David Levinson: Seasons’ of A Man’s LifeIntroductionBackgroundIn May of 1977, Daniel Levinson constructed a model of the season’s ofa mans life. His developmental theory consists of universal stages or phasesthat extends from the infancy state to the elderly state. Most developmenttheories, such as Freud’s psychosexual development theory or Piaget’s cognitivedevelopment theory, end in the adolescent stage of life. Levinson’s stagetheory is important because it goes beyond most theories assuming thatdevelopment continues throughout adult life.
Levinson based his model on biographical interviews of 40 American men. These 40 men were between 35 to 45 years in age and they worked as eitherbiology professors, novelists, business executives or industrial laborers. Thebiographical interviews lasted one or two hours and ranged from six to teninterviews for each subject. The questions asked focused on the subject’s lifeaccounts in their post adolescent years. The interviews focused on topics suchas the men’s background (education, religion, political beliefs) and majorevents or turning points in their lives. Levinson’s concept of life structure (the men’s socio-cultural world,their participation in their world and various aspects of themselves) is themajor component in Levinson’s theory.
The life structure for each personevolves through the developmental stages as people’s age. Two key concepts in Levinson’s model are the stable period and thetransitional period in a person’s development. The stable period is the timewhen a person makes crucial choices in life, builds a life structure around thechoices and seeks goals within the structure. The transitional period is theend of a person’s stage and the beginning of a new stage. Levinson’s model contains five main stages. They are the pre-adulthoodstage (age 0 – 22), the early adulthood stage (age 17 – 45), the middle adultstage (age 40 – 65), the late adulthood stage (age 60 – 85) and the late lateadult stage (age 80 plus).
Levinson states “the shift from one era to the nextis a massive development step and require transitional period of severalyears. “(Levinson, 1977) This would explain why there is an overlap in each ofthese stages. Levinson’s first adult stage in his model is called the Early AdultTransition Period. This phase is similar to Erikson’s psychological theory inthat both concern the young adult’s identity crisis or role confusion. It isduring this phase that the young adult first gains independence (financial orotherwise) and leaves the home.
This is a transitional stage because it marksthe end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood. The second stage would be a stable period because it marks the timewhere the adult must pick a role, establish goals and build a life structure. This stage provides the young adult with any roles and choices for their future. Levinson believes that it is during this time that the young person dreams ofhis future success in a career, family life and status. Levinson also believesthat the presence of a mentor or older teacher is a great influence in guidingthe person through the obstacles in their career paths. The third stage, which can be divided into two parts, is called the Age30 transition.
The first part of this phase deals with when the young adultreflects on their career and past successes and also plans for future successand status in their career as well as making plans in starting a family andsettling down. In Levinson’s own words, the Age 30 transition “provides anopportunity to work on the flaws and limitations of the first adult lifestructure and to create the basis for a new and more satisfactory structure withwhich to complete the era of early adulthood. ” (Levinson, 1977) This Age 30transition parallels Erikson’s autonomy versus shame and doubt stage whichErikson applies to toddlers. The second part of the Age 30 transition period isthe settling down stage. It is in this stage that the person feels a need toestablish a role in society, whether in their career or their family life, whichever is the most central part of their life structure.
The fourth phase of Levinson’s model is called Becoming One’s Own Man orBOOM phase. In this stage, the man feels constrained by the authority figuresin their world. The individual wants more independence, authority and to betrue to their own voice. With this larger amount of authority, there comes agreater amount of responsibility and burden. This is also a time of conflict asthe person struggles with the notion of becoming an established adult andleaving behind the flaws of the early adult they once were. Levinson uses thephrase “breaking out” to describe the adult’s radical change in life structure.
The conflict in this stage is the beginning of the major transitional period inlife called the mid-life transition. In the Mid-life transition, which Levinson believes to last from age 40to 45, the adult faces a crucial point in their development. Much soulsearching and reflecting is done during this phase. The adults question theirpast life structures and accomplishments and reevaluate their goals.
There arevery few adults, according to Levinson, that find this mid-life stage difficult. The painful process of the mid-life transition stage results in a drasticallydifferent life structure with new goals within it. Even if an adult chooses notto change their life structure, they must still reappraise their life andrecommit themselves on different terms to their old choices. This troublingtransitional phase does, according to Levinson, have beneficial results.
Levinson believes that “the life structure that emerges in the middle 40s variesgreatly in its satisfactoriness”(Levinson, 1977). Levinson also states thatfor some, the outcome of this transition provides the person with fulfillmentand a b etter direction. Levinson’s model emphasizes that development of life structures is acontinuous life process. In the stages which follow the mid-life transition arenot focused on, but Levinson does state that the mid-life transition is not thelast opportunity for growth and change. He believes there are latertransitional periods in late adulthood as well. He states that “as long as lifecontinues, no period marks the end of the opportunities, and the burdens offurther development.
” (McAdams and Levinson, 1977)PurposeLevinson’s model is called the season’s of a mans life. This wordingalone predicts the gender bias found in his theory. His theory was based onbiographical material solely from men. This blatant bias would certainly affectthe model’s applicability towards women.
Argument” It is surprising that Levinson’s model, established in 1978, would containsuch an outright bias considering the time period. Some obvious faults in histheory as it relates to women are the differences in men’s and women’s careerand family goals. the men who were interviewed for Levinson’s study would havebeen raised in the 1950s and 60s. Women and men who grew up during this timewere gender typed to a much greater extent than the males and females are today. These big differences would indicate different education, goals, values andstatuses. It is very unlikely that Levinson’s theory would apply to a woman’sdevelopment considering the different roles, goals and life structures betweenthese men and women.
Perhaps, with a amore equal treatment of men and womentoday, Levinson’s model of the season’, of the life of man would be moreapplicable to both sexes. However, even with the majority of women who join the work force today,the lives of these women still differ drastically with the men of the laborforce and a universal model of development for men and women would still awaitfurther research as Levinson stated. This is not to say that women do not enter a development stage patternthat Levinson proposes because research has shown that women do enter thesephases, however, at different times than men and also the effects of thesetransitions affect women differently than men. It would be unlikely for awoman’s life to develop parallel to a man’s life because the choices, obstaclesand goals men and women face , differ drastically from one another.
For example,when entering the adult world, many women ( during the 50s and 60s ) were notfaced with the many different opportunities and roles which faced men. For manywomen, even those who were educated and worked, family was the majorresponsibility and their main role was the mother. Even in today’s society,with equal opportunity and career mothers, a woman’s career is interrupted withpregnancy and the first months of motherhood (many choose to take years off fromwork to raise their children (Orstein and Isabella, 1990) ). The fact remains,althoughwomen have established themselves in the work force as equals to men and areable to have both families and careers, women’s lives are different than men’s. These differences mean that the phases of life development, according toLevinson’s model, will differ with men and women.
The age 30 transition, forexample, may occur for women at a somewhat later age than for men becausewomen’s are described taking a slow burn to the top. ( This is not to saywomen’s careers are less successful, but rather take a longer time to reachsuccess. This is probably due to the interruption of pregnancy and motherhood. (Orstein and Isabella, 1990) ) The differences between the lives anddevelopment patterns between men and women and how this affects Levinson’s modelwill be examined further, but first here’s a look at some recent researchregarding women’s current goals, changes and life structures.
The Divorce rate in North America has never been higher. One wouldthink that the effects of divorce would be most devastating to a woman whosemain goals relate to her family and marriage. A recent study by Krisanne Bursik(1991) researches the ego development for women after marital separation ordivorce. Bursik found that “divorce demands personal reorganization andadjustment to new roles and life-styles.
” (Bursik, 1991) She also found thatwomen who find divorce to be more disequilibrating, experienced the most changein ego development. Barsik’s study involved a longitudinal research of 104women who lived in the greater Boston area. The women reported their feelingsof disequilibrium after their divorce or separation. A year later, their egodevelopment scores were compared with their scores from the previous year. Contrary to what one may think about the effects of divorce on women, this studyshows that for many women a painful time in life can produce strong, positivechanges in t heir personal growth (Bursik, 1991) I feel that for many women, adivorce or marital separation is in some way equivalent to Levinson’s mid-lifetransition which he applied to men. Another study, by Paul Wink and Ravenna Helson (1993), focuses on thepersonality change in women after pregnancy and motherhood, compared to thechange in their husbands.
The women in this study were all educated andgraduating from college in the late 50s. It is a linear study including ages 21,27, 43 and 52. The husbands of these women were also evaluated at the same timeintervals. the first period studied was early parental time. All of the womenhad a t least one child and only a few continued in pursuing a professionalcareer. The second period studied was post parental and in this stage, morethan 70% of the women were now in the labor force.
The results showed that atthe time of early parental stage, the women were less goal oriented, morefacilitative in their interpersonal relationships and in more need of emotionalsupport from others. The men were all full time employed in this stage. The next stage, the post parental time, almost all of the women wereworking in the paid labor force at least part time while 35% of their partnershad retired or were planning on retiring within years. At this stage, the menwere no longer the goal oriented ones and the women were no longer the mostfacilitative in interpersonal relations.
They now had higher levels of self-confidence than their partners. The women’s goals no longer focused on theirmarriage, but now included their concern with their own assertiveness and theirability to make money (Wink and Helson, 1993). I feel that this later careerdevelopment is comparable to Levinson’s entering the adult world stage in thatthe women (though much later in age) now face with many more choices in rolesand career direction. The women who enter this phase are beginning a new way ofliving and also changing their existing life structure. The women and theirmale partner are not living in the same development stage and this is becausethei r lives are so different. A study by Ravena Helson and Brent Roberts (1992) suggests that thepersonality of a woman’s husband was a significant factor in predicting the workhistory of that woman.
Their research focused on the graduates of the Millscollege for women (classes of 1958 and 1960) and their total sample consisted of63 women and their husbands. A longitudinal analysis was conducted to concludewhether a woman’s college goals, their husbands personality and the duration oftheir marriage affected the woman’s choice to work in the paid work force or asa volunteer. They found that a husband’s personality was the main influence ona woman choosing volunteer work. Also interesting was that the duration ofmarriage was a factor that influenced the women’s amount of paid work (Helsonand Roberts, 1992).
This research verifies that women’s choices are not asbroad and unlimiting as a young man who enters Levinson’s “Entering the AdultWorld” phase. A woman’s role and choices were much more predetermined and narrow andthis fact alone offers evidence that North American women lead differentlives that North American men at the time Levinson’s model originated. Yet another example of the difference between men and women’s lives(especially during the 50s, 60s, and 70s) is career choices and development ofwomen’s careers. Ornstein and Isabella (1990) found that women find success intheir careers at a later time in their lives than men do. Their study consistedof a sample of 422 women who had reached the top level of management in theirtelecommunications firm. The research was conducted in a questionnaire method.
Their research showed that women develop in distinctive patterns, according toLevinson’s model, however, their research indicates that the stages for women donot parallel those of men. They believe that the reason for this is because ofthe differences found between men and women in their career stages. Ornsteinand Isabella explain that women’s careers are often interrupted because ofpregnancy and motherhood. They also explain the differences in career stages asa result of the different socialization experiences for men and women. Men are taught that their working career must continue throughout theirlifetime and that their sense of identity is the result of their careerachievement.
Women, however, are raised with conflicting messages, for example,the heavy task of balancing both career and motherhood. The researchersconcluded from their study that women at different ages have different goals andvalues regarding their careers (this is keeping with Levinson’s age relatedmodel). However, though the ages between women do correspond, the age group ofwomen does not compare to that of men for the reason that many of the women’scareers do not develop at the same pace as men’s (Ornstein and Isabella, 1990). Job stress and the differences of stress concerning men and women werethe topics of the next study by Rosalind C. Barnett et al.
(1993). In thisarticle, research supports the conclusion that there is no gender differenceregarding psychological distress (career related). The sample, for this study,consisted of 300 dual-earner couples, all of which were full time employed, welleducated and lived in Massachusetts. Their evidence supports the theory thatcareer women endure in their career (Barnett et al.
, 1993). While the previousarticles established that women develop their careers at a different pace thanmen, this article confirms that career women do encounter the same burdens ofthe work force that inflict men. This would lead one to assume that women alsoface the “Becoming ones own man” stage that Levinson believes men encounter. (The BOOM phase suggested that men become unsatisfied in the lack of dependenceand constraint they feel in their careers.
)Apart from career stages, women also differ in their Mid-life Transitionphase compared to men. In the article by Paul Wink and Ravenna Helson (1993),they believe that mid-life transitions , of their work become more humanisticin their approach to life and for women to become more career oriented and focuson personal achievement (Wink and Helson, 1993). This difference in the mid-life phase is most likely attributed to the different pace of developmentconcerning careers and personal growth. This look at the recent studies concerning women and their differentlife structures, roles and choices, compared to men, offers a betterunderstanding of the inapplicability of Levinson’s model of development stagestowards women.
Levinson’s first stage in adulthood development is the “Early Adulttransition” period. This transition is from the end of adolescence to thebeginning of adulthood. It is most likely that men and women enter this stageat approximately the same time. The next stage, called “Entering the Adult World” is, on the other hand,different for men and women. As stated in the previously mentioned researchmany women, educated and career oriented or not (mostly in the 50s, 60s, and70s), were not offered the broad number of choices that a man at the same agewas offered.
Women who joined the work force were expected to quit their jobswhen they became married or pregnant. Even today, though we have come so far inequal opportunity for men and women, there are still differences between men andwomen’s roles and responsibilities. The women who were raised more intraditional ways, however, reached the stage where more opportunities were waspresented to them, at a much later age than their husbands. This stage forthese women came after their husbands retired or planned to retire. Levinson’sstage model does relate to these women because they do eventually reach thestage in which they choose a career role and focus on their own personalachievement (and not just the achievement of their children or their spouse). It is now time for the women to focus on their abilities in their career and forthe men to focus on their personal interests.
The above studies showed that the men who enter retirement become morehumanistic in their approaches towards their lives. In more modern times, womenmay enter their career of choice and still become a wife and mother. Whiletheir husbands do share in the work concerning the household and child rearingresponsibilities, it is the women whose career is put on hold during the lastmonths of pregnancy and the first months of motherhood. Many mothers take muchmore time off from their careers than the few months of maternal leave that isoffered to them. Though women have made great strides in balancing bothmotherhood and career, it is obviously a challenging task and one that differsfrom their husband’s.
For these women, their career may take a “slow burn” tothe top. In other words, these working mothers do eventually reach the topladder rung of success in their field, but because of the interruption in theirrise to the top due to child raising, their success is usually slower than theirh usband’s. In regard to Levinson’s model of development, the “Becoming One’s OwnMan” (or woman) stage may take longer to reach for women than for men. Thiswould also mean that the “Age 30 Transition,” which involves dissatisfactionwith their careers and their lack of seniority, may affect women longer, andlater than men. The studies mentioned earlier indicate that there are different stagesof career development for men and women.
Levinson’s development model is anage-related model, however, he does relate the ages of the men to the stages oftheir career that they should currently be in. Levinson’s model is notapplicable to women in this regard, because women’s ages and their careers donot equal men’s age and their place in their career. If there must be auniversal model for human mid-life development, it must include this factor intheir theory. The final difference that will be discussed about the development formen and women in Levinson’s model is the “Mid-Life Transition”. While it hasbeen established that this phase is equally troubling for both men and women, ithas also been shown that women choose different possibilities in dealing withthis transition period.
For many women, the beginning of the 40s is also thetime when their children are grown up and leave the nest. For these women,opportunities and choices, in the work field, present themselves. However, menare well into their careers and in several years will consider retirement. Thisobvious difference in their career development is also an indicator of futuredifferences to come as the men and women enter the later part of adulthood. Though Levinson does not offer much detail in the further course of adultdevelopment in the later stages of life, he does state that transitions andchanges in life structures continue throughout a person’s life. The before mentioned studies have shown that for women who have justentered the work force at an older age, their focus will be on their personalachievements in their career field.
This is a transition for women who haveworked at home for the majority of their early adult years. For the men, on theother hand, their transition is to focus on their marriage, children andpersonal interests. The following years in these stages, for both men and women,will be on different levels of development for the woman and her husbandConclusionLevinson’s development model is based on research strictly from men. This bias in his sample illustrates the shortcomings his model contains whenrelated to women.
For Levinson to think that a model based on the developmentpatterns of a man can apply to a woman would be to assume that the lives of menand women are the same. Research shows that this is not the case. There is agreat deal of differences in the lives of women, compared to men, includingcareer and family goals and the options offered to men and women. While thedifference in education and careers are most obvious in the lives of women whowere raised in the 40s and 50s, it is still a current issue for the more modernwoman.
Levinson’s age-related development model is based on the stages of aman’s career and since men and women develop their careers at a different pace,women’s development stages do not coincide with Levinson’s model. In sum, a developmental model, if it is to apply to both genders mustinclude the difference between man and women and the contrasts between theircareer development. There is still an embarrassing lack of research on women’sdevelopment. Further studies must develop in order to assess how much differentmen and women, in present modern day, really are in regard to their careers.
Acommon trend occurring among married couples, is to postpone having childrenuntil the woman’s career has evolved (early 30s). Research into this pattern oflater motherhood will prove necessary in order to understand the similaritiesand dissimilarities of the careers of men to women. The contrast in careers formen and women is an important place to start in developing a model ofdevelopment for people because career development and the life structure, goaland personal development, are closely. I guess when Levinson decided to namehis study “The Mid-Life Transition: A Period in Adult Psychosocial Development”,he really should have called it “The Mid-Life Transition: A Period in Men’sPsychosocial Development” to avoid any misinterpretations. ReferencesBarnett, Rosalind C.
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60 Sept. 1992, 575-595Levinson, Daniel J. “The Mid-LIfe Transition: A Period in Adult PsychosocialDevelopment. ” Psychiatry, vol. 40 May 1977, 99-112Ornstein, Suzyn and Lynn Isabella.
“Age vs. Stage Models of Career Attitudes ofWomen: A Partial Replication and Extension. ” Journal of Vocational Behavior, vol. 36 1990, 1-19Wink, Paul and Ravenna Helson. “Personality Change in Women and Their Partners”Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 3, vol.
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