Middle Adulthood Development (Erikson’s Theory)

Middle adulthood is the period of lifespan between young adulthood and old, typically classified as ages 45 to 60. While most individuals maintain childhood traits, middle adulthood is a period of significant psychological growth as personality develops with overcoming life challenges. Unlike previous ages, middle adulthood is not confined by chronological age which allows it to have more fluidity in terms of psychological development. In terms of personality, this period typically sees stabilization and more intimate relationships. In accordance with Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, middle adulthood is characterized by striving to developing of generativity, while those who fail experience stagnation, with potential presence of a midlife crisis during this period.

Erikson’s generativity vs. stagnation is second to last in terms of development. Generativity can be described as attempts of making meaningful contributions to the world, commonly through developing relationships with others or creating and accomplishing something positive. Generativity is often seen through contributions to the next generation, by making commitments or mentoring others. Individuals experiencing generativity are active in their family, home, and community, building positive relationships and striving to experience greater sense of fulfillment through pride and inclusion in work and/or family. However, middle adults unable to achieve generativity experience stagnation, otherwise known as self-absorption which is typically associated with invalidism and self-indulgence. Stagnation leads to decreased life satisfaction and low-quality relationships as well as a sense of mortality (Lumen, n.d.). It is in stagnation when people experience what is known as a midlife crisis when people feel regret about the past and concern about future trajectory due to missed opportunities along with a reexamination of long-held beliefs and values. However, despite the cultural/media popularity of the midlife crisis, only a fraction of adults report it, ranging from 20 to 60% depending on the study and location (Lachman et al., 2015).

Daniel Levinson also presented findings suggesting that each person has five main stages of life, with middle adulthood being the third one. Levinson’s theory is known as the stage-crisis perspective suggesting that stages overlap, essentially consisting of two distinct phases of stability and transition for each respective stage. The midlife transition years (40-45) leading to middle adulthood can involve change and questioning which results in the reappraisal or reaffirmation of life goals, commitments, and past choices. It is a time of reflection but also an opportunity for recalibration of important elements in life such as family and work. The transition also involves reconciling contradictions in the sense of self (Levinson, 1977).

It can be argued that middle adulthood arrives when an individual no long seeks to ascertain their status as an adult, but feel like an adult for others. It creates a certain sense of freedom which may lead to choices and changes in life that are focused on self-fulfillment rather than social acceptance. There is an inherent focus on the present, but because of the understanding of mortality, also a sense of urgency to take action and make changes with anything that does not satisfy an individual by their 40s. It is a developmental stage in which a person forms new ideas about self in the future taking into account their comprehension of self in the past (Lumen, n.d.).

Although many processes, including cognitive and physical, are beginning to decline in the midlife stages, it is possible to minimize decrements with protective resources and also demonstrate adaptive lifestyle factors and modification of psychosocial factors to ensure a better future. Midlife is at an intersection of growth and decline paths. Middle adults begin to lose functional health, processing cognition, and working memory, but also gain elements of knowledge, experience, and emotional regulation (Lachman, 2015). Midlife is a unique stage that it is neither the low or high point of these trajectories, but from a holistic viewpoint, it remains an optimal time to make changes, adapt, and recalibrate in order to receive happiness from the remaining portion of life.


Lachman, M. E., Teshale, S., & Agrigoroaei, S. (2015). Midlife as a pivotal period in the life course. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 39(1), 20–31.

Levinson, D. J. (1977). The mid-life transition: a period in adult psychosocial development. Psychiatry, 40(2), 99–112.

Lumen. (n.d.). Emotional and social development in middle adulthood. Lumen Learning.

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PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Middle Adulthood Development (Erikson’s Theory)." January 25, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/middle-adulthood-development-eriksons-theory/.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Middle Adulthood Development (Erikson’s Theory)." January 25, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/middle-adulthood-development-eriksons-theory/.


PsychologyWriting. "Middle Adulthood Development (Erikson’s Theory)." January 25, 2023. https://psychologywriting.com/middle-adulthood-development-eriksons-theory/.