Handbook of Adult Development

Part of the series The Springer Series in Adult Development and Aging pp 431-441


Processes of Development in Midlife Women
  • Ruthellen JosselsonAffiliated withSchool of Psychology, The Fielding Graduate InstituteDepartment of Psychology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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The cataclysmic change in the social construction of women’s roles in the last quarter of the 20th century erased the old definitions of the “social clock” for women in midlife. Historically, midlife women have been represented in the psychological literature primarily in regard to their reproductive role and their marital status (Gergen, 1990). More recently, this literature has swung in the other direction and has been focused on women as career achievers. But women in midlife are to be found in a panoply of life roles, sometimes sequentially, sometimes simultaneously. Women in the middle of their life course might be grandmothers or new mothers, career women in positions of authority or women undertaking new or first careers, divorced several times or never married, formerly heterosexual and now lesbian, disenchanted with political commitment or newly engaged, or people with various other life projects central in their lives. The absence of universal markers creates a challenge to a developmental psychology that would try to conceptualize a generalized process of midlife development in women.