Generational juggling: Family communication at midlife

Karen L. Fingerman, Kira Birditt, Jon Nussbaum, Diana S. Ebersole

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


Adulthood, like a good story, has a beginning, middle, and an end. Like many stories, however, the beginning and the end of adulthood are more clearly explicated than the middle. Although the start of adulthood in most Western societies does not involve a formal ceremony, there are definable indicators of this period of life. As a matter of course, in general, young adults complete schooling, search for paid work, find mates, and start new families (Furstenberg, 2010). Likewise, late adulthood includes physical and social markers such as retirement, an intensification of ties to family, chronic disease, and physical decline. But, what are the characteristics of midlife, and how do these characteristics shape family communication? What occurs in the middle years of adult family life that di?erentiates it from the beginning and the end? This chapter examines the ways in which family communication patterns are distinct at midlife. Other chapters in this volume address relationships that pepper middle-aged adults’ lives-middle-aged adults communicate with romantic partners, children, and extended family. They engage in con?ict resolution, attend reunions, build new relationships, and maintain friendships. In this chapter, however, we consider characteristics of middle adulthood that may contribute to family communication. Middle-aged adults bring perspectives to their relationships based on their prior experiences and their current developmental goals. Finally, families are systems with dynamic processes; middle-aged adults respond to interactions with other family members in their communications (Fingerman & Bermann, 2000). We first describe aspects of middle-aged adults’ family life and the roles they occupy as well as their developmental goals and experiences. Then, we address two questions about family communication in midlife: 1 What is the content of family communication for middle-aged individuals? 2 What factors determine howmiddle-aged individuals communicate with family members? Finally, we devote attention to topics in this area ripe for future research. As the population grows older, the middle years of adulthood become increasingly discrete and increasingly important for family functioning. Scholarly work in this area has only begun to investigate what is happening to individuals within families at midlife.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Family Communication
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781136946370
ISBN (Print)9780415881982
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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