Why Middle Age Is Emerging as the Prime of Life

By Perryman, Anne | Work & Family Life, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Why Middle Age Is Emerging as the Prime of Life


Perryman, Anne, Work & Family Life


Are middle-aged baby boomers having an identity crisis? Just the opposite, it seems. A 10-year study of nearly 8,000 Americans, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, found that people in midlife-and especially those between 40 and 60-have a greater sense of well-being about family, work and life in general than at any other time in their life.

"It's not the period of high anxiety that we've been led to believe," said Dr. Orville Gilbert Brim, director of the research project. "On balance, the sense we all have is that midlife is the best place to be."

For example, the notion that most people go through a "midlife crisis" lives on in the public imagination but is not supported by research. Only 23 percent of MacArthur study participants reported a midlife crisis and, of this group, just a third said the crisis was brought about by the realization that they were aging. The majority tied it to specific events in their lives which, in many cases, had nothing to do with aging.

Midlifers in the study reported feeling a greater sense of control over different parts of their lives. Many had gotten past bad marriages and career struggles. Their children were grown and they enjoyed being empty nesters." A majority reported being in better shape than they were 10 years before, and many said they were in the best shape of their lives-physically, mentally and financially.

Midlife boomers hard to predict As a group, middle-age baby boomers are still hard to predict, according to American Demographics. For example, a sizeable cohort enjoy working and expect to stay in the workforce longer. Or, if they do retire at 65, they don't plan to give up work entirely. Another physically fit and financially comfortable group say they want to retire early so they can "play" full time. Others are looking forward to a major new challenge, like starting their own business.

Increasingly, boomers are going online, for everything from e-mail to investing because, they say, it simplifies their lives. They use the Internet for shopping, medical services and travel, and to gain information about health and wellness.

Some over-optimism about health Midlife baby boomers tend to be optimistic, perhaps overly so. …

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