Quarter-life crisis: Is this a thing now?

We are all familiar with the term ‘mid-life crisis’ that signifies a kind of panic that supposedly seizes people some time around their forties when they worry about whether they have made correct decisions concerning the major choices so far, if their lives have any meaning, and whether they should change directions before they get old and die. It is often the source of jokes, invoked when when middle-aged people do something that is out of character, such as buying an expensive sports car.

I had seen this as a western, middle-class indulgence, with most other people too busy actually living their lives to engage in this kind of navel-gazing. But now it seems that there is also something called a “quarter life crisis” that affects people in their twenties and thirties. I cam across an article that discussed this and typed that phrase into into a search engine and got a lot of hits with sites telling me what the signs are and what to do about it.

The media loves to take the normal progressions in life, a continuous process that brings with it new challenges as one goes through life’s changing phases, and discretize them, setting boundaries and markers around periods and giving each one of them labels, and then treat those as some kind of serious problem that needs to be solved, presumably with professional help.

I wonder how far this age-splitting process will be taken. Will we have three-quarter-life crises? One-eighth-life crises? One-sixteenth-life crises to denote the major transition as children get ready to start school?


  1. machintelligence says

    When I bought a motorcycle at age 68, my daughter accused me of having a late life crisis.
    It was mostly in jest. I began riding motorcycles over 50 years ago and have logged over 25000 miles so far.

  2. kestrel says

    I remember reading a book called “Passages” that claimed you had some sort of crisis every 10 years. (And, aha -- it is still in print, here is a link: https://www.amazon.com/Passages-Predictable-Crises-Adult-Life/dp/0553271067 ). I guess it’s true in a way -- as one goes through life they learn stuff, things change, and “shit happens”, sometimes some pretty bad stuff, that you have to adjust to.

    So yeah, someone already beat you to this idea, and then wrote a book about it and the book is still in print, surprisingly enough to me. There are cutesy names for each decade of one’s life such as the “Forlorn Forties”.

    I suppose the idea is useful in that yes, we all grow and adapt to our circumstances. I’m not sure I needed a book to tell me that, and I don’t really agree with the author, but maybe some people find that idea helpful.

  3. Mano Singham says


    I had heard of the book Passages by Sheehy but had never read it and did not know what it was about. I had thought it was a novel, actually!

  4. flex says

    You can go a lot further back than the newspapers. A lot of mythology is concerned with transitions from one stage of life to another.

    The traditional stages are:

    Many cultures have added stages in-between, like the breeching of boys in England. But the above five stages seem pretty common among cultures. In modern American culture it appears we have added some of the following: Enter school, graduate from grade school, graduate from high school, (optional) graduate from college, getting the first permanent job, and buying the first house, retiring from employment. Each one of these is a transition, a change in the life-style of the person, and most of these are celebrated in some fashion.

    I noticed as I was growing up that many people are in a rush to get to the next stage. Children want to become adults, and once they become adults they get married and have children almost simultaneously. Then there is nothing to left for them to work toward other than wait for old age.

    I wonder if people are getting used to growing up celebrating transitions which occur every 2-3 years and then all of a sudden they are in a stretch of life where nothing is going to be celebrated in their own life for almost 40 years. From the time they are
    in their late-20’s until they retire in their late-60’s. Sure, many people can find vicarious transitions in their children, but I can imagine that many people have difficulty as they get into their late-20’s and their friends have moved on, their lives are a dull grind, and there is nothing to look forward to for many, many years.

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