CHICAGO -- Far from being a time of failing health, personal turmoil and the "midlife crisis," middle age for many is the most fulfilling time of life, according to new study.
The 10-year study sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, made public in several news reports today, undermines many beliefs about middle age.
"The surprising thing is that midlife may be the best time, the best place to be," social psychologist Orville Gilbert Brim told the Chicago Tribune.
"We have this public image of midlife being full of stress, but, in fact, (midlifers') sense of control is good and their sense of well-being is good," said Brim, director of the MacArthur Foundation's Network on Successful Midlife Development and president of Life Trends Inc., a Florida-based consulting business hired by MacArthur to conduct the study.
The MacArthur Foundation said the study is the largest ever done on midlife. It involved interviews with more than 3,000 people who answered more than 1,100 questions.
One myth the study demolished was that of the middle-aged man who abandons his family in favor of a red sports car and a woman half his age -- the proverbial midlife crisis. Nine out of 10 people surveyed in the study said they never experienced one.
"Normal people recognize that the lifespan, regardless of age, brings change and that a healthy response to change is to make the necessary adjustments that are required," Brim said.
The study results also indicated that menopause was not a traumatizing life event for most women.
"For most middle-aged women, menopause is a benign experience, a far cry from the view of many contemporary writers," said Alice Rossi, professor emerita of sociology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
More than 70 percent of the people in the study considered themselves in excellent health -- though one warning sign was that few said they worked hard at it, raising questions about health farther along in life.
The vast majority said they had no problems with arthritis, backaches, skin problems, indigestion, constipation, depression, gum disease, high blood pressure or migraines.
Respondents, however, felt they didn't have enough of two things: sex and money.
But while there may be less satisfaction with sex in midlife, there is growing satisfaction with marriage and relationships. Seventy-two percent of the respondents rated their relationships as very good to excellent and 90 percent said they thought it was unlikely that their relationship would break up.
Midlife "has purpose, meaning and goals to live for," said Carol Ryff, a University of Wisconsin social psychologist, one of 28 researchers who took part in the study. "You have quality relationships with other people, and you are able to realize your talent and potential as a human being. I would call it having a good life."
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