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Women in the middle years: A critical review of selected lifespan theory

25 July 1997


Current popular theory on adult psychological development neglects the period of midlife in general and the lives of midlife women in particular. Adult developmental theory focuses on traditional roles and challenges for women. This focus does not reflect the complexity and diversity of women's lives today, especially women in midlife. As people live longer lives and depart from traditional roles, it is important to identify gaps in out knowledge about midlife. without a better understanding of midlife women, neither theorists nor clinicians can address the unique challenges that face these women. this paper presents a critical review of selected literature on popular developmental theories, concentrating on theoretical conceptions of adult development in women during their middle years. Two models of adult psychological development, age/stage and timing of events, are presented. Within each of these models two theorists have been selected for greater security. Within the age/stage theory, Levinson and Sheehy are critiqued, and within the timing of events model, critique focuses on Neugarten and Schlossberg. Throughout this paper, assumptions and biases that limit our understanding of women in their middle years are discussed. Finally, implications for clinical practice with midlife women are briefly considered, along with suggestions for future theoretical focus.


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