At the center of Levinson's theory is the life structure. This is an underlying pattern of an individual's life at any given point in time. A person's life structure is shaped mainly by their social and physical environment, and it primarily involves family and work. Other variables such as religion, race, and status are often important as well.
In his theory there are two key concepts:
1) the Stable Period - This is the time when a person makes crucial choices in life.
2) the Transitional Period - This is the end of a person's stage and the beginning of a new one. Life during these transitions can be either rocky or smooth, but the quality and significance of one’s life commitments often change between the beginning and end of a period.
There are 6 stages of adulthood in Levinson's theory titled "Seasons of a Man's Life":
1) Early adult transition (17-22) - leave adolescence, make preliminary choices for adult life
2) Entering the adult world (22-28) - make initial choices in love, occupation, friendship, values, lifestyle
3) Age 30 transition (28-33) - changes occur in life structure, either a moderate change or, more often, a severe and stressful crisis
4) Settling down (33-40) - establish a niche in society, progress on a timetable, in both family and career accomplishments; are expected to think and behave like a parent so they are facing more demanding roles and expectations .
5) Mid-life transition (40-45) - life structure comes into question, usually a time of crisis in the meaning, direction, and value of each person's life. neglected parts of the self (talents, desires, aspirations) seek expression. Men are seen more as parents than as “brothers” to other men who are somewhat younger than them and this message comes as an irritation at first. Also at this time, men becoming increasingly aware of death and they are reminded of how short life really is. They become involved in trying to leave a legacy and this usually forms the core of the second half of his life.
6) Entering middle adulthood (45-50) - choices must be made, a new life structure formed. person must commit to new tasks.
* Some sources also stated that there was a late adulthood stage during which time a man spent time reflecting on past achievements and regrets, and making peace with one's self and others (including God).
** Daniel Levinson later went on to write a book titled “Seasons of a Woman's Life”.
He argue2s than men go through major life phases. Within these phases are times of stability, generally lasting about 6-10 years and transitional periods which may last about 4-5 years. The primary task of every stable period is to build a life structure, to make key choices, form a structure around them and to pursue goals and values within this structure. This may be a tranquil or stressful times as options are weighed and choices made. A transitional period terminates existing life structures and creates the possibility for a new one. "The primary tasks of every transition period are to question and reappraise the existing structure, to explore the various possibilities for change in self and world, and to move toward a commitment to crucial choices that form a basis for a new life structure in the ensuing stable period."
As men complete a development phase called "settling down", they enter into a life period which Levinson calls "Becoming One's Own Man" (age 36-39). A man becomes a senior member in his own world, he speaks with his own voice, and he has a greater measure of authority. He carries the burden of greater responsibilities and pressures. He gives up more of the "little boy within". Hopefully, he fulfills his "Dream." Many men do not complete this settling down in terms which are satisfactory to them. They do not achieve their "Dream", they find themselves trapped in dead end occupations, their marriages are no longer the Hollywood fantasy of perfection and they enter into Mid-life with unresolved developmental issues. Others, while quite successful in their lives, still struggle with the new developmental tasks of mid-life since this is perfectly normal. He will still ask "what have I done with my life? What do I really get from and give to my wife, family friends, etc.?" He yearns for a life in which his actual desires, values, talents and aspirations can be expressed (and often he doesn't know what they are). Much of this developmental turmoil may be "below the surface" since many men are only marginally aware of their own disquietude and/or do not communicate what is really happening to others. However, it breaks through in strange ways and behaviors-- often being precipitated by acute crises or events in his life. Since clinical depression is a common hallmark of repressed anger, ambivalence, and unresolved inner turmoil, a typical characteristic of this time in a man's life is depression which clinically appears far differently in man than women.
A man has several major tasks to work on during this transition. Awareness of this by others may provide one tool for assistance so that this transition is not too destructive.
Levinson states that as the mid-life transition begins to resolve and reintegration of the Self occurs, that the man effects changes in three components of the life structure: