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CHAPTER 3 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
INTRODUCTION: LIMITATIONS AND ASSUMPTIONS
Riley (1998) argued that no single phase of a person’s life can be understood without considering the antecedents and consequences of certain events. He asserted that this conception is fundamental to a proper understanding of the life course. The impact of antecedents relevant to midlife transition, and especially the so-called midlife crisis experienced by some individuals, together with how the individual reacts or copes with these events and the consequences thereof are demonstrated by the conceptual framework model of midlife transition and crisis in South Africa (see Figure 3.1 below). This model is aligned to the life course paradigm (Giele & Elder, 1998b; Riley, 1998) as well as aspects discussed in Chapter 1 together with further key issues that arose from the literature survey in Chapter 2. The relevant aspects will be dealt with in more detail in this chapter.
According to Colby (cited in Giele & Elder, 1998a) there has been a move away from the general stages of development theory in psychology since the late 1980s to a more circumstantial approach as to how people adapt that is more compatible with the essential tenet of the life course perspective.
The literature study, and particularly the more recent developments in the life course approach (Giele & Elder, 1998b), point towards a more appropriate amalgamation of many variables for research purposes. This is in line with recent thinking that the issues involved in transition to midlife are more complex than only a narrow focus on single factors for example, personality traits, generativity or the definition of midlife crisis (Helson, 1997; Lachman, 2001; McAdams, 1993). As many factors as possible have, therefore, been included in the proposed conceptual model of midlife transition and crisis. Data gathering for all the specific factors was, however, limited by time and complexity in that the ability to obtain sufficient meaningful quantitative and qualitative data was too complex and time-consuming.
These limitations were further compounded by the need to be parsimonious to avoid the focus becoming diffuse (Riley, 1998; Trafford & Leshem, 2008). Notwithstanding the limitations of the study mentioned above, it is submitted that there are sufficient research findings to make some valid assumptions which underpin this research study, namely that:
The antecedent constructs of turning points, key life events, occupational difficulties and social role transitions do occur inevitably and more often in midlife, whether earlier or later than other stages, as part of the life course (Clausen, 1998; Erikson, 1950, 1959: Giele, 1998; Lachman, 2001; Laub & Sampson, 1998; McAdams, 1993; Wethington 2000). Such data was accordingly not captured from the participants. The constructs are, however, included in the proposed conceptual framework model of midlife transition and crisis and are elaborated upon below (see Figure 3.1).
Similarly, the so-called social clock change is also assumed to take place and is included and explicated in the proposed conceptual model of midlife transition and crisis (Clausen, 1998; Helson et al. 1984; Neugarten, 1968c).
An assumption is made that when any of these antecedent situations occur they will trigger off a reaction to be processed by an individual. The questions that arise in this regard and which will be explored by the current researcher are:
o Will an adverse reaction occur in some cases or all cases and if so why and how intense will it be?
o Which factors in the conceptual model of midlife transition and crisis, if any, will have an influence on the processing of a reaction experienced by the individual?
The strategy for this current research study is to obtain as much specific data as possible (including some qualitative text) using an online survey. Data relating to the various aspects of the model will be captured having due regard to limiting how much time the participants would have to take to complete the survey. A lengthy process could impact on their motivation to complete the survey. Interviews will not be conducted.
ELEMENTS OF THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK MODEL
Precipitating events or triggers (antecedents)
The first concept to be examined in the proposed model is that of triggers or precipitating events usually occurring during midlife. As stated above in Section 3.1 it is a basic assumption of this research study that turning points, life events, work difficulties and social role transitions are inevitable for most individuals in midlife and could act as triggers. Although these aspects were not canvassed amongst the participants in the survey they are explicated below for the sake of completeness.
A turning point is defined as a time or event where one took a “different direction from that in which one had been travelling” (Clausen, 1998, p. 202). Clausen (1998, p. 203) cites Hareven and Masoaka as defining turning points as “an alteration of the life path, a course correction” and suggested that a good question to ask a person in this regard is: “As you look [your life chart] over, can you pick out any point or points along your life course that you would call turning points – where your life really took a different direction?”. The significance of similar types of turning point experiences to individuals is exceedingly divergent. Clausen (1998, p. 203) stated, that elaboration in this regard is needed as many individuals mistake the passage through various roles for turning points and clarified that some “role transitions are expected and involve reorientation of priorities and activities but not always a substantial change in direction”. However, quite conceivably, certain role transitions do constitute turning points for some people for example, life after marriage is quite different if the couple had not lived together before their marriage.
A combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches in this regard is accordingly indicated. Laub and Sampson (1998) used both methodologies and used the person-based approach to uncover turning points. Abrupt change occurred in certain situations for example, losing a job, while incremental change occurred over time in the context of an ongoing relationship such as a marriage.
Turning points are distinguished from life events in this conceptual model of midlife transition and crisis as life events are equitably explainable (Clausen, 1998). Two recent studies (Moen & Wethington, 1999; Wethington et al., 2004) on midlife crisis and self-perceived turning points were done where a distinction was drawn between the clinical and popular versions of a midlife crisis, on the one hand, and perceived turning points, on the other. Turning points were further explicated as an interval during which the individual underwent a “major transformation in the views about the self, commitments to important relationship or involvement in significant life roles” (Wethington et al., 2004, p. 590). The findings by Wethington et al. were, by their own admission, questionable and their strategy was changed for their second study when more in-depth information was obtained. The findings of the second study were that four important turning points in midlife have major significance, namely:
work or career issues;
receiving knowledge of self and other of a disturbing nature;
receiving knowledge of self or other of a pleasurable nature; and
the fulfilment of dreams.
These four variables accounted for around 80 percent of the variance. The interesting finding was that the work-related turning points for men peaked at early midlife (before age 40) and again in late midlife (after age 50). The majority of people reporting work-related turning points connected this to job or career change. The common thread for turning points applicable to receiving disturbing personal feedback was the test posed by the revelatory personality information (Wethington et al.,2004). This finding is in line with Clausen’s (1998, p. 192) point on “spontaneous life review” where, faced with a challenge to one’s righteousness or sense of direction, individuals are forced to make “adjustments to the self-image”.
A distinction should be made between major and minor turning points. Major turning points can often only be seen when the individual looks back at their lives later on and finds significant incremental changes such as those mentioned above. Examples thereof are physical incapacitation or job loss. A positive outcome of a turning point could, however, be circumstances that led to new opportunities. Moreover, turning points usually do lead to an alteration of the perception of the self (Clausen, 1998).
Clausen (1998, p. 204) identified the following aspects as determinants of the impact of major turning points:
major role or roles affected (educational, occupational, marital, parental,
activities, aspects of life most affected;
source or cause of turning point;
timing of the turning point; and
ultimate consequences as seen by the individual.
All individuals will experience certain events during their life course such as the commencement of schooling, adolescence or adult life as well as the death of a family member, to mention just a few. Giele and Elder (1998a) conceptualised the life course as a progression of commonly determined experiences and social roles that are performed by individuals over a period of time. This enables the study of events in any individual’s life course to date, the context in which they took place (internally as well as externally), and the physical and psychological condition of the individual at the time and subsequent thereto. Scott and Aldwin (1998) argued that the lives of individuals are inimitably moulded by when, and in what order, life events occur. Teachman (1982) elaborated further that life history data can record the exact moment of transitions in and out of various stages, for instance, midlife.
Examples of life events are found in a number of meta domains such as education (year started preschool, primary school/s, high school/s, university and so on), family events (year of first marriage, years children born), work history, geographical relocation, major illnesses, and so on. According to Giele (1998, p. 248) these life events are the “basic building blocks for descriptive and explanatory analysis and they coincide with role domains”.
It is important to note that the individual’s elucidation of the actual experiences, which may have lasted for some time, is always going to be personal (Scott & Aldwin, 1998) and this means that the separation of events from the meaning thereof is not always distinct. The unfolding and combination of these events into the psyche of the individual affects the construction of the self.
Life course events that are more likely to occur during midlife than in young adulthood are parental death, spousal death or serious illness, biological changes, parenting adolescent children, reaching the summit of authority and influence at work (for professional middle class individuals), in the family and in the community as well as in creative output (McAdams, 1993).
Roles and role transitions
Roles are found in all social structures in society such as families, workplaces, friendships and the community. Over the life course, individuals enter certain roles, relinquish others, acquire certain motivations, skills and abilities but lose others (Riley, 1998). These roles are found in the nuclear and extended families as follows: in the nuclear family, the parents take up the role of a parent while in the extended family these parents are also the children of their own parents and they take up sibling roles as well. There are as many roles at the workplace, where the work position role occupied by the individual is defined by means of a job description. That person may also take up additional roles on committees and teams inside or outside the organisation or professional societies.
Role transitions refer to the movement from one role to the next such as when a person is promoted at work or transferred to another department with new colleagues, subordinates and bosses. When an individual changes jobs or careers this usually involves a role transition as the new position could involve different responsibilities. Riley (1998) postulated that role transitions experienced by individuals have an impact on others as well such as on the individual’s children or spouse. From this it can be deducted as well that when such life history data is collected, detailed information on roles and role transitions is required.
Blatner (2000) differentiated between social roles and character roles. Examples of social roles are indicated to be that of a parent, spouse, customer, employee and child. These are roles recognised by society and those individuals taking up such roles are expected to function in a particular manner. On the other hand, character roles relate to a type of persona that the individual is expected to portray. Examples of character roles are the joker, the worrier, the rule-keeper, the peacemaker and so on. McAdam (1993) described similar concepts as ‘imagos’ which he defined as the characters that dominate our life stories. These characters, according to McAdams (1993), are the separate selves embodied in the multiple roles that one assumes in daily life or what Watkins and Watkins (1996) defined as ego states.
Maccoby (2002) distinguished between social character and individual character. Social character refers to the active, highly energised and emotional attitudes shared by a particular group. Individual character, on the other hand, refers to the disposition of the individual. These two concepts are not mutually exclusive although social character is not strongly entrenched in individual character, it does, according to Maccoby, connect with individual character and thus enables the individual to understand the meaning of his or her behaviour within the norms of the specific culture. This interaction also allows the individual to vary his or her behaviour but remain within the cultural norms. Maccoby also referred to the need for there to be a fit between culture and character and if this is not so, a resistance to cultural change may ensue.
It may be expected that since work-related turning points were the most significant aspects found by some researchers (Clausen, 1998; McAdams, 1993; Wethington, 2000) that work-related or midcareer crises in a pilot study undertaken by this current researcher would be a distinct variable that would emerge when the data from the pilot study was analysed. However, these aspects did not clearly emerge in the pilot study when principal component analysis of the responses to a 130 item questionnaire which included 60 items related to the work situation.
This could be due to the average age of the sample being 52 years of age, the size of the sample being too small (n = 68), or it may be that work-related crises are part of the larger concept of midlife transition and crisis. This will be investigated in this current research study.
Hutri (1996), however, postulated clearly that the occupational crisis can be differentiated from depression, anxiety and stress as it is based on work problems. Moreover, she postulated that occupational crisis is differentiated from stress or burnout. She acknowledged that her research had limitations in that her research sample was small and the questionnaire used was a five point scale relating to three constructs, which would mean that the application of her findings to the general population cannot be assumed or implied. Furthermore, she did not test for maladaptive personality traits or states. Hutri (1996) refers to an occupational crisis state as strong, work-related anxiety, the inability to solve work-related problems and a proneness to trying to deal with the crisis state by changing jobs or occupations.
To the extent that the findings of Wethington et al. (2004) as well as Clausen (1998) revealed that work-related turning points are the most significant issues in midlife transition (and furthermore almost all studies of midlife transition emphasise work as a major influential domain), some work-related issues such as job satisfaction, job stability, and personality at work are to be investigated in this research study.
Lowman (1993) postulated the view that workplace dysfunction is an underestimated problem with the implication that this could have a midlife impact. He classified workplace dysfunctions as the psychological circumstances which lead to an important handicap in the individual’s ability to work. It is caused by either the disposition of an individual, or an interaction between that disposition and working conditions. It can be independent or interactive with the nature of the individual’s work or the organisational context. Unresolved workplace dysfunctions can precipitate a crisis for the individual and also have an impact on what the reaction will be to another trigger such as a turning point or life event.
The social clock (the timing of triggers or precipitating events)
Giele and Elder (1998b) noted that analysis of life event data have most use when the timing of the occurrence and the extent of the domain events (such as in the family or at work) have been codified. Lachman (2001) cited Helson and Neugarten as attributing an individual’s personality development to the events or transitions in their lives. Helson et al. (1984) furthermore suggested that if events were to happen offtime they would become challenging and strained for the individual due to the expectations of the social system to be on time. Then, if they are not being met, they are incorporated into the psyche of that individual.
Neugarten, Moore and Lowe (1968) researched the issue of social time and classified the individual differences in the people they studied as being premature, on time or overdue in the timing of life events, which they described as being ontime or offtime. Their conclusion was that there was a diverse interconnectedness between age, period and cohort.
Neugarten (1968b, p. 97) postulated the concept of ‘clock change’ which indicates that individuals changed their conceptual view of time from ‘time since birth’ to ‘time left to live’. It is this transition in time orientation that she theorised caused developmental problems of a psychological nature for individuals. Oles (1998) found the same construct in his research in Poland.
Structural (social contextual) constructs that could influence how the individual reacts to triggers, such as turning points or the occurrence if a life event, are included in the proposed conceptual model of midlife transition and crisis on the basis that an individual constantly and dynamically interacts with his or her social environment (Giele & Elder 1998b; Riley, 1998).
The life course mode of enquiry into adult development according to Giele (1998) envisages a four part model which must include:
The place that an individual finds him – or herself in time, social structure and culture.
The social circles within which the individual interacts.
The active aspiration to achieve personal goals.
The timing of sequentially ordered events in the individual’s life.
The above aspects will be discussed in the sections to follow
Adjustments or adaptations made by individuals and in the social environment are not mutually exclusive – the interaction between these aspects is two-directional in that the person influences the social environment and the social environment influences the person. Individuals, in fact often adapt to the social obstacles that they have to contend with by scheduling or rescheduling their life events to times which are more suitable, for example, a wedding date or when to have children. Riley (1998) posits a similar process where the changes in the lives of individuals are in perpetual interaction with the changes in the fabric of a country’s population or culture. What needs to be determined is therefore which relevant societal and social structures may have an effect on how an individual will cope with a triggering event. The aspects below are suggested.
The cohort effect
Longitudinal studies on the effects of cohort found an association between individual aging and historical period (Giele & Elder, 1998b). The contour of an individual’s life course varied according to the year of birth. Riley (1998) postulated that members of different cohorts age in diverse ways because of cultural changes and not the other way around.
This current research project will be done on Generation X (those individuals born from 1965 to 1979 who are currently approaching or are at middle age) but some Baby-Boomers in their late 50s will also be included.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION
1.1 THEORETICAL DEVELOPMENT TIMELINE
1.2 DEFINING SOME KEY CONCEPTS
1.3 A PSYCHODYNAMIC PERSPECTIVE OF MIDLIFE
1.4 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.5 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.6 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
1.7 CHAPTER LAYOUT
CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW
2.2 MODERNISM IN PSYCHOLOGY AND THE STAGE THEORIES OF HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
2.3 OTHER LATE MODERN ERA MIDLIFE THEORISTS
2.4 PSYCHODYNAMIC THEORIES ON MIDLIFE
2.5 POST MODERNIST DEVELOPMENT IN THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MIDLIFE
2.6 THE LIFE COURSE AND LIFESPAN PERSPECTIVES
2.7 CONCLUSIONS AND SUMMARY
CHAPTER 3 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
3.1 INTRODUCTION: LIMITATIONS AND ASSUMPTIONS
3.2 RESEARCH STRATEGY
3.3 ELEMENTS OF THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK MODEL
3.4 STATES WITHIN THE PROPOSED LIFE COURSE MODEL
CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH DESIGN, METHODOLOGY AND METHODS
4.2 PHILOSOPHICAL RESEARCH AND ASSUMPTIONS
4.3 CONCRETE OR SUBSTANTIVE RESEARCH DESIGN
4.4 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
4.5 RESEARCH METHODS
4.6 RESEARCH ETHICS
4.7 RESEARCH DESIGN, METHODOLOGY AND METHODS OF THIS RESEARCH PROJECT
4.8 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS
CHAPTER 5 QUANTITATIVE DATA ANALYSIS AND RESULTS
5.2 STATISTICAL PACKAGE FOR THE SOCIAL SCIENCES (SPSS)
5.3 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES, QUESTIONS AND FINDINGS
CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSIONS
6.2 AIMS OF THE RESEARCH STUDY
6.3 A CONCEPTUAL MODEL OF MIDLIFE TRANSITION AND CRISIS
6.5 LIMITATIONS OF LITERATURE REVIEW
6.6 LIMITATIONS OF PRACTICAL STUDY AND EXECUTION THEREOF
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