The John D.
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
RESEARCH NETWORK ON SUCCESSFUL
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:
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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