What is considered ‘midlife’, and how to spot a crisis

Today we are exploring what we consider as ‘midlife’ when we talk about a midlife crisis… Something we often make light of at midlifepro.com, but it is ultimately a serious matter that needs attention.

Let’s crack on and take a look at how we define midlife, what signals we should watch for that might suggest someone is having a crisis and – critically – we take a look at what age range we should be paying most attention to for signs of struggle.

Picture of a Jaguar F Type as an example of a stereotypical midlife crisis purchase

At a glance…

  • ‘Midlife’ can be defined as being between 35 – 45 years old
  • 35 years old could be considered middle aged
  • Midlife crisis is a commonly referenced phenomenon, but crisis’ are rarely induced by age alone 
  • The key sign of a midlife crisis is a sudden and abrupt change in behaviour
  • If you or someone you know is showing signs of a crisis – reach out and talk

What is the definition of midlife?

Woah, hold on there buddy… Before we go browsing the classifieds for a new sports car we should take a minute to define what we really mean when we talk about a mid life crisis.

Unfortunately there is no definitive ‘middle age’ – unless you know how long you will live for in advance.

Midlife is considered the period between early adulthood and old age. Again it is the window of time defined by two other vague windows of time! Let’s get some numbers out:

SourceMid Life Age Range
Oxford English Dictionary45 to 65
US Census55 to 65
Merrimack-Webster45 to 64
Erik Erikson55 to 65
Collins English Dictionary40 to 60

Therefore we can define midlife as being between 40 – 65 years old based on these sources. But…

I’m not sure about you, but I would have said 65 was very much into the ‘old age’ bracket! So lets take a deeper dive into life expectancies to get another angle on this:

In 2020 life expectancy in the USA is currently around 79 years. In the UK it is slightly higher at 81 years. Halving these figures would suggest midlife would be around 39 – 41 years old for an average person in the UK or USA.

Despite being at the low end of the spectrum the experts would suggest, this is closer to what I would think of as middle aged.

If we were to build in a range to acknowledge we are all different, I would define the  ‘middle aged’ window as being 35-45 years old.

Is 35 considered middle aged?

Yes – 35 can be considered middle aged… If you expect to live to 70 years old. 

As I covered above the average life expectancy in the UK and USA is around 80 years old so middle aged is most likely to sit around 40 years old for an average Joe or Jane. Of course when we talk about ‘middle aged’ we rarely mean a single year, month week or day. We are usually talking about the phase of life – so we like to use a window, or range. Possibly a decade.

So it makes sense to say middle aged is pivoting around that statistical ‘mid life’ point of 40. So if we want a 10 year period, we would say middle aged is from 35 – 45 years old.

So is 35 considered middle aged? Yes, it is the start of the ‘run in’ to your mid life point – which is typically around 40 years old.

What does ‘mid life crisis’ mean?

The term ‘mid life crisis’ is usually used to describe when someone suddenly exhibits unusual characteristics (see below section: what are the signs of a mid life crisis) typically in the age bracket discussed above.

The crisis itself may be a flash in the plan, or could be a longer term change in direction. 

Five typical examples of a mid life crisis would be:

  1. Sudden mood swings
  2. Abrupt changes in relationships – divorce, affairs, distancing
  3. Suicidal thoughts
  4. Out of character purchases – sports cars, holidays
  5. Change in fundamental principles – spending heavily where normally one would save

It is important to note that the term crisis is thrown around quite generally and it is usually used in a disparaging tone. If someone in the 35 – 45 year old age bracket chooses to buy a sports car that does not automatically mean they are having a crisis – no matter what their friends, family or enemies may suggest!

Similarly there are plenty of marriages which naturally break down over time – it doesn’t automatically mean the blame can be laid at the door of a sudden crisis.

Picture of a red classic car
Purchasing a sports car is a cliche Associated with having a crisis… That said, I don’t think we could blame someone for buying this particular beauty!

Is a midlife crisis a real phenomenon?

In a survey conducted in the USA around one in four said they had experienced a midlife crisis.

So is a midlife crisis a real phenomenon? Based on this particular survey – yes. However… In responses there was a huge spread in the age they experienced their issues and strong links not to age, but to critical events that happened. For example marriage or job trouble could trigger a sudden change in someone that has been labelled as a midlife crisis – perhaps incorrectly.

From personal experience I have a close friend who experienced a crisis after losing their job. This spiralled and impacted other areas of their life. Not a great experience to be close to. Tellingly they were significantly beyond the typical ‘midlife’ window.

So is it a real phenomenon? It would appear more likely in practice that people in that critical ‘middle aged’ bracket are more susceptible to being knocked off track by life events than simply growing older.

What are the signs of a midlife crisis?

Similar to the problems above – a midlife crisis is such a general, non-specific term that identifying the signs can be tough.

That said, we have a few warnings we can keep an eye on.

  1. A clear and abrupt change in behaviour – an overarching theme, but any pivot of behaviour away from the ‘normal’ is a warning shot that something may be wrong.
  2. Hygiene – if someone suddenly changes their cleanliness routines this could be a sign of wider issues.
  3. Drastic weight changes – large swings in weight can be accompanied by mental changes as well. Not always, but it could be a flag.
  4. Mood swings – changes in mood pattern signs again could indicate someone is going through some challenging times

Final thoughts

So we can conclude by saying a midlife crisis can be identified in a number of ways – usually punctuated by a sudden change in behaviour – and the most likely age for such a change to occur would be somewhere between 35 and 45, but outliers will exist.

If you are experiencing any issues please reach out to someone to discuss it – your physician, a friend, an online forum / blog, find a way to vent and let it out.

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