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Daniel Levinson: Biography & Theory

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will be given a biography of psychologist, Daniel Levinson, a timeline of accomplishments, and an overview of his theory of adult development. Following this lesson will be a brief quiz.

Who was Daniel Levinson?

A lot can happen in childhood that shape us as people, but adulthood is only the beginning of a whole new set of phases and growth!

Daniel Levinson (1920-1994) was a developmental psychologist who was a pioneer in research and theory on developmental stages and crises of adulthood. He was highly influenced and inspired by Erik Erikson's 1959 theory of psychosocial development from early to late adulthood. Before Erikson and Levinson, there was little emphasis on adult development in comparison to child development.

Timeline of Daniel Levinson and Accomplishments

Daniel Levinson was born in New York City in 1920, and by 27 he published his dissertation at the University of Berkley on the measurement of ethnocentrism. Three years later he coauthored a book called The Authoritarian Personality, about personality types resulting from childhood, and was the most commended work in the field of social science of its time.

In 1950 Levinson made a big transition to Harvard University and studied alongside other known psychologists including Gordon Allport and Erik Erikson for 12 years. In 1959 he wrote the famous article, 'Role, Personality, and Social Structure in the Organizational Setting'.

He transitioned again in 1966, now researching at Yale University, until 1990. Here he carried out an intensive research study involving 40 men between the ages of 35 and 45, which led to the publication of Seasons of a Man's Life in 1978.

Though Levinson died in Connecticut in 1994, his wife and mother of their two children continued his work. Seasons of a Woman's Life was published posthumously in 1996, as Levinson had finished the manuscript just a few weeks before his death.

Levinson's Theory of Adult Development

Levinson's theory centered around the idea that adult development is made up of a number of stages (eras) and transitional periods. In his theory there are four primary eras (usually a stable period of time) and three 5 year transitional periods that Levinson coined as 'cross-era transitions' that can be either rocky or smooth.

Eras are in blue and cross-era transitions are in red
Eras of Adult Development

1. Preadulthood: (Conception to age 22) Individual moves from high dependence (baby) to high independence (young adult).

Early Adult Transition: (17-22) Preadulthood closes and early adulthood begins. Individual finds his place in the adult world and modifies relationships with family.

2. Early Adulthood: (22-45) An action-packed era of high energy and abundance but also high stress. Individuals pursue life passions, career goals, buying a house, and starting families.

Midlife Transition: (40-45) Individual questions what they have accomplished and wonders if there is more to life. If the individual is unhappy, this can be called a 'midlife crisis.' On the bright side the individual may become less tormented by inner conflicts and become more reflective, compassionate, and loving towards themselves and others.

3. Middle Adulthood: (40-65) Individual has lower biological capacities but still has enough stamina for an energetic and socially fulfilling life. Individuals become responsible for their children and parents during this stage. Level of responsibilities are high. Individuals during this stage become senior members of their family or career and may enjoy the honor that comes from this.

Late Adult Transition: (60-65) Individual may give up career to retire. Individual may feel a loss of identity when moving from career to retirement. Individual may have difficulty if he feels less important or a less valuable member of society.

4. Late Adulthood: (65+) A time where an individual reflects on their life and their accomplishments.

Seasons of a Man's Life

Levinson's most famous book, Seasons of a Man's Life, actually contained a different version of his theory. In this book, he touched on stages and how a man progresses through his life and development through these stages. Instead of describing the stages, we will speak about how a man - let's call him William (age 70) - progressed through these stages.

1. Early Adult Transition (17-22) William moved to an apartment on his college campus and has been living independently from his parents but still receiving some financial support. When he graduates at age 21, he must find a job and support himself on his own. This transition is hard for William and he feels overwhelmed and stressed.

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