Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 85–103 | Cite as

Expecting Stress: Americans and the “Midlife Crisis”

  • Elaine Wethington
Article

Abstract

Despite frequent debunking of the inevitability of the midlife crisis in the research literature (e.g., D. A. Chiriboga, 1997; R. McCrae & P. Costa, 1990), the term remains a media staple, implying that midlife is a time of stress and difficulties brought about by turning 40. A recent review of midlife crisis research (O. G. Brim, 1992) concluded that midlife is not universally stressful and estimated that roughly only 10% of American men might undergo a midlife crisis. This paper examines the disjunction between popular and researcher views of midlife and its “crisis.” Using semistructured telephone survey techniques, this study of 724 participants explores the definitions that Americans hold of the “midlife crisis” and analyzes self-reports of midlife crises. Most Americans (over 90%) could provide a definition of the midlife crisis, and these definitions roughly coincide with the definitions used in psychological and psychoanalytic theories of the midlife crisis. Twenty-six percent of Americans reported that they had a midlife crisis. Qualitative analyses showed that Americans use a much wider definition of what constitutes a midlife crisis than that used by researchers. Despite the identification of this term with male personality development, women were as likely as men to report having had a midlife crisis. In addition, crises occurring well before age 40 and well after age 50 were frequently nominated as midlife crises. Most participants did not attribute their self-reported midlife crises to aging, but rather to major life events that posed a severe threat and challenge during a very broadly-defined period of “midlife.”

Keywords

Qualitative Analysis Social Psychology Research Literature Telephone Survey Personality Development 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elaine Wethington
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Human Development, Department of SociologyCornell UniversityIthaca

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