Today an increasing number of researchers are following Erikson’s leads in their investigations of adult development. But the most provocative ideas, as we mentioned earlier, come from Daniel J. Levinson and his team of researchers at Yale University. Moreover, they are the only group to have studied the male mid-life period in depth, and to have placed it in the life-cycle framework.
This study was inspired by their personal mid-life churnings; by the theories of Erikson and Jung; and by novels and plays. Levinson explains that his making a major career move at age forty-six prompted him to investigate this period in order to better understand his own evolution. His team includes: Charlotte M. Darrow, a sociologist; Braxton McKee, a psychiatrist; and Edward B. Klein and Maria H. Levinson, both psychologists.
The Yale group began their study by assuming that this decade was an important developmental period in its own right: A time when a man faces new tasks and dilemmas, but also has new opportunities for growth. To find out more about this decade in relation to the whole life span, they decided to use an intensive case-study method, in keeping with their view of themselves as biographers rather than statisticians. Now they have studied forty men, aged thirty-five to forty-five, and have reconstructed their lives in detail. These men come from four occupational groups, ten in each: business executives; blue- and white-collar workers in industry; academic biologists; and novelists.
Basically, the Yale group wanted to know more about the process of change in individual lives. But they also wanted to discover why this crisis period led to a constriction in some men’s lives, and an expansion in others. Thus their initial focus was soon enlarged to consider what had happened during the preceding years, and they began to ask questions about how adult life evolves over time. Now they have concluded that a number of age-linked developmental periods exist between eighteen and forty-five.
Levinson says that they have deliberately tried to be very specific about age in order to counter the conventional wisdom that no age-linked development occurs during the adult years. They see the life course divided into several major eras: Early adulthood, twenty to forty; middle adulthood, forty to sixty; and late adulthood, sixty and over. They also see life as consisting of some periods that are relatively tranquil and stable, and others that are marked by change and discontinuity. Rather than use the word “crisis” to describe a critical point, however, they prefer the term “transition.”