Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

8: Middle Adulthood

  • Page ID
    10228
  • Learning Objectives: Physical Development in Middle Adulthood

    • Explain the difference between primary and secondary aging
    • Describe sensory changes that occur during middle adulthood
    • Identify health concerns in middle adulthood
    • Explain what occurs during the climacteric for females and males
    • Describe sexuality during middle adulthood
    • Explain the importance of sleep and consequences of sleep deprivation
    • Describe the importance of exercise and nutrition for optimal health
    • Describe brain functioning in middle adulthood

    Middle adulthood, or midlife, refers to the period of the lifespan between early adulthood and late adulthood. Although ages and tasks are culturally defined, the most common age definition is from 40-45 to 60-65. This may be the least studied time of the lifespan, and research on this developmental period is relatively new as many aspects of midlife are still being explored. In the United States, the large Baby Boom cohort (those born between 1946 and 1964) are now midlife adults (and some even late adults) and this has led to increased interest in this developmental stage. We do know that this stage reflects both developmental gains and losses and that there are considerable individual differences, but there is still much to learn about this age group.

    • 8.1: Physical Development in Middle Adulthood
      Each person experiences age-related physical changes based on many factors: biological factors, such as molecular and cellular changes, and oxidative damage are called primary aging, while aging that occurs due to controllable factors, such as an unhealthy lifestyle including lack of physical exercise and poor diet, is called secondary aging (Busse, 1969).
    • 8.2: Health Concerns
    • 8.3: Sleep
      According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine adults require at least 7 hours of sleep per night to avoid the health risks associated with chronic sleep deprivation. Less than 6 hours and more than 10 hours is also not recommended for those in middle adulthood. Not surprisingly, many Americans do not receive the 7-9 hours of sleep recommended. In 1993, 67% of Americans felt they were getting enough sleep, but in 2013 only 56% felt they received as much sleep as needed.
    • 8.4: Exercise, Nutrition, and Weight
    • 8.5: Climacteric
      The climacteric, or the midlife transition when fertility declines, is biologically based but impacted by the environment. During midlife, men may experience a reduction in their ability to reproduce. Women, however, lose their ability to reproduce once they reach menopause.
    • 8.6: Brain Functioning
    • 8.7: Middle Adults Returning to Education
    • 8.8: Gaining Expertise - The Novice and the Expert
      Expertise refers to specialized skills and knowledge that pertain to a particular topic or activity. In contrast, a novice is someone who has limited experiences with a particular task. Everyone develops some level of “selective” expertise in things that are personally meaningful to them, such as making bread, quilting, computer programming, or diagnosing illness. Expert thought is often characterized as intuitive, automatic, strategic, and flexible.
    • 8.9: Work and Leisure at Midlife
    • 8.10: Psychosocial Development in Middle Adulthood
    • 8.11: Stress
      Stress is defined as pattern of physical and psychological responses in an organism after it perceives a a threatening event that disturbs its homeostasis and taxes its abilities to cope with the event. Stress was originally derived from the field of mechanics where it is used to describe materials under pressure. The word was first used in a psychological manner by researcher Selye, who was examining the effect of an ovarian hormone that he thought caused sickness in a sample of rats.
    • 8.12: Erikson: Generativity vs Stagnation
    • 8.13: Midlife Relationships
      The sandwich generation refers to adults who have at least one parent age 65 or older and are either raising their own children or providing support for their grown children. According to a recent Pew Research survey, 47% of middle-aged adults are part of this sandwich generation (Parker & Patten, 2013). In addition, 15% of middle-aged adults are providing financial support to an older parent while raising or supporting their own children (Figure 8.29).
    • 8.14: Middle Adult Lifestyles
      Bella DePaulo (2014) has challenged the idea that singles, especially the always single, fair worse emotionally and in health when compared to those who are married. DePaulo suggests that there is a bias in how studies examine the benefits of marriage. Most studies focus on only a comparison between married versus not married, which does not include a separate comparison between those who have always been single, and those who are single because of divorce or widowhood.
    • 8.15: Friendships
      Adults of all ages who reported having a confidante or close friend with whom they could share personal feelings and concerns, believed these friends contributed to a sense of belonging, security, and overall wellbeing. Having a close friend is a factor in significantly lower odds of psychiatric morbidity including depression and anxiety. The availability of a close friend has also been shown to lessen the adverse effects of stress on health.
    • 8.16: Women in Midlife
      The description that aging men are viewed as “distinguished” and aging women are viewed as “old” is referred to as the double standard of aging (Teuscher & Teuscher, 2006). Since women have traditionally been valued for their reproductive capabilities, they may be considered old once they are postmenopausal. In contrast, men have traditionally been valued for their achievements, competence and power, and therefore are not considered old until they are physically unable to work.
    • 8.17: Religion and Spirituality
      Grzywacz and Keyes (2004) found that in addition to personal health behaviors, such as regular exercise, healthy weight, and not smoking, social behaviors, including involvement in religious- related activities, have been shown to be positively related to optimal health. However, it is not only those who are involved in a specific religion that benefit, but so too do those identified as being spiritual.
    • 8.R: Middle Adulthood (References)