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Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar (WBM) 2018 prize lecture by Professor Mark Jackson, Life begins at 40: the biological and cultural roots of the midlife crisis


During the 20th century, the midlife crisis became a fashionable means of describing feelings of disillusionment with work, disenchantment with relationships, detachment from family responsibilities, and the growing fear of personal death that began to haunt those beyond the age of forty.

Coined in 1965, the term 'midlife crisis' is often used as satire in popular culture, with numerous examples of stereotypical depictions of rebellion and infidelity. It has been a popular focus of research seeking to explain why and how middle age presents particular social, physiological and emotional challenges.

In this lecture, Professor Mark Jackson, winner of the 2018 Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Medal, explored a rich range of historical sources to argue that the midlife crisis emerged as a result of demographic changes, new biological accounts of ageing, and deepening anxieties about economic decline, political instability, rising level of divorce, and the impact of family breakdown on social cohesion.

This event was the 2018 Wilkins-Bernal-Medawar Prize Lecture, which is awarded to recognise excellence in a subject relating to the history of science, philosophy of science or the social function of science.