout typically occurs more often in the helping professions, including health care, human services, and teaching, which place high emotional demands on employees. It’s more likely to occur in unsupportive work environments, where work assignments exceed time available to complete them and encouragement and feedback from supervisors are scarce. During career development, job training is less available to those that are older. And when career development activities are offered, older employees are less likely to volunteer for them. Personal characteristics are important in job training, starting with the degree to which an individual wants to change. As we age, growth needs give way somewhat to security needs. Furthermore, negative stereotypes of aging reduce older worker’s self-efficacy, or confidence that they can renew and expand their skills. Workplace characteristics matter as well. An employee given work that requires new learning must pursue that learning to complete the assignment. Older workers sometime receive more work than younger ones. Age-balanced work groups foster the on-the-job learning and engagement because communication is a source of support (Berk 435-436).
Next, we will look at the gender and ethnicity idea of the glass ceiling. In a study of 1,500 U.S. adults, the probability of attaining a managerial position climbed substantially over 30 years of career experience for white men. By contrast, it rose modestly for white women and black men, and hardly at all for black women. White men are the most advantaged for the prestigious high-level management positions: they account for 75% of chief executive officers at large corporations and 98% of fortune 500 companies. Women and ethnic minorities face a glass ceiling or invisible barrier to advancement up the corporate ladder. Women seem to have less access to mentors, role models, and informal networks that serve as training routes. There are many stereotyped biases that go along with women in high-level positions. And because of these doubts, women are forced to take lower jobs on the hierarchical ladder. Berk expresses, “Furthermore, those women that demonstrate qualities linked to leadership and advancement—assertiveness, confidence, forcefulness, and ambition—encounter prejudice because they deviate from traditional gender roles” (Berk 436-437). To overcome this bias, women in line to overcome men for this prestigious job positions show more competence than their male counterparts. An investigation of several hundred multinational financial services corporations, promoted females as managers earned a higher performance rating than promoted male managers. Women face this setback due to lack of opportunities, nearly twice as many female as male middle managers quit their jobs in large corporations, with most going into business for themselves. Today, more than half of the self-owned business were started and kept running by female constituents. It’s sad that they still face a glass ceiling in today’s society (Berk 436-437).
Today, we have many people who are enjoying retirement after long, hard years of labor. However, it’s very important for people to plan for their retirement instead of just jumping into it. Social security pays the majority of the aged, and others are covered by employer-based private pension. As this trend continues, the average age that people retire no has declined to the age of 62 in the United States. Retirement is a lengthy, complex process that begins as soon as the middle-aged person first thinks about it. Retirement usually leads to a loss of two very important work-related rewards—income and status—and to change in many other aspects of life. Planning is very crucial because it can result in better retirement adjustment and satisfaction. Yet almost half of middle-aged people engage in no concrete retirement planning. Income typically drops about 50%, more people engage in financial planning than in other forms of preparation. Even those that attend financial education programs often fail to look closely at their financial well being and to make wise decisions. Berk states, “Retirement leads to ways of spending time that are largely guided by one’s interests rather than one’s obligations. Planning for an active life has an even greater impact on happiness after retirement than financial planning” (Berk 437). Retirement is related to an active life, since it affects access to health care, friends, family, recreation, entertainment, and part-time work. Unfortunately, less educated people with lower life-earnings are least likely to attend retirement preparation programs, yet they stand to benefit the most. Baby boomers are usually financially better off than their age mates of the previous generation, the lowest-income quartile are actually worse off than their predecessor. Women tend to depend on their husband’s preparations—a finding that may change as women increasingly become more equal, rather than secondary, family earners. Berk expresses, “Employees need to take extra steps to encourage lower-paid workers and women to participate in planning activities. In addition, enhancing retirement adjustment among the economically disadvantaged depends on access to better health care, vocational training, and jobs at early ages” (Berk 438). Fortunately, life is filled with a lifetime of opportunities and experiences that affect the transition to retirement (Berk 437-438)!
Berk, Laura E. Exploring Lifespan Development. Boston ; Munich[u.a.: Allyn and Bacon, 2010. Print.