Middle Adulthood vs Early adulthood

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According to scholarly study in the field of developmental psychology, the early adulthood developmental stage lasts from the ages of 18 to 29 years, whereas the middle adulthood period begins at the age of 45 and ends until someone reaches the age of 65, or within that range (Rathus, 2016). Individuals in their early adulthood become quite adventurous, and they dare in many scenarios such as building important friendships, separating from their parents, joining occupations for livelihood professionals, and even starting children. Nonetheless, throughout middle adulthood, people face sensitive problems such as contemplating death, pondering divorce and remarrying, dealing with chronic ailments, and forging strong familial bonds (Cornett & Hudson, 1987).While comparing the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional characteristics of the early and middle adulthood developmental stages, it is imperative to highlight the related hypothesis by different theorists and to link to individual examples.

Physical Characteristics

In early adulthood, even though the males continue to grow in height in their twenties, the females in most cases hit the climax of their height at the age of 18 years, unlike in middle adulthood where there is no increase in height (Cornett & Hudson, 1987). The adipose tissue growth is a collective experience in either gender for early adulthood. However, growth in muscle dominance is only common in the male sex. Eating habits and occupation characterize body weight to many, and the average mass gained is 15 pounds at every single occasion (Rathus, 2016). Death rates due to pandemics and common diseases are uncommon in the early adulthood generations, as opposed to middle adulthood where anatomical and physiological sensitivity to ailments is higher, and people suffer from acute and chronic diseases, whose etiological history began in early adulthood in most cases. Nevertheless, the deaths related to cases of violence are common among such youth and more so for the men, according to the Center for Disease Control statistics (Srivastava et al., 2003). Suicidal and homicidal deaths lead, followed by accident related fatalities. As opposed to early adulthood, the signs of aging become pronounced during the middle adulthood stage of development. For women who have menopause and are thus vulnerable to osteoporosis, the aging process becomes more rapid (Vink et al., 2014). The nervous system is central to the contraction and relaxation of the body muscles; hence the reduced sensitivity leads to declined physical performance. The natural fertility among the female gender ends when they reach the 48 to 55 age bracket, and the stage comes with physiological advantages and anatomical complications in a majority of the women. Nevertheless, men in both the early and middle adulthood stages, are fertile, and they can sire (Rathus, 2016). The interviewee, Mr. X at the age 50 years in middle adulthood, agreed of having a reduced physical activity. Furthermore, he explained that his sexual desire was declining and his physical appearance as well presented with aging skin, as could be seen by the increased folds and wrinkles. Researchers have confirmed that the middle adulthood is associated with increased mortality, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and cancer (Cornett & Hudson, 1987). Nevertheless, contrary to the interviewee, he does not present with the symptoms of any terminal disease like cancer or diabetes as it is characteristic of this stage.

Cognitive Characteristics

There exist controversial arguments among the developmental theorists whether the early adulthood stage should be assigned a cognitive stage or not. This is because early childhood moments engage primarily psychological and cognitive developments. Consequently, at the early adulthood stage, most people are fully developed cognitively, and sophisticated enough to be capable of making independent choices and decisions. Nevertheless, most developmental psychoanalysis content that there are many changes witnessed at the stage. Some of them include the frontal variations in the cerebral cortex of the brain, which are characterized by improved centers of planning, moving muscles, speaking, and judgment (Rathus, 2016). The period of early adulthood, whose optimum is averagely 20 years of age, the frontal cerebral cortex of most individuals get to attain full maturity. Jean Piaget, a renowned theorist, postulated that the changes in reasoning capacities are realized between late childhood and early adulthood. He further notes that people in middle adulthood have flexible patterns in their thinking, and unlike those in early adulthood, the middle adulthood individuals appreciate that there are always multiple means of approach to controversial issues and that compromising could always lead to better decisions. Erik Erikson is a celebrated scholar and a revered theorist on matters developmental stages. He has hypothesized many propositions concerning the cognitive development of a person, especially the middle adulthood stage (Vink et al., 2014). While interviewing Mr. X, with the researched knowledge of Erikson at the background, it came out clearly that the interviewee manifested several characteristics associated with his developmental stage (Cornett & Hudson, 1987). For instance, Mr. X presented with a minimum capacity of cognitive loss. Nevertheless, the incidence could not be realized at a glance, because scholars have argued that with cognitive loss, the body develops compensatory means to counter the effects, as opposed to early adulthood where cognition is highly sensitive and stable. On the contrary to the expectations to middle adulthood, his problem-solving abilities and mental constructions proved stable and not negatively affected by age as such, similarly to the people in the early adulthood developmental stage (Vink et al., 2014).

Social Characteristics

Related to early adulthood, the individuals at this stage are at the apex of their adolescence. Nevertheless, most of them end their youth on this very scene. The independent mindset comes in. However, the persons in this bracket are closely linked to their families, and their social bonding to other nonfamily members in the same age groups is strongly bonded. Furthermore, the personal identity of these individuals is always at stake (Rathus, 2016). Seeking jobs, engaging in romantic relationships, marrying, and staying responsible are the common social characteristics of the early adulthood groups. In the middle adulthood stage of development, marital stability becomes either stronger or weaker. The career matters are cardinal and pursuing one's income, and happiness becomes a priority, as opposed to the early adulthood stage whereby members embrace ambition and pleasure (Srivastava et al., 2003). Focusing on Mr. X, career change is a collective experience with him, as he opts to move from the urban lifestyle to his rural home, settle down and become self-employed, unlike the early adulthood individuals who embrace the urban lifestyle and pursue while color jobs. Furthermore, his discussions are centered on stock taking, he remembers his younger times and insists on the achievements he has made, despite the many challenges he met and the failures he encountered (Cornett & Hudson, 1987). On the contrary, the preceding stage focuses on the future more than the past. Nevertheless, it is controversial to argue that people in this age of development undergo a mid-life crisis, as opposed the interviewee`s life and the early adulthood developmental stage.

Emotional Changes

Theorists have argued that the middle adulthood is associated with the mid-life crises in a majority of the population in this developmental stage. The mental, emotional, intellectual and physical characteristics of persons undergo anxious upheavals. Nevertheless, the professionals who have specialized in the discipline of developmental research and theories do not agree with and therefore challenge the argument that the mid-life crisis is inevitably existent (Vink et al., 2014). On the other hand, Erik Erikson, a theorist who lived between 1902 and 1994, argued that all people develop in stages of psychological frameworks steadily. He notes that the stage of early adulthood is primarily characterized by individuals endeavoring to form independently intimate relationships, as linked to their emotional center. Indeed, the interviewee, Mr. X, confirms that he is a husband and father of three and that he has been married for two and a half decades now. He argues that his marriage is stable and that he does not consider divorcing at any point, for he postulates remarrying brings forth more challenges. Just like scientific research shows, Mr. X has intimate relationships with his children. Sigmund Freud proposed that people who can work and love unconditionally in their early adulthood stages are healthy and all-around persons. Therefore, Freud asserts that an average curve for such an age group is better reflected by strongly bonded relationships and the ability to work (Srivastava et al., 2003). Therefore, Mr. X does not have traits that lead to unhealthy conditions or compromising attitudes common to his middle adulthood developmental stage, just as it is the case with people in the early adulthood developmental stage.

Theoretical Background

Daniel Levinson is a psychologist who put forth the Levinson`s Theory, which hypothesizes that the middle adulthood is often characterized by a change of career and making critical choices in life, just like Mr. X has chosen to go back to his rural home and become self-employed, while similarly to early adulthood, his theory is transitive. Both middle and early adulthood changes in the segments of social, emotional, physical, and cognitive setups are explained by the Vaillant`s hypothesis (Cornett & Hudson, 1987). George Vaillant says developing identity is critical especially for the adolescents, which primarily bases on the values, beliefs, and passions of an individual. Intimacy consequently comes in for one to replace the social distancing from their parents and siblings. The stage of career consolidation comes in when a person is approaching middle adulthood. Bernice Neugarten is a psychologist who argued the failure to have the ability to fulfill the necessary stages in life like having the first job, getting a spouse, or retiring in time becomes problematic (Rathus, 2016). Nevertheless, for those who follow the whole processes conventionally, they are accepted and cherished as role models in the community. Consequently, the middle adulthood is an important stage in one’s life, and just like Mr. X, it is critical that everybody evaluates and scrutinizes themselves to see to it that they are in tandem with the norms of the society (Srivastava et al., 2003).

As an individual in the age bracket of the early adulthood category, certain criteria are comparable to the felt experiences whereas others remain contrary. The ability to share intimacy, love and seeking to establish long lasting relationships are common characteristics. Nevertheless, career decisions, marriage, and childbearing remain controversial issues, at a personal level, at the moment. People who get married in this category get divorced from a significant extent (over 30 percent) and are most likely capable of changing their personality in relationships in the nearest future. Nevertheless, these elements remain controversially indifferent.


Cornett, C. W., & Hudson, R. A. (1987). Middle adulthood and the theories of Erikson, Gould, and Vaillant: where does the gay man fit? Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 10(3–4), 61–73. https://doi.org/10.1300/J083V10N03_06

Rathus, S. (2016). Amazon.com: HDEV (9781305257580): Spencer A. Rathus: Books.

Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/HDEV-Spencer- Rathus/dp/1305257588

Srivastava, S., John, O. P., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2003). Development of personality in early and middle adulthood: Set like plaster or persistent change? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(5), 1041–1053. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.5.1041

Vink, M., Derks, J. M., Hoogendam, J. M., Hillegers, M., & Kahn, R. S. (2014). Functional

differences in emotion processing during adolescence and early adulthood. NeuroImage,

91, 70–76. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.01.035

April 26, 2023

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