The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


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How Healthy Are We?
A National Study of Well-Being at Midlife
(Orville Gilbert Brim, Carol D. Ryff, and Ronald C. Kessler, editors)

The culmination of a decade and a half of research, How Healthy Are We? presents the key findings from the MIDUS survey in three sections: midlife perspectives on physical health; emotion, quality of life, and psychological well-being in midlife; and contexts of midlife: work and family experience, neighborhood, and geographic region.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
series on
Mental Health and Development,
Studies on Successful Midlife Development
from the
University of Chicago Press

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development (MIDMAC), is an interdisciplinary research group that consists of thirteen scholars from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds.  It was established in 1989 to study a little known period in the lifespan: middle age.

Purpose and Origins
Midlife -- the years between 30 and 70, with 40 to 60 at its core -- is perhaps the least studied and most ill-defined of any period in life. It abounds with changing images and myths -- the "midlife crisis," the "change of life," the "empty nest syndrome," and many more.  But we have little documentation and less understanding of what really happens, biologically or psychologically, during this extended period of time.

The primary objective of the Network on Successful Midlife Development is to identify the major biomedical, psychological, and social factors that permit some people to achieve good health, psychological well-being, and social responsibility during their adult years.  To do this the Network must first develop an empirical basis for documenting and understanding what happens during these years, and compare it with the images of midlife held by men and women across a variety of ages and cultures.

Major Program Elements
Since this field is largely unexplored to date, the Network is taking the broadest possible view. Investigators from a wide variety of disciplines -- among them psychology, sociology, anthropology, medicine, and health care policy -- are exploring multiple research pathways to understanding midlife. These include:

  Establishing an empirical basis for documenting what really happens in the middle years -- the "who, what, when, where and why" of midlife events and the beliefs people hold about them.

    Identifying the factors that determine the course of midlife development, including illness, life events, culture, and work and family interactions.

    Studying the psychological and behavioral strategies people use to understand and deal with events of midlife, focusing specifically on individual differences in the handling of midlife events.

    Developing physical, psychological, and social indicators for assessing and evaluating midlife development.

In the course of its work, the Network is conducting a major survey on midlife, in addition to collaborating with a number of existing surveys and longitudinal studies.  Network researchers are adding new questions and measures to ongoing investigations, and are reexamining existing data from new, interdisciplinary perspectives.

Progress and Plans
Among the Network's significant achievements to date is the creation of a major new research tool -- a set of quantitative measures called the Midlife Development Inventory (MIDI). MIDI consists of a number of modules addressing biomedical, psychological, and social aspects of adult development.  It is being used throughout the Network's research projects, including studies of images and beliefs about midlife; depression and well-being; social responsibility; work, family, and health; and life management processes.

MIDI is at the core of the Network's major current undertaking: a national survey called Midlife in the United States (MIDUS).  The first study of its size, breadth, and depth to look at midlife, MIDUS is surveying a nationally representative sample of 7,861 men and women. Subsamples of this group will also participate in one of several additional studies. These include a daily diary of experiences; self descriptions of psychological experiences; interviews on social responsibility and on the interaction of family and work; appraisals of life management styles; and in-depth studies of how race and ethnicity affect midlife.

As it carries out its research activities, the Network on Midlife Development is also initiating activities such as conferences and workshops designed to stimulate interest and help organize scientific research in the field. Members have published several books and more than 100 papers on midlife, and have received broad coverage in the mass media.

The Network's agenda for the future is now in place.  Based on the data it is now collecting, the Network will begin to formulate a broad-based view of what, precisely, constitutes development, particularly successful development, in midlife.  It will then narrow its focus and begin to test some hypotheses about what leads to successful development in these years. Ultimately, this information will be useful in the development and testing of interventions that could improve the course of individual development across a number of domains.

<>Orville Gilbert Brim, Director
<>/ Tel: 203-637-5589 / 203-637-6888 - Fax


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