To examine how women in their 40s understand "middle age" in the context of sociocultural ideas about the life course.
In-depth interviews were conducted with a subset of 53 volunteers (19 European American, 17 African American, and 17 Latina) from a community-based longitudinal study of premenopausal women between 40 and 48 years of age living in the San Francisco Bay area.
Qualitative analysis of the interview showed that women in their 40s are less concerned about menopause and more concerned about their health, well-being, and appearance. This trend was seen across ethnic groups. Menopause was not a prominent feature in the narratives that these women told about middle age. Whereas menopause was understood as a natural event that was out of women's control, health and appearance were deemed as something that women can and should control. By taking care of themselves, the women felt that they were able to act and look younger, thereby challenging what middle age means.
These women articulated a perspective about middle age as less about a chronological number and more about individual responsibility and control of one's well-being. Scholarly attention has continued to focus on menopause itself as a phenomenon and thereby fails to engage in how the meaning of middle age may be in a process of reconceptualization.
This qualitative study reports on how a premenopausal cohort of women in their forties understand "middle age." Menopause is understood as a natural event that is out of women's control, whereas their health and appearance were deemed something they can and should control.
From the 1University of California, San Francisco, CA; and 2Duke University, Durham, NC.
Received September 20, 2006; revised and accepted November 21, 2006.
Funding/support: This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health (1 R01 NR04259).
Financial disclosure: None reported.
Address correspondence to: Yewoubdar Beyene, PhD, Institute for Health and Aging, Box 0646, Laurel Heights, Room 340, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0646. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.