Understanding Midlife Transition


According to the life course perspective existing in the UK, the midlife is referred to the transition phase which initiates from 47 years and culminates at 65 years (telegraph.co.uk, 2020). During this phase, wide number of drastic physical, cognitive and psychological changes occurs leading the individuals face different experience in their everyday life. Midlife often referred as psychological crisis that is executed out of different events highlighting the individual’s age, accomplishment and mortality. However, there are wide number of modern researches that have raised questions regarding the existence and consideration of midlife crisis (Elman and Chesters, 2017). In this respect, the essay is going to critically analyse the key factors responsible for physical, cognitive and psychosocial changes in midlife from a life course perspective.


Physical changes in Midlife

During midlife, the cumulative effect of primary and secondary ageing is seen with rarely significant progressive impact until the person reaches late adulthood. The primary ageing is chronological and biologically inevitable that varies across individuals as a result of their genetic variation (Sun and Liao, 2016). The secondary ageing is biological ageing that exacerbates because of the impact of negative cultural, structural and environmental factors like poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle, addiction to drugs and others (Drewelies et al. 2018). As asserted by Isopahkala-Bouret (2017), initiation of greying of hair and hair loss are physical changes that occur with entry into the mid-life stage. This is because of the depleting cells and tissues in the body that causes progressive damage which are unable to be resolved by the individuals with age. The fact can be supported by the Wear and Tear Theory of Aging which mentions that with progress age the body system and the cell damage leads to wear out of normal function of the body leading to changes in physical and biological constructs of the body (Solís et al. 2016). As argued by Carrard et al. (2019), development of wrinkles and age spots occurs with progress in midlife as physical changes. This is considered a natural part of ageing where the skin losses its elasticity and lead to become thinner and drier. The fact is supported by the Programmed theory of ageing which informs that with ageing the immunity system, endocrine system and the genes works in hindered manner that leads to create alteration in the physical constructs of the individuals (Benson and Donehower, 2020).

In midlife, the individuals also experience physical changes of less hearing efficiency and low vision due to progressing depletion of cells and hindered functioning of the body (Armstrong et al. 2019). This may be sign of primary or secondary ageing as not all people face similar level of hearing and vision loss due to variation in the genetic development and way of leading everyday life. As mentioned by Hasanzadeh et al. (2019), people in the midlife experiences hindered sexual efficiency even though their sexual interest remains strong for the opposite sex. This is because of the primary ageing in which people develop biological damage of sexual features through changes in hormone production affecting their sexual efficiency in physical life. In this respect, in the social world, various hormonal therapies and medications are seen to be developed for the midlife people to support their physical efficiency to involve in sexual activity which they lose with ageing (Thurston et al. 2017). As argued by Kapoor et al. (2017), people in their middle age shows phenomenological physical weight gain. This is because of both physical again and lifestyle changes such as poor and unhealthy diet, hindered physical activity, sedentary lifestyle and others. The muscular strength and sensory abilities along with cardiac output are seen to decrease for people in the midlife stages (Thurston et al. 2017). This is because of the secondary and primary effects of ageing which leads people to lose healthy functioning of the body culminating in the physical changes.

Cognitive changes in midlife

In midlife stage, wide variation in cognitive ability of individuals is seen due to the occupational, education and life experiences. This is evident as most adults in the middle age are seen to become experts in certain field or occupation. It reflects that though the brain reaches maturity yet the demands of life leads individuals to develop cognitive gains and losses at the midlife stage to show effective cognitive function compared to younger self (Kitamura et al. 2017). In general, it is reported that some people reflect sense of absent mindedness in comparison to their memory in early age during the midlife which also varies among individual but the additional cognitive constructs such a verbal memory, inductive reasoning, spatial orientation and vocabulary generally increase (Morpurgo, 2019). This is evident from the study of Salthouse (2019), where comparison of results from quasi-longitudinal and cross-sectional studies about memory efficiency with ageing revealed that normal ageing is characterised by linear memory decline in speed and acceleration in midlife. However, the knowledge regarding vocabulary and reasoning is seen to be increased until the 60's in the comparisons of younger people as mentioned in the results made in the study.

According to the Cattell-Horn theory of fluid and crystallised intelligence, the intelligence of an individual is developed of different abilities from interaction with others and working collaboratively. The fluid intelligence is process of information such as spatial ability, remembering lists, logical reasoning and time taken for reaction. However, crystallised intelligence involves showing ability to gather experience and knowledge from different sources (Zaboski et al. 2018). According to the theory, the decline in systematic memory is seen among people at the midlife stage when involved in cognitive tasks that need self-initiated effort without any aid of supportive cues of memory. It is evident as older adults show poorer performance compared to younger people in memory tasks that need recalling information which is learned previously (Canivez and Youngstrom, 2019). This occurs because with progressing age individuals become less efficient in using the working memory or have personal ability and efficiency to simultaneously use and store information. However, it is argued by Karwowski et al. (2017), inhibitory functioning of systematic memory is seen among people in midlife because they try to suppress attention to less important or relevant information and focus more on essential details. Thus, it indicates that the sensitivity and working memory remain intact from young age in the midlife but the long-term memory is negatively affected as they try to make space for new information and avoid the less efficient data to be stored in the mind.

In respect to cognitive changes in midlife, it is reported that older adults show more efficiency in solving interpersonal problem through implication of effective strategies compared to younger adults. This is evident from the study of Yuan et al. (2018) where it mentioned that older adults expressed being better problem-solvers when presented with issues of personal and social conflict compared to young people. This is mainly due to the reliance and use of increased wisdom of the adults along with presence of wide range of social and interpersonal conflict experiences over the years. As argued by Biloslavo and McKenna (2016), wisdom develops with wide experiences of failure and success along with collection of wider knowledge over the years. Since adults in the midlife are able to have wide number of experience over the time, they are able to accumulate wider knowledge and skills making them have increased wisdom compared to younger people, in turn, being able to show greater success in solving interpersonal and social problems.

According to Labouvie-vief cognitive theory, the older people show shifting away from solving problems in operational way and prefer more towards using pragmatic flexible approach and cognitive-emotional complexity (Diehl et al. 2018). This is evident from the study of Meléndez et al. (2018) where it is mentioned that when adults who are in the midlife are asked to recall writing a story, it was seen that they tend to psychologically and precisely interpret each character and ideas of the story rather than presenting information in chronological manner. This suggests that people in the midlife have cognitive decline due to which they fail to encode minute details and compensate the condition by summarising and developing sense of the situation. The Labouvie-vief cognitive theory argues that there may be two reasons behind the mentioned change in cognition of interpreting information among adults in the midlife. One reason may be that rooted experience of the people in their midlife that leads them show better creativity of formulating new and meaningful things but the second reason may be that they tend to think more pragmatically in the midlife which leads them to act accordingly (Green, 2016). Thus, the Labouvie-vief cognitive theory supports the latter concept but extensive research is still required to prove the support.

The people present in the midlife stage show greater tacit knowledge compared to younger individuals which lead them to delivery high-quality work (Schmidt and Muehlfeld, 2017). As mentioned by Kimberley et al. (2016), tacit knowledge is referred to the wide storage of information based on experiences of the life that are difficult to describe, transfer and codify to be transferred to another person through means of writing or verbalising. This nature of knowledge is gained through unrecorded, visualised and other forms of practice and experienced developed overtime (Schmidt and Muehlfeld, 2017). Thus, the tacit knowledge is more among the adults because their systematic brain functioning over the years develops information through error detection system, consciousness and social complex activities to store effective tactical information.

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Psychosocial changes in Midlife

The drastic changes in life faced by people at the midlife leads them experience psychological transition that often makes them face a crisis period. The fact is supported by Levinson in the stage-crisis-view theory of adult development. The theory mentions that in midlife crisis, the individuals experience sudden and large psychological changes that make them face increased anxiety and continuously revaluate oneself and other’s choices (Alvesson and Spicer, 2019). It is evident as men review their current, past and future aspiration and actions in the midlife and ask questions to search whether or not they will be able to achieve their dream decided in the early stage. This leads the individuals in the midlife develop anxiety from the uncertainty of their future and instigates them to continuously reassess their condition to develop actions so that they can fulfil their hope or dream (Hughes et al. 2019). Levinson also argues that midlife crisis rises among people out of retrospection and origination of awareness of their progressing age. Moreover, crisis develops out of watching their friends or parents die and children becoming adults in midlife which in turn leads them develop increased anxiety, stress and depression for their future (Aktu and İlhan, 2017). However, it is mentioned by various researcher that many critical flaws are seen in the research of Levinson in formulating the theory such as limited participant, hindered data analysis and inappropriate generalisation of pattern identified to represent crisis (Schmidt, 2018). Thus, the specific changes mentioned may not be visible in all the adults in the midlife stage.

Apart from Levinson, Erikson's developmental theory explains the personality and psychological changes occur among people in the midlife. According to the theory, individuals in their midlife try to give back to society by appropriately raising their children, involving in community activities and showing productivity at work. This is done with the psychological inclination to attain generativity that is making a mark in the society through nurturing or creating things which are going to outlast them (Malone et al. 2016). The Erikson’s theory mentions that success to attain generativity leads the individuals in the midlife develops feeling of accomplishment and usefulness, in turn, making them have positive psychological condition (Ardelt et al. 2018). However, it is argued that inability to attain generativity in midlife, leads individual to feel stagnant and unproductive. It makes the individuals psychological weak and depressed which eventually leads them to show disconnection with the society and community as a whole (Malone et al. 2016). This is because failure to make a mark in the society makes people in midlife feel their existence would be lost as effort and experiences of the previous years in building themselves would not be carried further.

In respect to psychosocial changes in midlife, Durkin argued that people at this stage focus more on their achievement of the children’s lives and personal health compared to education and family achievements that were aspiration in the adulthood (Green, 2016). It is similar to the theoretical concept of Erikson regarding midlife where it is also mentioned people in middle age tries to focus more on making a mark through family and children to ensure setting a path for their future. In contrast to Levinson’s theory, irrespective of all the changes which occur during midlife, it is actually be regarded as the phase of fulfilling time for many adults. This is because in this midlife stage the adults develop most intimacy with the relationship they have developed during their adulthood or intimacy vs isolation stage of the Erikson (Wojciechowska, 2017). Thus, the social convoys of the individuals act as source of psychological and social support to encourage them in managing the ups and downs of their progressing life (Green, 2016).

The social convoys of the individuals in midlife mainly include family members such as spouses, parents, siblings and others. It is seen that even though the adult children intend to set separate homes, yet they share an intergenerational bond with the individuals who are at the midlife and the bond grows in strength as well as flexibility (Fang et al. 2020). However, it is argued that only in unfortunate situations, adults in the midlife may avoid their families because they being toxic or having long-term standing relational conflict. The siblings are seen to develop closer bonds with individuals in midlife due to onset of major events such as being uncle or aunt where the try to act as support system through the bond (Gilligan et al. 2017). As mentioned by Green (2016), attitudes towards work changes in the middle age as individuals focus more on intrinsic satisfaction compared to the status and level of earning. This is because the people through working over the years most of the individuals attain stability and fair pay at work by their middle age. However, it is argued that lack of work stability at the midlife leads individuals to have depressed psychological state out of their fear of unstable future (Hamm et al. 2019). Thus, the standard work status in midlife is only able to lead individuals to have mental satisfaction regarding work and focus more on efficiently managing extrinsic factors on the job such as skill development, responsibility, career accomplishment and others.

In life, while a person's biological family is present through inheritance, marriage develops a uniquely chosen family. The adults who remain as couples in the midlife seen to show higher level of psychological well-being along with social integration with their partners and family compared to the people who have divorced, single or widowed. This is because at the midlife their financial and social stressors along with constraints with time are seen to be reduced to most extent, in turn, providing them peace of mind to interact and bond with others (Green, 2016). According to Sternberg’s theory of love, the individuals to remain as one require being intimate, committed and be passionate about their love (Ardelt et al. 2018). In midlife, most of the couples after reaching stable psychological condition are seen to show greater commitment towards their partners which leads them to maintain a healthy and happy relationship (Green, 2016).


The above discussion informs that midlife start from 47 years and ends by 65 years during which many physical, cognitive and psychological changes occur among individuals. The notable physical changes include hindrance low muscular strength, hair loss, loss of active sexuality and others. The cognitive changes according to Cattell-Horn theory in middle age include hindered systematic memory with loss crystalline intelligence but with high fluid intelligence. This occurs as the people in midlife avoid storing useless data to make space for more information. In respect to psychosocial changes, the adults in their midlife wish to reach generativity according to Erikson's theory but failure to reach generativity causes individuals develop stagnation. The Levinson's theory mentions midlife crisis to cause anxiety and depression among adults but there is criticism regarding its authenticity. The adults in their midlife show greater psychological attachment with their family and partners and the individuals express peace of mind who have stable working condition.


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