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The modern woman's midlife breaking point

Sue Shellenbarger shows us how todays' women are changing course in search of greater fulfillment. Here’s an excerpt.

Traditionally regarded as the domain of men, now the midlife crisis is being reported with increasing frequency among women. Shellenbarger reveals an entire generation who are experiencing this tumultuous transition to midlife and brushing aside steroetypes along the way. Sue Shellenbarger was invited on the “Today” show to discuss her new book “The Breaking Point: How Female Midlife Crisis is Transforming Today's Women.” Read an excerpt:

Like most people, I had never taken the notion of midlife crisis seriously. I thought of it as a fleeting, laughable period of adolescent regression that induces middle-aged men to buy red sports cars and take trophy wives. Typing with my arm in a sling after my ATV accident, I decided to make fun of myself in one of my regular Work & Family columns in The Wall Street Journal. Ridiculing one of the stupidest accidents of my life, I wrote, "The midlife crisis is a cliché-until you have one."

I quickly learned I was not alone. The column drew one of the biggest reader responses I had received in its twelve-year history. While some readers of both sexes were startled by the notion that a female could even have a midlife crisis, a far larger number of women readers experienced a shock of self-recognition. I did a little research and the statistics floored me: More than fifteen million women have had or will have a midlife crisis, as opposed to less than fourteen million men.

Seventy-three percent of women in the midlife years claim that "life is too complicated", up from 55 percent fifteen years ago. Extramarital affairs among women have increased to a level nearly equal to men's, peaking among women in their forties. The divorce rate among women in their forties increased during the 1990s, rocking a decades-old pattern of declining divorce rates at midlife. And contrary to expert conjecture, less than 1 percent of women attributed midlife crisis to menopause.

Clearly, I was on to something. Something big.

Excerpted from "The Breaking Point: How Female Midlife Crisis is Transforming Today's Women" by Sue Shellenbarger. Copyright © 2005 by Sue Shellenbarger. Excerpted by permission of . All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.