Fewer than one-fifth of Americans say they actually experienced a midlife crisis. And yet there are still some common misunderstandings people have about midlife.
I study midlife, and especially how people in this stage of life experience sleep and stress. In my research, I have also found that midlife brings both opportunities and challenges.
Are we there yet?
Exactly when midlife begins is hard to pin down. Compared with other developmental periods – like childhood, adolescence and older adulthood – midlife lasts longer and includes more diverse social roles. There are fewer published studies on midlife than studies on childhood and older adulthood. So researchers still know little about the timing and unique experiences of this stage of life.
Midlife may begin at different times for different people.
In the 1990s, people generally agreed that midlife begins at age 35. This has shifted toward an older age. Now Americans might say midlife begins at age 44 and ends by 60. An increased life expectancy and medical advances may have contributed to this shift.
Today’s adults are living longer and healthier lives than previous generations. Also, the demands of establishing a career while building a family have increased. That’s why some researchers have started referring to the period occurring roughly from age 30 to 45 as “established adulthood,” distinguishing it from midlife as it was previously understood.
Chronological age is only one way to define the beginning of midlife. Psychologist Margie Lachman emphasizes looking at certain life transitions and social roles that commonly occur in midlife as a way of coming up with a definition.