Middle Adulthood Developmental Psychology

Learn about middle adulthood development and careers in this area

middle adulthood development

The ubiquitous term "midlife crisis" that many in society take for granted, doesn't exist, according to many developmental psychology researchers, and in fact, most people during middle adulthood are satisfied and pleased with their lives. Developmentalists categorize this life stage as people between ages 35 to 64, and they maintain that healthy and unhealthy lifestyles and attitudes are the main concerns for those in this age group.

Physical Changes

For those in middle adulthood, aging is inevitable. By age 64, visible signs are apparent, such as gray and thinning hair, wrinkles, the need for reading and bifocal eyeglasses, and some hearing loss. Internally, changes are taking place as well, with some decline in the major organs, including the lungs, heart and digestive system; additionally women undergo menopause sometime between the ages of 42 and 51. Developmentalists call these forms of aging primary, meaning that the changes are inevitable and happen to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or socioeconomic class.

Secondary aging, however, is the result of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, drug use, unhealthy eating, alcohol abuse, obesity and lack of exercise. Death rates for this age group remain relatively low, although the two major illnesses that do affect the health and mortality of this age group are heart disease and cancer: analysis from a 2006 report by the nonprofit group Life Insurance Foundation for Education finds that the leading causes of death for males ages 45-65 is heart disease, followed by cancer. For females ages 35-64, the leading cause of death is cancer.

Researchers have proven, however, that exercise alone reduces the risk of almost every serious illness in middle adulthood - especially heart disease and cancer. Add healthy eating and the elimination of tobacco and alcohol use to middle-age lifestyles, and major illnesses can literally be halted altogether. And exercise slows many primary aging changes too, such as the physiological changes taking place within the vital organs.

Developmentalists also study individuals' vitality, or "joy of living" during the middle adult years as they have found high correlations between positive, upbeat attitudes and physical and mental health. These researchers have found that negativity caused by stress or conditions such as depression (see Depression) or anxiety (see Anxiety) can even eventually lead to chronic physical conditions in otherwise healthy bodies.

Cognitive Changes

Until the middle of the 20th century, it was thought that intelligence peaked in adolescence and then began to decline, and continued its descent over the remainder of a person's life. However, psychological researchers, particularly the work of K. Warner Schaie and his 1956 study called the Seattle Longitudinal Study, have proven that hypothesis incorrect, proving that some aspects of intelligence, such as vocabulary skills, actually increase until about age 60. Schaie's research project studied the aging and cognition of individuals from birth through the entire life span.

Two researchers during the 1960s, Raymond Cattell and John Horn, identified two categories of intelligence - crystallized and fluid intelligence. These researchers argued that fluid intelligence, or the ability to process new concepts and facts quickly and creatively, including abstract reasoning problems, independent of previous education or learning, peaks in adolescence and then starts a gradual decline between the ages of 30 and 40.

On the other hand, crystallized intelligence, or the stored knowledge gained from experience and education, becomes higher as people age. Facts like mathematical or chemical formulas, vocabulary size and history dates are all examples of crystallized intelligence.

And researcher James Flynn has shown that each new generation of IQ test takers scores higher than previous generations. Researchers point to better education, nutrition and health as contributing factors.

Although younger generations score higher on IQ tests than older generations, that doesn't mean that the intellectual abilities of adults diminish. To the contrary, middle adulthood is a time when many people have acquired a particular vocational expertise that makes them uniquely more qualified and capable than younger adults. This means that many in midlife are at the height of their careers, which also means increased job responsibilities. Career pressures combined with other changes taking place in their lives requires the ability to adequately juggle personal and professional responsibilities.

Those in this age group typically need to simultaneously manage a variety of family issues including children at various ages of development, aging, ill parents and financial concerns and worries. But by middle age, many individuals are better at handling the stresses of life. Through experience, flexible thinking, higher levels of intuition and adaptability, and the support of friendships that have been nurtured over the years, this age group typically conquers these challenges artfully and with expertise. And by adequately managing major life stressors, many individuals gain a sense of empowerment and confidence.

However, those who do struggle with middle-age stressors generally find that such stressors can negatively impact their overall health - especially as they get older and enter older adulthood. Alcoholism and overeating are examples of negative approaches to problem-solving, that are particularly relevant to this age group. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity prevalence for men and women aged 50-59 years increased to 31.7% and 30.2%, respectively from 19.1% for men and women aged 18-29 years. The CDC also reports that 30% of current consumers of alcohol drink excessively.

Emotional Changes

Just about everyone has heard of the "midlife" crisis. Supposedly this is a time of great emotional upheaval, anxiety, and drastic changes in behavior. But professionals specializing in developmental psychology characterize this time period quite differently, and research supporting the evidence of midlife crisis simply doesn't exist.

Most middle-aged individuals say that they are in meaningful intimate relationships, including those who have been married for several years. For those who divorce and remarry, many report satisfying intimacy although most report that remarriage brings a new set of challenges.

And developmentalists have found that most people in this age group have less problems with their children and also better relationships with their own parents.

What many consider a "crisis" might stem from a personality trait that makes coping with life's stresses difficult. Developmentalists study how personality affects people's lives, and try and identify the traits that lead to healthy or unhealthy behaviors and attitudes.

If studying personality and how it affects behavior sounds intriguing, or if you find how people grow and change in their middle adulthood years fascinating, you should consider a career in developmental psychology. Academic careers that also include research usually require either a master's degree or PhD in psychology. Other positions for nonprofits usually require at least a master's degree.

Also, learn more about the psychology career licensing processes and what the requirements for licensure are: Psychology Career Licensure.

Developmental Psychology Schools & Colleges
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5 Programs in
Online
  • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
  • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
  • Potential students may preview a free, one-week mini course to get an accurate impression of the student experience.
  • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
  • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
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  • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
  • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
  • Potential students may preview a free, one-week mini course to get an accurate impression of the student experience.
  • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
  • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
5 Programs in
Campus
  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • Main campus located in Chicago, Illinois with additional campuses in Southern California, Washington D.C., and online.
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  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • Main campus located in Chicago, Illinois with additional campuses in Southern California, Washington D.C., and online.
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  • Good for Working Adults
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
1 Programs in
Online
  • Ranked among the 2015 top 40 Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media.
  • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), with specific programmatic accreditation.
  • 14 campuses across Florida, with online options as well as off-site campuses in Shanghai, China and San Marcos, Nicaragua.
  • Founded in 1977, with a current student population of approximately 13,000.
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  • Ranked among the 2015 top 40 Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media.
  • Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), with specific programmatic accreditation.
  • 14 campuses across Florida, with online options as well as off-site campuses in Shanghai, China and San Marcos, Nicaragua.
  • Founded in 1977, with a current student population of approximately 13,000.
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Accredited
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
2 Programs in
Online
  • A member of The Russell Group of 24 UK research-led universities.
  • Ranked in the top 1% of higher education institutions worldwide.
  • Teaches students are from over 160 countries worldwide.
  • Holds full accreditation with degrees widely recognized internationally.
  • Degrees pursued online will look the same as degrees pursued on campus.
  • Its Royal Charter has allowed it to independently award bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees since 1903.
  • Over 6,000 international students on campus.
Show more [+]
  • A member of The Russell Group of 24 UK research-led universities.
  • Ranked in the top 1% of higher education institutions worldwide.
  • Teaches students are from over 160 countries worldwide.
  • Holds full accreditation with degrees widely recognized internationally.
  • Degrees pursued online will look the same as degrees pursued on campus.
  • Its Royal Charter has allowed it to independently award bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees since 1903.
  • Over 6,000 international students on campus.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
5 Programs in
Online
  • Students can enroll at any time and begin studies in the fall, spring, or summer.
  • 9 out of 10 Florida Tech Students who apply, qualify for some type of aid, based on a Fall 2012 internal survey.
  • The average freshman retention rate is 77.3 percent.
  • Ranked #39 in Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News and World Reports
  • Among the more than 50,000 alumni include several astronauts, CEOs, and 32 generals.
  • Special tuition rate available for active duty, selected reserves, National Guard service members and their spouses.
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  • Students can enroll at any time and begin studies in the fall, spring, or summer.
  • 9 out of 10 Florida Tech Students who apply, qualify for some type of aid, based on a Fall 2012 internal survey.
  • The average freshman retention rate is 77.3 percent.
  • Ranked #39 in Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News and World Reports
  • Among the more than 50,000 alumni include several astronauts, CEOs, and 32 generals.
  • Special tuition rate available for active duty, selected reserves, National Guard service members and their spouses.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
5 Programs in
Campus
  • Ranked #8 in the 2013 Best Online Undergrad Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
  • 70% graduation rate– significantly higher than the national average of 59%. 
  • Ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. 
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations that accredit public and private colleges and universities in the United States.  
  • Has a network of 26 campuses.
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  • Ranked #8 in the 2013 Best Online Undergrad Programs by U.S. News & World Report.
  • 70% graduation rate– significantly higher than the national average of 59%. 
  • Ranked #2 by U.S. News & World Report for Best Online Bachelor's Programs for Veterans. 
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting associations that accredit public and private colleges and universities in the United States.  
  • Has a network of 26 campuses.
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
1 Programs in
Online
  • Online MBA program ranked 6th in the USA by CEO magazine. 
  • In a university-sponsored survey, 4 out of 5 alumni reported being satisfied with their experience.
  • #1 Online School for military veterans according to Military Times.
  • 75,000+ graduates across all industries offer extensive networking opportunities. 
  • My Unique Student Experience (M.U.S.E.) lets students watch, view, read, or hear content. 
  • Smartphone app available for on-the-go learning. 
Show more [+]
  • Online MBA program ranked 6th in the USA by CEO magazine. 
  • In a university-sponsored survey, 4 out of 5 alumni reported being satisfied with their experience.
  • #1 Online School for military veterans according to Military Times.
  • 75,000+ graduates across all industries offer extensive networking opportunities. 
  • My Unique Student Experience (M.U.S.E.) lets students watch, view, read, or hear content. 
  • Smartphone app available for on-the-go learning. 
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
4 Programs in
Online
  • Among the top 15% of military-friendly colleges, universities, & trade schools in the nation. 
  • A Service Members Opportunities College.
  • Accepts employer tuition assistance. 
  • Recognized by The Princeton Review Guide to 311 Green Colleges as one of 311 institutions of higher education that demonstrates notable commitments to sustainability.  
  • Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Inc. (NEASC).
Show more [+]
  • Among the top 15% of military-friendly colleges, universities, & trade schools in the nation. 
  • A Service Members Opportunities College.
  • Accepts employer tuition assistance. 
  • Recognized by The Princeton Review Guide to 311 Green Colleges as one of 311 institutions of higher education that demonstrates notable commitments to sustainability.  
  • Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Inc. (NEASC).
Show more [+]
  • Good for Working Adults
  • Online Programs
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
5 Programs in
Online
  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • In a 2013 survey, 83% of students said they would recommend the university to others.
  • Most degree-seeking online and campus-based students are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
  • Average class sizes is 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Founded in 1937 in Davenport, Iowa as the American Institute of Commerce (AIC).
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  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • In a 2013 survey, 83% of students said they would recommend the university to others.
  • Most degree-seeking online and campus-based students are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
  • Average class sizes is 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Founded in 1937 in Davenport, Iowa as the American Institute of Commerce (AIC).
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
  • Financial Aid
5 Programs in
Online
  • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor's Programs in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Implements a one-to-one teaching model, partnering one student with one faculty member in each course.
  • 100% of faculty members hold doctoral degrees.
  • No physical residency requirements, allowing students to pursue their degree online.
  • Committed to innovation, diversity, excellence, and accountability since its founding in 1996.
  • Offers several programs in business, education, psychology, and more.
Show more [+]
  • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor's Programs in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Implements a one-to-one teaching model, partnering one student with one faculty member in each course.
  • 100% of faculty members hold doctoral degrees.
  • No physical residency requirements, allowing students to pursue their degree online.
  • Committed to innovation, diversity, excellence, and accountability since its founding in 1996.
  • Offers several programs in business, education, psychology, and more.
Show more [+]
  • Online Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits