Traditionally the midlife crisis was an ailment associated with men. However, it has become increasingly common for women to suffer from a midlife crisis. According to MedicineNet.com, a midlife crisis occurs during middle age and is characterized by emotional turmoil and challenges coping with some aspects of life.
The term midlife crisis surfaced in 1965 at the hands of psychoanalyst Dr. Elliot Jacques. Dr. Jacques discovered this phenomenon while studying the creative and productive changes that occurred in a group of composers and artists near the age of 35, (NY Times 2003). He found noticeable declines in productivity and important creativity changes during this study. Dr. Jacques continued to study the individual “time frame” throughout his career and wrote more than 20 books on a variety of subjects.
Although female midlife crisis sufferers may experience a variety of symptoms based on their specific emotional obstacles and lifestyle, several symptoms are generally associated with the midlife crisis. According to Psychology Today these symptoms include daydreaming, questioning the self, boredom, frantic energy, irritability, compulsive behavior, changes in sexual desire and changes ambition.
One of the major reasons that women may experience midlife crisis is due to the many changes that often occur during their 40’s and 50’s. It is generally at this age period that a woman’s children leave home either for higher education or work. Physical changes such as menopause can also instigate hormonal changes, which may influence the woman’s state of mind. Other factors that may increase the likelihood of a midlife crisis are divorce, family death and job loss.
Impact of Women's Liberation
The increasing liberation of American women allows a greater exploration of the midlife crisis. Women are no longer obligated to keep a subordinate place in the home. Instead many older women seek divorce, go to college and change their careers. When they begin to question their happiness during middle age many of them realize that they are not trapped in their current reality, they have the options and the means for change.
The women’s liberation movement may also have impacted why the midlife crisis was previously associated with only men. Men were the sex that could, without societal reprimand, seek divorce, make large purchases and ignite serious change. Therefore, they were in a way more free to fully react to a midlife crisis. Women, on the other hand, were bound by cultural expectations to continue in subordinate roles.
While many midlife crisis studies have produced mixed results, a large study conducted by Elaine Wethington at the University of Michigan found ample evidence of the female midlife crisis. According to her research, including 724 participants, 26% of people surveyed had experienced a midlife crisis, of this 26%, 36.1% were women, (Shellenbarger 2005). These findings were reported in Sue Shellenbarger’s book “The Breaking Point,” which details aspects of her own and many others’ midlife crisis.