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Books, Journals, New Media
December 8, 2004


Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(22):2781-2786. doi:10.1001/jama.292.22.2785

Is middle age a distinct life stage? What factors determine good health at midlife? And how do health and well-being evolve from young adulthood to midlife and beyond? Based on the 1995 Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) survey, these articles by an eminent team of scholars address diverse aspects of midlife health and social and psychological well-being.

Individually, these are high-quality, thoughtful articles; less clear is the overall success of this ambitious effort to characterize midlife. Laudably, the authors have resisted over generalization, acknowledging the enormous variety of American life courses. As one studies this wide-ranging set of articles in search of common themes, “midlife” becomes increasingly elusive and impalpable, like Lewis Carroll’s vanishing Cheshire cat. For many outcomes studied—eg, positive and negative mood analyzed by Mroczek—midlife either appears similar to earlier adulthood or reflects gradual transition between early adulthood and late life. Some of the more interesting findings pertain to later rather than middle life, with those older than 60 years appearing to do better on many measures of well-being than the aged 40- to 60-year group, as in Kessler’s contribution on age, stress, and depression. Old age may not be for sissies, but experience (and perhaps lowered expectations) have their benefits; the adaptive capabilities of many older persons deserve attention and celebration.