Researcher have defined a midlife crisis as the personal confusion and difficulty coping sometimes experienced by people between the ages of 39 and 50, brought on by concern and worry about growing older. A midlife crisis is not necessarily a bad thing, although it is often seen in this light. If viewed positively, it can be used by individuals as a chance to make meaning out of their lives, to reassess their lives and try to fulfil idealistic dreams.
According to Kathleen MacPherson in Going to the Source: Women Reclaim Menopause, a stereotypical view of a woman suffering midlife crisis is one who is physically unattractive, childless, not interested in sex, menopausal, depressed, irritable, frustrated and intellectually dull. This is not true; females experiencing midlife crisis normally are working, have children and are married.
Compared to male midlife crisis, the female midlife crisis is relatively understudied. Initially, it was thought that the causes of midlife crisis for men were also the causes of midlife crisis for women. Research since has shown this belief to be incorrect. The changing lifestyle of women, who are now more likely to be working, has meant that the earlier hypotheses in these studies are incorrect.
Research by Sharon McQuaide has made several notable findings in this area. She found that midlife crisis in women is not an inevitable result of menopausal depression or empty-nest syndrome. The women in her study were happy in their lives but did find this stage in their lives challenging, although this challenge did not necessarily translate into a midlife crisis. Neither did income have anything to do with female midlife crisis, although having a low disposable income could be a contributory factor. Menopausal status and symptoms, caring for parents, children leaving the home, educational level, marital status, occupation and feminism were also not correlated to midlife well-being. If a woman felt incapable of participating in all aspects of life because of poor health, disability, limited spending power or involuntary unemployment, then she was more likely to have a female midlife crisis.
Societal values also had an impact on women's emotional well-being. If a woman was not doing well, especially a woman from the baby-boomer generation, she was more likely to listen to the negative undertones and messages being transmitted by the media or by society in general and feel obsolete. Women who were doing well were much more likely to ignore and disregard the same messages as they felt they did not apply to them.
Although the term female midlife crisis is seen negatively, it is important to see it as a time for change and self-evaluation. Midlife for women can be seen as a time for transition where they are no longer burdened by the role of motherhood. With more time, they can begin to evaluate their position in the world, possibly for the better. The midlife crisis can and is used to instigate change in the personal, professional and vocational areas of their lives. Whether that is joining a new social club or deciding to seek a promotion or change jobs, those changes should not be seen as negative without further observation. Compared to the typical view of male midlife crisis, which is seen as a crisis that presents itself with the man buying unnecessary luxury goods like an expensive sports car, motorbikes or jewelry, the female midlife crisis can be much more positive.
According to McQuaide, the key things a woman needs to avoid a midlife crisis is a good job and a good income. She also needs to involve herself in the wider world in general, not just her social world, and she needs to keep herself constantly and consistently challenged. However, if a woman is suffering from a midlife crisis, she should look for a positive outcome and make changes in her life that fulfil and challenge her rather than spending time wondering what could have been.