Freund+and+Ritter+2009 - Behavioural Science Section...

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Fax +41 61 306 12 34 E-Mail [email protected] www.karger.com Behavioural Science Section Gerontology 2009;55:582–591 DOI: 10.1159/000227322 Midlife Crisis: A Debate Alexandra M. Freund Johannes O. Ritter University of Zurich, Department of Psychology, Zurich, Switzerland coworker who is 24 years his junior for quite a while and they have been having a passionate affair for a few weeks. Tom has had a fairly successful career as a loan officer in a bank, but is thinking about making a career change as he feels he has got as far as he can in this line of work and finds the thought of spending the rest of his working life as a loan officer unsettling. He is also currently thinking about buying a sports car – a red convertible… Most people would say that Tom seems to be going through a midlife crisis. All of the ‘symptoms’ appear to fit perfectly. But consider Tom’s story again and imagine he were 29 instead of 49 years of age. Would the ‘symp- toms’ of starting an affair with a 25-year-old woman, thinking about making a career change and about buying a fancy red convertible sports car seem odd? Maybe men of all ages are susceptible to the attractiveness of 25-year- old women, the possibilities of other jobs, and the lure of fast cars? On what basis, then, do people neglect the base rate of these wishes and behaviors at any point across adulthood and view them as symptoms of a crisis when they occur in midlife? One might argue that the same be- havior takes on a different meaning when displayed un- der different circumstances and that the behavior of the 29-year-old Tom is perfectly in line with social expecta- tions for young adulthood, whereas the behavior of 49- year-old Tom does not conform with age-related expecta- tions for middle adulthood. In fact, one might believe that these behaviors are indicative of an underlying fear of aging. In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of the concept of the midlife crisis. In this discussion, we will Key Words Midlife crisis Time perspective Social expectations Life review Abstract Without doubt, the midlife crisis is the most popular concept describing middle adulthood. Facing the limitation of the time until death, men in particular are believed to pause from actively pursuing their goals and review their achieve- ments, take stock of what they have and have not yet ac- complished, at times taking drastic measures to fulfill their dreams. This paper critically discusses the concept of a midlife crisis and the relevant empirical evidence, present- ing arguments for and against a strict, a moderate, and a le- nient conceptualization of the midlife crisis. Although a strict and even moderate definition of the midlife crisis does not seem tenable on empirical and theoretical grounds, a le- nient conceptualization has the potential to stimulate new research directions exemplifying processes of the interac- tion of social expectations on the one hand and personal goals on the other, and their importance for developmental regulation.
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