It Ain’t Easy Being a Middle-Aged American.
On the one hand, it’s depressing to read the stats of this Fast Company article on how many Americans are struggling with midlife. On the other hand, it’s encouraging to see this kind of sociological overview in a popular business magazine.
I had five friends take their lives during the Great Recession, and I struggled with my own suicide ideation during that time. All of us were men between 42 and 50 years old. It looks like we aren't alone, either. Today, mid-lifers report more daily stress and poorer physical health and psychological well-being compared to middle-aged adults during the 1990s. And the situation is much worse in America than in other wealthy nations (other than Australia, which has a similar challenge). Why?
The grab bag of reasons cited in this study include:
- More job instability and lack of family emergency savings
- Children falling behind in school and struggling emotionally
- The "sandwich generation" phenomenon with mid-lifers taking care of both parents and children at the same time
- The obsessive cult of American ambition and success
- And, more social isolation, especially amongst men
What's so sad is how many people feel their situation is unusual or their own fault when the problem is actually more systemic. And the lack of a well-planned caregiving infrastructure in the U.S. feels like one of the root causes. A recent AARP report estimated that in 2020, there were 53 million caregivers whose unpaid labor was valued at $470 billion.
Countries with happier and healthier mid-lifers, like Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, offered more "social wellness" programs—paid parental leave, subsidized child care, and more reliable health insurance to create a stronger safety net. Yes, they often had higher taxes as well.
What’s the upshot of all this research? It’s not just that times are tough. We know that. The real message is that we need to lean on each other and begin sharing best practices to cope with the bottom of the U-curve of happiness, which is part of the MEA ethos and the foundational way our alumni community supports each other. As we often say, wisdom is not taught, it's shared.
And most importantly, never forget that you are not alone.