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Women at Midlife
Life Experiences and Implications for the Helping Professions
Ski Hunter, Sandra Sundel, and Martin Sundel
ISBN: 0-87101-351-7. 2002. Item #3517. 368 pages.

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The number of women at midlife served by the helping professions is substantial. Thorough and insightful, Women at Midlife fills the gap in knowledge about these women and examines critical issues concerning family, caregiving, work, physical health, emotional and mental health, and more. Dispelling restrictive and outdated myths, the authors probe the meaning and direction of women at midlife. This scholarly volume, highlighted by compelling vignettes and backed by extraordinary research, explores the full range of midlife experiences, from how to define midlife to individual development to relationships with other family members. Social work instructors, students, and practitioners, as well as women who themselves are at midlife, will find that the work offers important professional and personal benefits.

Special Features

  • Examines family, work, health, sexuality, personality, and well-being issues related to midlife.

  • Addresses ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation within the midlife umbrella.

  • Presents implications of key issues for human services professionals.

About the Authors

Chapter 1: Defining Women at Midlife
Definitions of Midlife
Linear Age-Stage Views
Nonlinear Views
Variations among Midlife Women
Cohort Factor in Variability
Theoretical Framework
Multiple Influences on Development
Gains, Losses, and Constraints
Implications for Practice

Chapter 2: Family Contexts and Relationships
Heterosexual Marriages and Primary Lesbian Relationships
Households with No Children
Households with Children
Stressors of Midlife Parenting
Intersection of Midlife with Adolescence
Effects of Launching Children on Parental Marriage, Well-Being, and Life Satisfaction
Marital Distress
Effects of Launching Children on Mothers
Empty Nest Syndrome
Positive (Versus Negative) Outcomes from Launching Children
How Children Turned Out
Improved Relationships Between Mothers and Adult Children
Relationships Go On between Midlife Parents and Adult Children
Extent of Contact with Children Living outside the Home
Help-Giving Exchanges
Effects of Help Giving on Parents’ Well-Being
When Adult Children Leave Too Early, Leave Late, Return Home after Leaving, or Never Leave
Young Adults Who Leave Home Late
Young Adults Who Return Home
Parents’ Reactions to the Return of Adult Children
Effects of Children Returning Home on the Parent-Child Relationship and the Couple Relationship of the Parents
Older Adult Children Who Never Left or Left and Returned
Adult Children with Serious Impairments
Losing an Adult Child
Implications for Practice

Chapter 3: Caregiving of Adult Family Members

Types of Caregiving Needed by Older Adult Family Members
Families Deliver Care
Family Caregivers Are Primarily Women
Are Midlife Women in a Squeeze?
Double Role Challenges
Triple Role Challenges
Stress of Extensive Caregiving
Types of Stressors
Modifications of the Stress of Caregiving
Positive Outcomes of Caregiving
A Feminist Analysis of Caregiving and Recommendations for Practitioners
Implications for Practitioners

Chapter 4: Single-Again and Always-Single Statuses
Marital Dissolution at Midlife
Motives for Divorce
Emotions and Life Changes
Supports for Single-Again Women
Positive Outcomes for Single-Again Women
Always-Single Women
Influential Social Trends Associated with Singlehood
Advantages and Disadvantages of an Always-Single Status for Midlife Women
Implications for Practice

Chapter 5: Work, Personal Finances, and Income Security
Women’s Work Force Participation
Diverse Work Patterns of Midlife Women
Dual-Earner and Dual-Career Families
Combining Family and Work: Benefits
Combining Family and Work: Conflict and Stress
Effects on Children
Supports for Dual-Career and Dual-Earner Families
Income Security for Retirement
Preretirement Planning
Major Obstacles Midlife Women Confront in Preparing for Retirement
Caregiving Women: Economic Consequences
Toward Greater Income Security for Women
Implications for Practice

Chapter 6: Physical Health Concerns
Coronary Heart Disease
Risk Factors
Risk Factor Control
Less Conventional Risk Factors
Cancer – In General
Breast Cancer
Risk Factors
Detection Methods
Lung Cancer
Lesbian Health Issues
Health Care
Coming of Age of Women's Health Concerns
Health Insurance Concerns
Implications for Practice

Chapter 7: Menopause and Sexuality
Transition to Menopause
Differing Perspectives on Menopause
Minimalism Counters Maximalism
Sociocultural Perspective
Hormonal Therapy
Benefits, Risks, and Discomforts of Hormonal Therapy
The Decision Dilemma
Alternatives to Hormone Replacement
Sexual Interest, Activity, and Enjoyment
Reports of Declines
Sexual Satisfaction
Lesbian Sexuality after Menopause
Ways for Women to Increase Sexual Enjoyment
Implications for Practice

Chapter 8: Emotional Concerns
Presumption of Crisis
Depression Experienced by Midlife Women
Buffers Against Depression
Midlife Lesbians and Depression
Do Midlife Factors Influence Women’s Suicide Rates?
Lesbians and Suicide
Implications for Practice

Chapter 9: Personality, Identity, and Generativity
Personality Development
Sex-Gender Crossovers between Women and Men
Personality Prototypes
Identity Statuses among Midlife Women
Effects of Sociohistorical Changes on Identity Stability and Change
Actualization of Generative Strivings in Midlife
Generativity Motivation or Desires, Felt Capacity for Generativity, and Generativity Realizations
Identity Statuses and Generativity
Implications for Practice

Chapter 10: Psychological Well-Being and Life Satisfaction
Prime Time for Midlife Women: Contributing Factors to Psychological Well-Being and Life Satisfaction
Biological Factors
Interpersonal Factors
Sex Life
Marriage, Family, Children
Relationships with Parents
Social Support and Attachments
Social-Psychological Factors
Sex-Gender Role Traits
Mastery and Pleasure
Ego Resiliency
Regrets about Life Circumstances
Revised Social Clock Projects
Educational, Earnings, and Job Satisfaction Factors
Diversity Factors
Poor Midlife Women
African American Midlife Women
Lesbian Midlife Women
Exceptions to Psychological Well-Being among Advantaged Midlife Women
Implications for Practice

Epilogue: Toward Developing and Applying Knowledge to Inform Practice

A Look at Research on Midlife Women
Types of Research Designs Needed in the Future
Practice Issues and Perspectives
Developmental Perspective
Feminist Perspective
Interpersonal Perspective
Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective
Affirmative Perspective
Appendix: A Compilation of Research Studies on Midlife Women

Ski Hunter, MS, MSW, PhD, LMSW-ACP, is professor at the School of Social Work, University of Texas at Arlington. She teaches courses on human behavior and the social environment; adult development; personal relationships; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. Along with Martin Sundel, she was an editor of Midlife Myths, published in 1989. She was the lead author of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youths and Adults, published in 1998 with Coleen Shannon, Jo Knox, and James I. Martin; and a coauthor with James I. Martin of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Social Work: A Comprehensive Bibliography with Annotations, published in 2001. She is the coauthor of the NASW Press publication Affirmative Practice: Understanding and Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons, with Jane C. Hickerson.

Sandra S. Sundel, MSSW, PhD, is executive director of Jewish Family Service of Broward County, Florida. Formerly on the social work faculty at Florida Atlantic University, she taught courses on practice with individuals, families, and groups. She has consulted widely with corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations on change management and interpersonal communication in the workplace. She specializes in the treatment of women and families. She is coauthor (with Martin Sundel) of Behavior Change in the Human Services and Be Assertive, and has published numerous journal articles and book chapters.

Martin Sundel, MSW, PhD, is president of Sundel Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm specializing in leadership development, behavior change, and futures planning. He was the Dulak Professor of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington when he and Ski Hunter were invited speakers at the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development. Most recently, he was professor of Social Work at Florida International University and faculty associate at the Southeast Florida Center on Aging. His publication credits include Midlife Myths, Behavior Change in the Human Services, Individual Change Through Small Groups, Second Edition, Be Assertive, and Assessing Health and Human Service Needs.
This is a savvy and useful book for practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. It is firmly rooted in research that is treated prudently, with a critical eye toward both its scholarly value and its usefulness for understanding and helping women in this period of life. The authors focus as much on the resources and strengths that come from this life transition as on its challenges and stresses, carefully demonstrating the unique significance of ethnicity, class, race, and sexual orientation in the process. For the researcher, the appendix is a gold mine. I highly recommend this book for practitioners and educators – it is sophisticated and relevant, and just plain interesting.

Dennis Saleebey, DSW
Professor, School of Social Welfare
University of Kansas


Women at Midlife is a superlative discourse on an under explored and frequently ill-served population. This book is a must for those concerned with serving women regardless of their social class, educational levels, race or ethnicity, or their maternal or marital status. The book will be equally helpful to women experiencing the passage through this sometimes unsettling stage in their life span. Recognizing the different experiences that women may have in terms of their "midlife" journey, the authors offer self-help perspectives as they explore particular stresses and vulnerabilities. At the same time, they provide sound research-based information that makes the book an excellent reference document for use by students, faculty, and practicing professionals.

Mary Davidson, PhD
Dean, School of Social Work
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Newark, New Brunswick, and Camden, New Jersey


Incisive and current, Women at Midlife is a "must read" for all persons who work with women. It provides essential theoretical and practical guidelines for students and practitioners, educators, policy makers, and researchers, and is a comprehensive resource of the most current research and knowledge on women in midlife from recognized social work experts. Mental health professionals and students who care about and work with women and women who are approaching or are in their midlife years should read this outstanding new book.

Dorcas D. Bowles, PhD
Dean, Whitney M. Young, Jr. School of Social Work
Clark Atlanta University