According to transition theorists, psychological needs such as control over one's life, enthusiasm for activities, commitments to other people and values, and the belief that one matters to others cannot be satisfied for all time but must be continuously renegotiated. Because the demands and expectations of society change as one passes through the age-graded social structure, the individual must acquire new attitudes, roles, and beliefs in order to fulfill his or her needs. The nature of the new social contract negotiated by the maturing individual, that is, the particular psychological changes that are deemed necessary in order to meet one's needs, vary with the person and thereby define his or her personality (Reedy, 1983).
Daniel Levinson's conception of psychological development in adulthood is a mixture of discrete stages and transitions between adjacent stages. Based on in-depth interviews of 10 men in each of four occupational groups, Levinson's (1978) theory defines the goal of adult development as the construction of a life structure consisting of both an external, sociocultural side and an internal, personal side. A person's life structure develops in a series of stages ranging from 6 to 8 years in length and separated by transition periods of 4-5 years each. The four stages and five transitions of adulthood are described in Table 5-2. Each of the transition periods is spent in a reconsideration of one's life in preparation for the next stage. The most widely discussed of these transitions, the midlife transition, and the associated notion of the midlife crisis, was popularized by Gail Sheehy's books Passages (1976) and Pathfinders (1981). The midlife crisis is supposedly precipitated by a review and reevaluation of one's past during the midlife transition or the age-50 transition periods. However, research has found the midlife crisis to be far from a universal phenomenon (Reinke, Holmes, & Harris, 1985; Roberts & Newton, 1987; Valliant, 1977).
Although Levinson's initial research was limited to middle-class American men, he maintains that the theory also applies to women, different social
Table 5-2 Levinson's Stages and Transitions in Adult Development
Early Adult Transition (17-22). Goal is to terminate adolescent life structure and form a basis for living in the adult world.
Entering the Adult World (22-28). Form and test out preliminary life structures and provide a link between oneself and adult society.
Age 30 Transition (30-33). Revise life structure of previous period and form a basis for a more satisfactory life structure to be created in the settling-down stage.
Settling-Down Stage (33--40). Establish one's niche in society ("early settling down"), work at advancement, and strive for further success ("become one's own man").
Midlife Transition (40-45). Evaluate success in attaining goals of settling-down stage, take steps toward initiating midlife, and deal with relationship between oneself and the external world (individuation).
Entering Middle Adulthood (50-55)
Age 50 Transition (50-55)
Culmination of Middle Adulthood (55-60). Analogous to settling-down stage of young adulthood.
Late-Adult Transition (60-65). Changing mental and physical capacities intensify one's own aging and sense of mortality.
Source: Adapted from Levinson (1978)
classes, different cultures, and different periods of history (Levinson & Levin-son, 1996). Roberts and Newton (1987) found that Levinson's model was applicable to young and middle-aged women, but there were differences between the sexes. One of these differences concerned the nature of early adulthood "dreams." Levinson defines a "dream" as a set of aspirations that serves as a goal for the person's adult life. According to Roberts and Newton, women's dreams are more complex than men's. The "dreams" of men tended to center on occupational accomplishments, whereas the "dreams" of many women are split, involving both interpersonal relationships and occupational accomplishments. These findings are consistent with the idea that men are more likely than women to retain their identities by breaking away from their families and pursuing their interests and goals in individual achievements. The identities of women, however, are more likely to stem from the attachments and responsibilities associated with interpersonal relationships (Baruch, Barnett & Rivers, 1983; Gilligan, 1982).
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