For the first time, the middle-aged make up the biggest, richest, and most influential segment of the country, yet the history of middle age has remained largely untold.
IN OUR PRIME: THE INVENTION OF MIDDLE AGE finally fills the gap. This important and immensely readable book by veteran New York Times reporter Patricia Cohen, outlines the cultural, scientific and social forces that created this vital but misunderstood stage of development. Published by Scribner, IN OUR PRIME is a biography of the idea of middle age from its invention in the late nineteenth century to its current place at the center of American society, where it shapes the way we view our families, our professional obligations, and our inner lives.
Patricia Cohen ranges over the entire landscape of midlife, exploring how its biological, psychological, and social definitions have shifted from one generation to the next. Middle age has been a symbol both of decline and of power and wealth. Explaining why, Cohen takes readers from early twentieth-century factories that refused to hire middle-aged men to twenty-first-century high-tech laboratories where researchers are currently conducting cutting-edge experiments on the middle-aged brain and body. The book combines rich archival research with fresh reporting on the movie, advertising and health industries.
Cohen fits the story of middle age into the larger context of technological advance, social change, and shifting tastes in beauty and fashion. She has gone into the laboratory with researchers to report on what the landmark study, Midlife in the United States (MIDUS), has discovered about the middle-aged brain, body and psyche. Using up-to-the-minute research, she explains the latest findings on health, happiness and sex, and explodes ingrained beliefs about the midlife crisis, empty nest syndrome and divorce. Indeed, midlife is often considered the happiest time of life.
Cohen has traveled to Las Vegas, where anti-aging charlatans and visionaries gather to practice a new kind of middle-age medicine, and incisively evaluates claims about human growth hormones, testosterone supplements, beauty treatments and more. She examines how two of the most powerful forces of the last century – self-help and consumerism – have created a “Midlife Industrial Complex” that manipulates our hopes and anxieties about middle age.
She has also interviewed directors, executives and actors to explore Hollywood’s treatment of middle age in films and on television.
Throughout the decades, middle age has been cast in a series of roles: a measure of productivity, a threat to beauty and sexuality, a scientific conundrum, a marketing tool, a stage of psychological development, a social and political metaphor, a literary device. These frames have affected how individuals have understood and experienced the middle decades and influenced the narratives we construct about our own lives.
Showing there is not one middle age but many, Cohen demonstrates how the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X have all experience their middle years differently. IN OUR PRIME will compel readers to re-examine deeply held assumptions about a topic they think they already know.