Erikson stated that the primary psychosocial task of middle adult‐ hood—ages 45 to 65—is to develop generativity,
or the desire to expand one's influence and commitment to family, society, and future generations. In other words, the middle adult is concerned with forming and guiding the next generation. The middle adult who fails to develop generativity experiences stagnation,
or self‐absorption, with its associated self‐indulgence and invalidism.
Perhaps middle adulthood is best known for its infamous midlife crisis: a time of reevaluation that leads to questioning long‐held beliefs and values. The midlife crisis may also result in a person divorcing his or her spouse, changing jobs, or moving from the city to the suburbs. Typically beginning in the early‐ or mid‐40s, the crisis often occurs in response to a sense of mortality, as middle adults realize that their youth is limited and that they have not accomplished all of their desired goals in life. Of course, not everyone experiences stress or upset during middle age; instead they may simply undergo a midlife transition, or change, rather than the emotional upheaval of a midlife crisis. Other middle adults prefer to reframe their experience by thinking of themselves as being in the prime of their lives rather than in their declining years.
During the male midlife crisis, men may try to reassert their masculinity by engaging in more youthful male behaviors, such as dressing in trendy clothes, taking up activities like scuba diving, motorcycling, or skydiving.
During the female midlife crisis, women may try to reassert their femininity by dressing in youthful styles, having cosmetic surgery, or becoming more socially active. Some middle adult women try to look as young as their young adult children by dying their hair and wearing more youthful clothing. Such actions may be a response to feelings of isolation, loneliness, inferiority, uselessness, nonassertion, or unattractiveness.
Middle‐aged men may experience a declining interest in sexuality during and following their male climacteric (male menopause). Fears of losing their sexual ability have led many men to leave their wives for younger women to prove to others (and to themselves) that they are still sexually capable and desirable. In contrast, middle‐aged women may experience an increasing interest in sexuality, which can cause problems in their primary relationship if their significant other loses interest in sexual activity. This leads some middle‐aged women to have extramarital affairs, sometimes with younger sexual partners.
The field of life‐span development seems to be moving away from a normative‐crisis model to a timing‐of‐events model to explain such events as the midlife transition and the midlife crisis. The former model describes psychosocial tasks as occurring in a definite age‐related sequence, while the latter describes tasks as occurring in response to particular life events and their timing. In other words, whereas the normative‐crisis model defines the midlife transition as occurring exactly between ages 40 and 45, the timing‐of‐events model defines it as occurring when the person begins the process of questioning life desires, values, goals, and accomplishments.