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Midlife in the U.S.(MIDUS)


In the fall of 2002, the Institute on Aging was awarded a $26 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to carry forward a national study of Americans initiated in 1995. The original study (MIDUS I) was conceived by a multidisciplinary team of investigators interested in the role of behavioral, psychological, and social factors in how people age. The study included over 7,000 Americans (including a large sample of twins), aged 25 to 74, all of whom provided detailed information about their health behaviors and practices, life stresses, psychological and social resources, family background, job conditions, and multiple aspects of physical health (chronic conditions, health symptoms, functional capacities) and mental health(depression, anxiety, psychological well-being).

In MIDUS II, we collected a second wave of data on the above respondents about 10 years later, beginning in 2004. Of the original MIDUS I participants, 4,963 were successfully contacted to participate in MIDUS II. In addition to completing a phone interview and questionnaire, comprehensive assessment of biomarkers (cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, immune, neurological) were obtained from approximately 1,500 respondents from three geographic regions around the U.S.


MIDUS Website

MIDMAC Website

The MIDUS data are publicly available at the: National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging, located within the ICPSR Study (Click on "Search Holdings" and type MIDUS)


Below we highlight select results from the original study. These extracts are from scientific articles published in the past 3-4 years.

Are we aging gracefully?
  • As age increases, more positive and fewer negative emotions were reported, suggesting that it may take more to get older people upset.
  • As age increases, people are more likely to accept who they are and feel more in charge of their situations and responsibilities; however, this is more evident among those with more social and financial resources (college graduates, married persons, those with high ranking occupations).
  • Work and relationship stress had a greater impact on emotions in midlife than other ages.
  • Men and people who are married Who's Exercising? or outgoing reported more positive and less negative emotions than women and single or shy people.
  • Mental Performance in Midlife: Although it is commonly thought that mental functions decline with age, this may not happen until old age and, even then, not in all areas! Middle-aged adults showed little or no decline in mental speed, reasoning, and short-term memory compared to younger adults. Midlife adults performed better than the elderly in the same areas, and even more striking, midlife and elderly adults both outperformed younger adults in vocabulary tests!

Differences Between Men and Women
  • Although similar numbers of men and women graduated from college, women tended to have fewer high-ranking jobs.
  • Women, especially midlife and older women, were more likely than men to have made career sacrifices for their families.
  • Married men felt more in charge of situations and managing daily responsibilities than non-married men, but married women did not have this advantage compared to unmarried women.

Who's Not Feeling Healthy?
  • Throughout midlife, physical health ratings decreased and reported health problems increased, although women reported more problems than men. However, men were more likely to report alcohol or drug problems.
  • Men had an increase in the number of chest pains until age 50, where they leveled off, while women had a high incidence at all ages.
  • As age increases, so did the waist to hip ratio, the percentage of people overweight, and the use of high blood pressure medication. The reported frequency of exercise decreased with age.
  • As age increases more effort is devoted to health, although women reported devoting more effort than men.

Stress in Adulthood
  • Most people experienced a daily stressor during the 8-day daily diary study. However, 8% of young, 12% of midlife, and 19% of older adults reported no stressors.
  • As age increases, men and women reported fewer daily and multiple daily stressors.
  • Women reported experiencing stressors on more days, felt more overloaded, had higher levels of physical symptoms, and experienced more child-related stressors than men.
  • Men reported more stress related to coworkers, job procedures, and disciplining employees, and reported that stressors posed more risk to their financial situations.
  • Men were more likely to experience stress that was focused on them, while women were more likely to experience stress that focused on others.

Who's Exercising?
  • During young adulthood, men with less education exercised the most while men with the highest level of education exercised the least; however, by older adulthood this pattern was reversed.
  • Among women, a higher level of earnings was associated with more vigorous exercise, yet those women with more education had a steeper decline in exercise across adulthood.
  • Individuals who were single or who had a high level of emotional support from their spouse or their family exercised more often.
  • Employees who had decision-making ability at their job or who worked more hours exercised more often.
  • Individuals who perceived their neighborhoods as safer participated in more regular exercise.
Want more information? Go to the MIDUS publication search engine, MIDUS website, MIDMAC website, or the ICPSR study website.

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