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Middle Adulthood

Prior to the twentieth century, life expectancy in the United States was only about 47 years, so the concept of middle adulthood-  people between the ages of 40 and 65-did not exist until fairly recently. Normal changes in appearance occur during these years,  ND although these changes have little relationship to a person’s health or physical functioning, they are socially  significant to  any  people (Francoise, 1999). As people progress through middle adulthood, they experience senescence (primary aging) in the form  f  molecular and cellular changes in the body. Wrinkles and gray hair are visible signs of senescence. Less Visible signs include arthritis and a gradual dulling of the senses of taste, smell, touch, and vision. Typically, reflexes begin to slow down, but the actual  nature and extent of change vary widely from person to person. And stereotypes and self-stereotypes about aging may often be  important in determining changes in a person’s work work work work work ability (see “Sociology Works!”). People also experience a change of life in this  tage. Women undergo menopause-the cessation of the menstrual cycle caused by a gradual decline in the body’s production of  he “female” hormones estrogen and progesterone. Menopause typically occurs between the mid-forties and the early fifties and  signals the end of a woman’s childbearing capabilities. Some women  may experience irregular menstrual cycles for several years,  followed by hot flashes, retention of body fluids, swollen breasts, and other aches and pains. Other women may have few or no  noticeable physical symptoms. The psychological aspects of menopause are often as important as any physical effects. In one  study, Anne Fausto-Sterling (1985) concluded that mallY  women respond negatively to menopause because of negative  stereotypes associated with menopausal and

postmenopausal women. These stereotypes make the  the naturalness of aging in women appear abnormal when compared with  he aging process of men. Actually, many women experience a ne\\’ interest in sexual activity because they no longer have to  worry about the  possibility of becoming pregnant. On the other hand, a few women have recently chosen to produce children using  new medical technologies long after they have undergone undergone menopause. Men undergo a climacteric, in which the production of the  male” hormone testosterone decreases. Some  have argued that this change in hormone levels produces nervousness and  depression in men, however, it is not clear whether these emotional changes are due to biological changes or to a more general   midlife crisis:’ in which men assess what the)’ have accomplished (Benokraitis, 2002). Ironically, even as such biological changes  all’ have a liberating effect on some people, they may also reinforce societal stereotypes of older  people, especially women, as  sexless,” Recently, intensive  marketing of products such as Viagra for erectile erectile erectile erectile erectile erectile dysfunction has made people of all ages more aware  not only of the potential sexual problems associated with aging but also with the possibility of reducing or solving these problems   with the use of prescription drugs. Along with primary aging,

people in middle adulthood also experience secondary agil/g, which  occurs as a result of environmental factors and lifestyle choices. For example, smoking, drinking heavily, and engaging  in little or  o physical activity are factors that affect the aging process. People who live in regions with high levels of environmental  degradation and other forms  of pollution are also at greater risk of aging more rapidly  and having chronic illnesses and diseases  associated  with these external factors.  About 30 percent of all people in middle adulthood find that they are part of the “sandwich   generation;  having not only the responsibility of raising their children  but also of simultaneously taking care of their aging  parents-often while holding a full-time job, as well.  The burden of these responsibilities disproportionately  falls on women:

“It’s  not like your husband is going to  wash his own mother,” a female forty-two-year-old former  lawyer noted. “There’s just 110   mount of feminism that is going to change that” (Vincent, 20(j~  On the positive side, middle adJ1 Hood for some people represents   he time/! during which (l) they  have the highest levels of income and prestige, (2) they leave the problems of child rearing behind   hem and are content with their spouse of many years, and  (3) they may have grandchildren, who give them another tie to the   future. Even so, persons during  middle adulthood know that, given society’s current structure, their status may begin to change   signifi,

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