Middle age was often a time to enjoy life. Now, it brings stress and ill health to many Americans, especially those with less education. Mike Harrington / Getty Images
Midlife was once seen as a time to enjoy the fruits of one’s years of hard work and parenthood. This is no longer true in the USA
Deaths from hopelessness and chronic pain among middle-aged adults have increased over the past decade. Today’s middle-aged adults – aged 40 to 65 – report more daily stress and poorer physical and psychological health than middle-aged adults of the 1990s. These trends are more pronounced for women. people with the fewest years of schooling.
While these trends prevent the COVID-19 pandemic, the COVID-19 footprint promises to further exacerbate the suffering. The historic declines in the health and well-being of middle-aged American adults raise two important questions: To what extent is this confined to the United States, and will COVID-19 impact people? future trends?
My colleagues and I released a cross-country study in mid-2021, which is currently in press, which provides an overview of where middle-aged American adults are today compared to their counterparts in other countries and what they are doing. future generations can be expected in the post-COVID-19 world. Our study looked at cohort differences in the health, well-being, and memory of middle-aged American adults and whether they differed from middle-aged adults in Australia, Germany, South Korea, and Mexico.
The United States is an outlier among rich countries
We compared people born in the 1930s to the 1960s in terms of health and well-being – such as depressive symptoms and life satisfaction – and memory in their 40s.
The differences between the nations were glaring. For the United States, we found a general downward trend. Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s experienced an overall decline in well-being and memory at middle age compared to those born in the 1930s and 1940s. A similar pattern was found for Australian adults d ‘middle age.
In contrast, each successive cohort in Germany, South Korea, and Mexico reported improvements in well-being and memory. Improvements were seen in the health of each country across cohorts, but were slowed down for Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s, suggesting that they improved less rapidly than their counterparts in the countries examined.
Our study finds that middle-aged Americans experience an overall decline in key outcomes, while other countries show overall improvements. Our transnational approach points to policies that could help mitigate the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Will COVID-19 exacerbate disturbing trends?
Early research into the short-term effects of COVID-19 is revealing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of life. Seismic changes have been experienced in all spheres of existence. In the United States, job losses and instability have increased, household financial fragility and lack of emergency savings have been highlighted, and children have fallen behind in school.
At the start of the pandemic, the focus was rightly on the safety of the elderly. The elderly were the most vulnerable to the risks posed by COVID-19, which included mortality, social isolation and loneliness. Indeed, older people were at higher risk, but one item overlooked was how mental health risks and long-term effects are likely to differ across age groups.
Yet young adults and middle-aged adults present the most vulnerabilities in their well-being. Studies document that they currently report more psychological distress and stressors and poorer well-being than older adults. COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities between race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Women are more likely to leave the workforce, which could further affect their well-being.
Changing perspectives and experiences of midlife
The very nature and expectations surrounding midlife are changing. Middle-aged American adults face more parental pressure than ever before, in the form of extracurricular activities and pressure to make their children do well in school. Record numbers of young adults are returning home with their middle-aged parents due to student debt and a historically difficult job and housing market.
A direct effect of the gains in life expectancy is that middle-aged adults have to take on more of the tasks of caring for their aging parents and other family members, while continuing to work on time. full and caring for school-aged children. This is complicated by the fact that there is no federally mandated program for paid family leave that could cover cases of caregiving, or the birth or adoption of a child. A recent AARP report estimated that in 2020 there were 53 million caregivers whose unpaid work was valued at US $ 0 billion.
The restructuring of American companies has led to less investment in employee development and the destabilization of unions. Employees now have less power and less input than ever before. Although health care coverage has increased since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, notable gaps exist. Large numbers of people are underinsured, leading to more out-of-pocket expenses that eat away at monthly budgets and strain households. President Biden’s executive order providing for a special registration period for the healthcare market exchange until August 15, 2021 promises to bring some relief to those in need.
Promote a prosperous forty years
Our transnational approach offers many opportunities to explore ways to reverse America’s disadvantage and promote the resilience of middle-aged adults.
The nations we studied differ considerably in their family and work policies. Paid parental leave and subsidized childcare services help ease the stress and financial strain of parenthood in countries like Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Research documents how much higher well-being is among parents and non-parents in countries with more generous family leave policies.
Countries where sick leave and vacation are widely paid ensure that employees can take time off to care for a sick family member. Stronger safety nets protect laid-off employees by ensuring they have the resources to stay on their feet.
In the United States, health insurance is generally linked to employment. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 5 million people in the United States lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs.
During the pandemic, the US government adopted policy measures to help people and businesses. The United States has approved measures to stimulate the economy through stimulus checks, wage protection for small businesses, expansion of unemployment benefits and health care registrations, tax credits for children and the ability of individuals to seek forbearance for various forms of debt and housing payments. Some of these measures have been beneficial, with recent findings showing that material hardship has diminished and well-being has improved during times when stimulus checks were being handed out.
I think these programs are a good start, but they need to be scaled up if there is any hope of reversing these troubling trends and promoting resilience among middle-aged Americans. A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that paid family leave has a wide range of benefits, including, but not limited to, addressing health, race and gender inequalities; help women stay in the labor market; and helping businesses recruit skilled workers. Research from Germany and the UK shows how expanding family leave policies have lasting effects on well-being, especially for women.
Middle-aged adults form the backbone of society. They constitute large segments of the workforce while simultaneously having to bring the younger and older generations together through caregiving tasks. Ensuring their success, productivity, health and well-being through these various programs promises to have cascading effects on their families and society as a whole.
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This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Frank J. Infurna, Arizona State University.
Frank J. Infurna receives funding from the National Institute on Aging and previously from the John Templeton Foundation. The content is at its sole responsibility and does not necessarily represent the official opinions of the funding agencies.
News Today abc News Middle-aged Americans in the United States are stressed and have physical and mental health challenges – other countries are doing better