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Entry
Reference
Levinson Developmental Psychology Upton I 145
Levinson/adulthood/stages of development/Developmental psychology/Upton: Levinson (1986(1), 1996(2)) was correct in thinking that early adulthood is the time that we explore vocational possibilities. The evidence supports a process of making tentative commitments and revising them as necessary before establishing yourself in what you hope will be a suitable occupation (Super et al.. 1996)(3). Indeed, more than twice as many tentative and exploratory vocational decisions are seen at age 21 than at 36, and this is true for both men (Philips. 1982(4)) and women (Jenkins. 1989)(5).
Careers tend to peak during the forties (Simonton. 1990)(6), when there is a tendency for adults to define themselves in terms of their work.
However, factors such as personality and gender seem to mediate career success; conscientiousness, extraversion and emotional stability are all associated with job performance (Ozer and Benet-Martinez. 2006)(7) and, even at the start of the twenty-first century, many women still subordinate career goals to family ones (Kirchmeyer, 2006)(8).
VsLevinson: There is much less evidence to support Levinson’s suggestion of a midlife crisis. >Midlife Crisis/Levinson, >Midlife Crisis/Psychological theories.
Upton I 148
VsLevinson/Upton: While it is good that Levinson acknowledged this personal interest, [one] might wonder whether this influenced his interpretation of the findings. [One] might also argue that the biographical interview is not very objective and that Levinson’s sample is not very representative. (…) men who were interviewed for Levinson’s studies would have been born between 1924 and 1934. They were therefore raised in the 1930s and 1940s. Women and men who grew up during this time were gender-typed to a much greater extent than males and females are today.
Other problems with the studies:
Life experiences: Men who have grown up in the last few decades may well have had to deal with less stable families due to high divorce rates, as well as having to deal with a different kind of economy.
Women: the upbringing, aims and expectations of women today are very different from those at the time of Levinson’s work.


1. Levinson, DJ (1986) The Seasons of a Man’s Life. New York: Alfred Knopf.
2. Levinson, DJ (1996) The Seasons of a Woman’s Life. New York Alfred Knopf.
3. Super, D, Savickas, M, and Super, C (1996). The life-span, life-space approach to careers, in D.
Brown, L Brooks, and Associates (Eds.), Career Choice and Development (3rd ed., 121-78). San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
4. Philips, SD (1982) Career exploration in adulthood .Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 20: 129-
40.
5. Jenkins, SR (1989) Longitudinal prediction of women’s careers: psychological, behavioral, and social-structural influences .Journal of Vocational Behavior, 34: 204-35.
6. Simonton, DK (1990). Creativity in the later years: optimistic prospects for achievement.
Gerontologist) 30, 626-3 1.
7. Ozer, DJ and Benet-Martinez, V (2006) Personality and the prediction of consequential outcome. Psychology, 57:402-21.
8. Kirchmeyer, C (2006) The difference effects of family on objective career success across gender: a test of alternative explanations. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68: 323-46.


Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011
Method Levinson Upton I 147
Method/Levinson/Upton: Levinson based his theory of adult development on a series of in-depth interviews with 40 adult males between 35 and 45 years of age at the time the interviews were carried out during the late 1960s (Levinson, 1986)(1). He was motivated to carry out this study because he wanted to try to make sense of his own midlife transition. A clinical psychologist trained in psychoanalysis, Levinson called the interviews ‘biographical’, explaining to participants that the primary task was to construct the story of a man’s life. The aim was to cover the entire life sequence from childhood to the present time in each person’s life. (Levinson (1986(1), 1996(2)). The men that Levinson interviewed worked either as biology professors, novelists, business executives or industrial labourers. The biographical interviews lasted one or two hours and from six to ten interviews were carried out with each participant.
The questions asked focused on the individuals’ accounts of their own experiences in their post-adolescent years, focusing on topics such as the men’s background (education, income etc.) and beliefs about issues such as religion and politics.
The men were also asked about major events or turning points in their lives. Over half of the men Levinson spoke to described midlife as the last chance to reach their personal goals. These goals were linked to key events such as reaching a particular level of income, or to career points such as being a supervisor or full professor.
The remaining men felt negatively about their lives because they were in dead-end or pointless jobs.
In the 1980s, Levinson interviewed 45 women of the same age (Levinson, 1996)(2). The sample comprised equal numbers of women who were either homemakers, college instructors or businesswomen.
He found that, in general, women go through the same type of life cycles that men do. However, they were less likely to enter adulthood with specific goals and, as a result, were less likely to define success in terms of key career events. Rather than focusing on external events, women usually sought changes in personal identity in midlife.
Upton I 148
VsLevinson/Upton: While it is good that Levinson acknowledged this personal interest, [one] might wonder whether this influenced his interpretation of the findings. [One] might also argue that the biographical interview is not very objective and that Levinson’s sample is not very representative. (…) men who were interviewed for Levinson’s studies would have been born between 1924 and 1934. They were therefore raised in the 1930s and i 940s. Women and men who grew up during this time were gender-typed to a much greater extent than males and females are today.
Other problems with the studies:
Life experiences: Men who have grown up in the last few decades may well have had to deal with less stable families due to high divorce rates, as well as having to deal with a different kind of economy.
Women: the upbringing, aims and expectations of women today are very different from those at the time of Levinson’s work.


1. Levinson, DJ (1986) The Seasons of a Man’s Life. New York: Alfred Knopf.
2. Levinson, DJ (1996) The Seasons of a Woman’s Life. New York Alfred Knopf.


Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011
Midlife Crisis Levinson Upton I 145
Midlife Crisis/Levinson/Upton: the transition from ages 40—45 is an especially significant time of life - a time of midlife crisis when a person questions his or her entire life structure, raising unsettling questions about where they have been and where they are heading. Levinson based his theory on a series of in-depth interviews and characterized 80 per cent of the men he studied as experiencing intense inner struggles and disturbing realizations in their early forties. Women: women, however, experience significant crisis during the transition at age 30, as well as in the transition to middle age. Levinson (1986(1), 1996(2)). >Stages of Development/Levinson, >Method/Levinson.
VsLevinson: see >Midlife Crisis/Psychological theories.
Upton I 147
Women: In the 1980s, Levinson interviewed 45 women of the same age (Levinson, 1996)(2). The sample comprised equal numbers of women who were either homemakers, college instructors or businesswomen. He found that, in general, women go through the same type of life cycles that men do. However, they were less likely to enter adulthood with specific goals and, as a result, were less likely to define success in terms of key career events. Rather than focusing on external events, women usually sought changes in personal identity in midlife.

1. Levinson, DJ (1986) The Seasons of a Man’s Life. New York: Alfred Knopf.
2. Levinson, DJ (1996) The Seasons of a Woman’s Life. New York Alfred Knopf.


Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011