06 Dec 2017

AbstractThis article tells the history of the midlife crisis, for the first time. Today, the idea of midlife crisis conjures up images of male indulgence and irresponsibility, but it was first successfully promoted as a feminist concept that applied to men and women equally and described the dissolution of gender roles at the onset of middle age. Although the term was coined by the psychologist Elliott Jaques in the 1950s, it only came into general use two decades later with journalist Gail Sheehy's bestselling Passages (1976), as a concept that relied on older understandings of middle age as a welcome ‘release’ from motherhood and domesticity. The feminist origins of the midlife crisis suggest, first, that journalistic publishing can be more significant for the history of an idea than specialists’ theories, even if those precede it. Secondly and more importantly, it sheds new light on Susan Sontag's classic analysis of the ‘double standard of aging’ by making visible how women used the notion of midlife change to undermine gender hierarchies.