A central idea in this theory is the life structure, defined as the “underlying pattern or design of a person’s life at any given time.” The life structure changes over a lifespan and we build it primarily around our relationships and work. From the interviews Levinson was able to illustrate life structure evolves through a series of alternating stable (structure building) and transitional (structure changing or crisis) phases. These were dubbed “the seasons of a man’s life” (outlined by figure20.1). The lifespan covers four eras: pre-, early, middle and late adulthood. Where the eras over lap, we experience transitions, which last roughly five years each.
At the Pre-adulthood stage the individual grows from a baby to early adulthood. The individual then moves to early adult transition; this is where the person moves towards independence, both emotionally and financially. A person can explore life’s possibilities without making firm commitments.
Early adulthood is then reached; the individual forges firmer links between themselves and the adult world. More choices and commitments are made and life becomes more structured. Here it might be conceivable to start thinking about and/or starting a family and setting up a home. The individual will settle a few key choices and find a position in the adult world to grow comfortably and happily contributing to aspects of personal, home and working life. The later stage of this phase has been called BOOM – becoming one’s own man.
BOOM is completed and individuals are wiser and more experienced in the next stage. However, the sense of passing time and one’s own life become more illustrated in this transition, which is into midlife. Physical signs of ageing appear more obvious and deaths of older relatives arise. Initial dreams and plans may or may not be realized and for some this can be a period of midlife crisis, in which to avoid disappointment, changes are made.
During middle adulthood people build on choices from the earlier transition. This could be a new occupation/partner… or a change in attitude to a previous occupation or partner… The people in this stage are less ethnocentric and look out for the next generation. They have more authority and more experience to make impressions on others around them, therefore may become mentors or more involved with the family.
In the last transition put forward by Levinson, physical decline is obvious to the individual and to the culture. A final acceptance that life is finite is accepted, and either goes into another crisis or a period of calm reflection and making the most of time.
A key feature in this theory is that of a midlife transition/crisis, which has essential validity for some, especially for those following the traditional pattern of adult life. Levinson viewed this crisis as essential/inevitable and claimed 80% of his sample had experienced similar sorts of circumstances, and those who didn’t saw the repercussions later.
There is not a lot of quantitative data to support the ideas put forward, because it was collected in the form of clinical reports.
The evidence for the later eras can’t be generalised vastly, as it was collected from only 15 people over the age of 45.
The research was androcentric and ethnocentric, only being carried out on males from western culture, therefore is it fair to generalise this theory to females and people from other cultures?
However, the theory realises the importance of others in development and it takes into account sociocultural and historical setting when describing development.