The adult years are generally
divided into three broad stages
– young adulthood, middle
adulthood, and late adulthood.
Many theorists believe that adult
development, like childhood and
adolescence, follows certain
stages. Others believe there are
Young adulthood covers a span
of approximately 20 years (from
about 20 – 40 years old).
It is characterized by a desire to
try new ways of doing things
and by changing relationships
Many young adults are at the
height of their physical and
In their 20’s many young adults
think they have chosen the
course in life that is exactly right
for them, but as they reach their
30’s they may reconsider.
This is a time where careers
may be changed, single people
may find a mate, families may
Women are particularly
vulnerable to this stage.
Afterthe upheaval of the
early 30’s, the middle to late
30’s are often characterized
by settling down, increasing
their financial and emotional
Developmental Tasks of Young Adulthood
Exploring adult roles
Adjusting to living with another
Starting a family and becoming
Assuming the responsibilities of
managing a home
Beginning a career or a job
Assuming some responsibilities
in the larger community
Creating a social network of
friends and coworkers
Most people in the U.S. marry.
The median age of first
marriages for men is 27 and for
women is 25.
About one in every four people
over the age of 18 has never
The state with the lowest
divorce rate is Massachusetts
and the highest is Nevada.
Marital roles in modern society
are changing. Patriarchy (male
dominated) is no longer the
Many couples share roles, or the
traditional roles are reversed.
Many single parents are fully
responsible for fulfilling both
roles in their families.
In the US, most marry for love, but
this did not become widespread until
the 1800’s. Prior to this, marriages
were arranged by the parents of the
bride and groom on the basis of how
it would benefit the two families.
In some areas of the world, this
practice still exists, but in western
societies, companionship and
intimacy are central goals in most
Generally, people marry others
who are similar to themselves in
geographical area, age, race,
religion, physical attractiveness,
personality, and intelligence.
Divorce rates rose steadily
throughout much of the 20th
century before leveling off in the
80’s. More people are living
together and waiting to get
Obtaining a divorce has become
easier in many states. The
independence of women also
may have contributed to the rise
in divorce. High expectations
may be another cause.
Many couples expect marriage
to be constantly gratifying and
to be easy, but relationships
require work and commitment.
Other causes of divorce may be abuse,
infidelity, strains brought about by illness
or financial hardship, or an inability to
Divorce is costly. When household
resources are divided, it is difficult to
maintain the same standard of living.
Women, who are generally granted
custody of the children, often find
themselves solely responsible for the
rearing of the children. Divorce can lead
to feelings of failure, loneliness, and
In some, divorce can lead to
personal growth and renewal. Most
divorced people remarry, but those
new marriages are even more likely
to fail than the first.
Divorce can be difficult for children,
no matter what their age.
Nearly half will experience problems
such as anxiety, poor grades, low
self-esteem, and anger, boys usually
having more problems than girls.
Many children blame themselves for
their parents’ divorce.
While some children may seem
to adjust well to the divorce, the
reality may not be evident until
early adulthood, when they may
find it difficult to trust the
commitment of a potential
partner and thus may be
reluctant to become deeply
involved with other people. This
is known as the Sleeper Effect.
Middle adulthood lasts from the
age of 40 to 65. There is a
decline in physical ability, but it
is so gradual that it is hardly
People who work at their
conditioning can maintain
excellent health and strength
throughout middle adulthood.
Developmental Tasks of Middle
Helping one’s children make
the transition from home life to
the outside world
relationship with one’s spouse
Helping make the world a
better place by assuming
leadership roles in social and
Achieving mastery in one’s
Adjusting to the physical
changes that occur in middle
Making decisions about how
to spend one’s “second
Pursuing one’s passions
Coping with one’s aging parents
Erikson believed that the greatest
challenge for middle-aged adults is
generativity. Adults can be creative
in various areas of their lives such
as their career, family, and
Some cultures welcome the outward
signs of getting older, but this is not
true in the US. Cheating the aging
process is a billion-dollar business
that keeps growing.
Some psychologists have noted that
many people experience a midlife
transition around the ages of 40-45
(men) or mid 30’s (women).
It may spring from a realization that
they have lived about half of their
life. Birthdays up until now may
have only signaled how many years
you had achieved, but future
birthdays represent how many years
you have left.
Some critical events that may bring
on this mid-life transition are
the death of a parent
sending your youngest child off to
a change at work
not being able to do what you used
For some adults, this may trigger a
sense of urgency – a last chance to
do certain things.
Middlescence is a term
sometimes used to describe
a period of searching that in
some ways resembles
It involves searching for a
new identity, or a second
The Empty-Nest Syndrome used to
be a real problem for mothers who
had never worked outside the home
and devoted most of their life to
bringing up children.
Contemporary research suggests
that many women develop a
renewed sense of themselves and
they may have greater peace of
mind, self-confidence, and personal
stability due to more energy and
time to spend outside of the home.
A very noticeable sign of aging in
women is menopause, when the
menstrual cycle ends, usually
between the ages of 45 and 55.
It is caused by a decrease in the
secretion of the hormones estrogen
After menopause, a woman no
longer produces eggs that can be
fertilized. The hormonal change can
produce hot flashes, fatigue, and
There is no male reproductive
event equal to menopause.
Men’s testosterone levels drop,
but not at the sharp rate of
estrogen decrease in women.
Sperm counts decline, but men
do not lose their fertility.
Age 65 marks the beginning of
late adulthood. People are living
to be older than ever before.
In 1900, only one American in
30 was over the age of 65.
While some see this stage as the
beginning of the end, it actually
can provide many opportunities
Our sight, smell, and hearing usually
begin a steep decline once we hit
age 65. Muscle strength and
stamina also diminish, and it takes
longer to heal after injury.
Wrinkles and skin folds occur as the
skin becomes less elastic. Bones
become more brittle, they fracture
Immune systems also become less
effective as a barrier against
Aging also slows down travel on
our neural pathways, requiring
more time to react, remember
Portions of the brain start to
atrophy, or waste away,
particularly in the memory
region. (If you live to be 80,
your brain will weigh 5% less
than it does now.)
You can compensate for these losses
by remaining physically and
mentally active. Exercise appears to
foster brain cell development while
helping prevent heart disease and
Many older people may prefer
walking and swimming to more
weight-bearing exercises such as
running and bicycling that cause
more stress on bones and joints.
Why do some people age faster
than others? Aging theories fall
into two categories –
programmed theories and
cellular damage theories.
Programmed theories of aging
view people as having biological
clocks that move forward at a
predetermined pace. It
suggests that genetics plays a
significant role in the length of
Cells in our bodies divide and repair
themselves only a specific number of
times. After that they become inactive
and eventually die.
As they age, cells also become less able
to repair themselves and become
vulnerable to diseases like cancer.
Hormonal changes may also leave the
body vulnerable to diabetes,
osteoporosis, and heart disease. The
immune system is also influenced by
Cellular damage theories suggest
that cells malfunction as a result of
damage which may come from
internal body changes or from
external causes, such as trauma or
Cells are affected by poisons and
cancer-causing agents in the
environment for long periods of
time. They become less able to
repair themselves and thus, more
vulnerable to disease.
Free radicals (unstable molecules)
are produced naturally by digestion,
but also by exposure to
environmental agents like ultraviolet
light, air pollution, pesticides, or
even extreme heat.
This causes damage to cells by
accumulating in the body.
Cross-linking may also be a cause of
aging because proteins within a cell
bind together and toughen body
tissues, which eventually leads to
the breakdown of various bodily
The great majority of older
people do not have serious
decline in intellectual skills.
Knowledge and vocabulary
continue to grow throughout a
Unfortunately, some older
people do have cognitive
problems, such as senile
dementia and Alzheimer’s
People with dementia show
major losses in memory and can
also have speech problems or be
unable to perform simple tasks.
They may also have difficulty
concentrating or making plans.
Dementia after the age of 65 is
called senile dementia. Most
cases occur over the age of 80.
It is not a normal part of the
aging process and there are
about 70 known causes,
including alcoholism, tumor,
strokes, or anything else that
results in a substantial loss
of brain cells.
The longer you live, the
more chance you have of
The most common cause of
dementia is Alzheimer’s disease,
which affects about 10% of the
population over 65.
It is characterized by progressive
and irreversible destruction of
brain cells in the hippocampus,
resulting in a gradual deterioration
of memory, reasoning, language,
and ultimately, physical
Heredity seems to play a role in
developing Alzheimer’s, as do viral
infections and aluminum poisoning.
Certain drugs slow down the
disease, but there is no know cure.
Vascular dementia can be caused by
the bursting of a blood vessel in the
brain (a stroke) or by a decrease in
the blood supply to the brain.
Various infections can also cause
Many social changes also come
with aging. Retirement,
grandchildren, and living
arrangements create new
experiences for older people.
Retirement is something that
many people look forward to,
while others dread it.
Sometimes retirement is
voluntary, other times it is
enforced by age 65 or 70.
In the early part of retirement, people
often undergo a “honeymoon” phase
where they feel very positive and do
many of the things they’d dreamed of.
After a while, disillusionment sets in
when their schedules slow down and
they discover that the things they’ve
looked forward to aren’t quite as
stimulating as they thought they would
Retirement also puts stress on a
marriage because suddenly you are
spending all of your time with your
Eventually, a lot of retirees join
volunteer groups and participate
more in community activities.
Sometimes, they begin entirely
new careers. For all, a new
routine and stability eventually
Grandparents often have more
relaxed relationships with their
grandchildren than they had
with their children.
They may have become more
tolerant and understanding over
the years, plus they do not
usually have to shoulder the
major responsibility for the
Grandparents can also be
sources of wisdom and love fore
the children, as well as
caretakers if needed. Many
cultures have multigenerational
Most older people are independent
and remain in their homes for as
long as possible. About 30% of
older people will spend some time in
a nursing home, but not usually until
after the age of 80.
Many studies show that older people
are every bit as happy and satisfied
with life as younger people are. In
fact, someone in their 20’s might
feel more worthless, sad, or nervous
than someone in their 70’s.
Erikson believed that people in late
adulthood need to maintain ego
integrity, or the belief that life is
meaningful and worthwhile even
when physical abilities are not what
they used to be. Time is limited and
nothing lasts forever.
We all must face death at some
point in our lives. In the U.S.,
attitudes are tending more toward
the inevitability of death and facing
it with dignity.
Some cultures encourage handling
grief with a stiff upper lip, while still
others show enormous amounts of
grief from both men and women.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a
psychiatrist, worked with people
who had terminal illnesses in 1969.
She theorized that there are five
stages through which many dying
people, and even elderly people
without terminal illnesses, pass.
Denial – This can’t be true.
Maybe the doctors are wrong.
Anger – Why me? This is so
Bargaining – I’ll do anything if I
can just live long enough to do this…
Depression – Why live even one
Acceptance – I’ve had a good
life and I’m ready to go now.
Kubler-Ross’s theory was not
without it’s critics. Other
psychologists were quick to point
out that many people show a
variety of reactions to death and
may not follow the sequence she
Another problem with her theory
is that it may tempt people to
ignore the uniqueness of each
individual’s experiences at the end
Some dying people choose to go to
a hospice care for the remainder of
their illness. It can be given at
home, or in a hospice facility, where
visiting hours are not restricted.
Dying people are allowed more
control over their lives (diet,
activities, medication), providing for
more physical and emotional
support. Relatives can remain in
contact with the hospice staff to deal
with their own feelings of grief.
Euthanasia, illegal in most states, is
another controversial issue
Mercy killing may be considered
when people are convinced that
there are absolutely no other
Opponents maintain that no one has
the right to take the life of someone
else, no matter what the
They also point out that new
medications and therapies are
continually being developed and
that a person who feels
despondent today, may feel
A legal document called a living
will is used by many people today
to avoid being kept alive by
artificial support, such as a
It is intended to spare relatives from
having to make a painful decision,
and once that person has died, they
can grieve and then move on with
Funerals traditionally reflect
religious beliefs and cultural
customs. While they are a way of
saying goodbye and celebrating the
life of the deceased, they also
provide a physical and symbolic
removal of the dead person from the
Bereavement involves sadness,
loneliness, numbness, anger, and even
relief, especially if the dying person
Some bereaved people may join a
support group or seek professional help in
dealing with their grief. Usually, they are
able to resume normal functioning, even
though they will always miss the
Sometimes the survivors grow in
compassion because of their loss and gain
a deeper appreciation of the value of life.