Midlife is often a time when family structures and relationships are changing. Parents of teenage or adult children often have more time to themselves, especially if their own parents do not need caring for or live in a different place. Many are at the peak of their earning potential, which allows them to live a comfortable lifestyle, especially if they own their home mortgage-free.
Some midlife adults decide to change direction. They may embark on a new career path, travel overseas for extended periods or undertake tertiary study. Midlife women are more likely to study than men. In 2013, 65% of students aged 45–64 were women. Two-thirds of midlife students studied part-time.
Footloose and fancy-free
In 2008 Aucklanders Margaret and Fred Gilles, both in their late 50s, rented out their house, sold the contents and temporarily moved to the northern hemisphere. They planned to work and travel in Europe and Britain. Margaret said, ‘We’ve got ourselves established, got our mortgage paid off, our children are off our hands. We’ve had a lifetime working.’1 The couple wanted to enjoy the chance to travel while they were still fit and healthy.
In between caring and work responsibilities, midlife people take time to enjoy themselves. A 2010 study of midlife adults’ leisure found that most (86%) were satisfied with how they spent their leisure time. Almost 90% took part in outdoor activities such as walking, gardening, swimming, cycling, fishing and golf. They also enjoyed dining out, and attending family events and social occasions.
People with higher levels of education and income were more active than those with less education or income. Overall, women were slightly more socially active than men, possibly because they were less likely to be employed full-time.
Most midlife adults rate their own health as excellent or very good, but some have to confront certain conditions that become more prevalent at this time, mainly in the later stages. High blood pressure, diabetes (particularly in men), arthritis and osteoporosis (particularly in women) are some examples. Mood disorders in men peak in the 55–64 age group, whereas for women this happens much earlier (25–34). Most women experience menopause between 45 and 55. The risk of developing certain cancers, such as breast and bowel cancer, increases significantly after 50.
By midlife, death rates begin to show a steady upward trend after remaining stable through people’s 20s and 30s. In 2006 the death rate per 100,000 people was 434 for 45–64-year-olds, compared to 95 for 25–44-year-olds and 1,724 for 65–74-year-olds. Midlife people, particularly those in their later years, are more likely to experience the death of peers than in their past.