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The myth of the midlife crisis: What middle age looks like in real life

Jack Nicholson in Warner Bros.'
Jack Nicholson in Warner Bros.' "The Shining."

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Graying adults driving red Corvettes were just a glimmer in Elliott Jaques’ eye when he first coined the term “midlife crisis” at a psychiatric conference in 1957.

If only he could have predicted the decades of dread those two words would instill.

But an article recently published in The Atlantic argues that the original definition of a midlife crisis – internal strife caused by the realization that death is looming – has ballooned over time, making it more of a social construct than an actual experience.

A massive study formed in 1995 called “Midlife in the United States” (MIDUS) researches this relatively data-dry psychological stage in adulthood and has made some interesting discoveries. According to their data, though midlife crises are often portrayed as an inevitable experience only about 10-20% of adults experience one, and those individuals are often crisis-prone to begin with.

If you are currently in your middle years, what are your thoughts? Have you noticed a change in stress since transitioning into the fine wine stage of life? How have your priorities shifted?


Pamela Druckerman, journalist and author of the recently released “There Are No Grown-ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story” (Penguin Press 2018)

David M. Almeida, lifespan development psychologist and professor at Pennsylvania State University; he is a lead researcher for Midlife in the United States (MIDUS), a longitudinal study through the University of Wisconsin-Madison which investigates health and well-being during middle age