Development in Early & Middle Adulthood

Adulthood has no signpost to announce its onset (as adolescence is announced by puberty). In technologically advanced nations, the life span is more than 70 years. Developmental psychologists usually consider early adulthood to cover approximately age 20 to age 40 and middle adulthood approximately 40 to 65.

Early adulthood. In early adulthood, an individual is concerned with developing the ability to share intimacy, seeking to form relationships and find intimate love. Long‐term relationships are formed, and often marriage and children result. The young adult is also faced with career decisions.

  • Choices concerning marriage and family are often made during this period. Research shows that divorce is more likely among people who marry during adolescence, those whose parents were divorced, and those who are dissimilar in age, intelligence, personality, or attractiveness. Separation is also more frequent among those who do not have children. Most people who have divorced remarry; consequently, children may experience more than one set of parents.

  • Such alternatives to marriage as “living together” ( cohabitation) have become more common. In 1997, the Census Bureau estimated that 4.13 million unwed couples lived in the United States.

  • Work/career choice affects not only socioeconomic status but also friends, political values, residence location, child care, job stress, and many other aspects of life. And while income is important in both career selection and career longevity, so are achievement, recognition, satisfaction, security, and challenge. In the modern cultures of many nations, the careers of both spouses or partners frequently must be considered in making job choices.

Middle adulthood. In middle adulthood, an important challenge is to develop a genuine concern for the welfare of future generations and to contribute to the world through family and work. Erik Erikson refers to the problem posed at this stage as generativity vs. self‐absorption.

Robert Havighurst lists seven major tasks in the middle years.

  • accepting and adjusting to physiological changes, such as menopause

  • reaching and maintaining satisfaction in one's occupation

  • adjusting to and possibly caring for aging parents

  • helping teenage children to become responsible adults

  • achieving adult social and civic responsibility

  • relating to one's spouse as a person

  • developing leisure‐time activities

While a midlife crisis is not regarded as a universal phenomenon, during one's 40s and 50s comes the recognition that more than half of one's life is gone. That recognition may prompt some to feel that the clock is ticking and that they must make sudden, drastic changes in order to achieve their goals, while others focus on finding satisfaction with the present course of their lives.