Character Collapse in Middle-Aged Men: A Study of 910 Christians

The following is excerpted from Cultivating Christian Character by Michael Zigarelli (Purposeful Design / ACSI, 2004), a study of 5,000 Christians worldwide. These specific findings pertain to a subset of 910 men in their 40s.

…Consider the alarming findings presented in the table below.  For the average Christian man, almost every important dimension of his life declines during his forties – his character, his relationship with God, his relationship with others, and his enjoyment of life.

Many men experience a crisis at this point in life – a life that, if the data are to be believed, was finally getting back on track in their late 30s.  This crisis takes the form of an estrangement from – and possibly a rebellion against – those he loves.  Agreement with statements like “It is easy for me to love other people” and “I am content with my life” drop by about ten percent from the previous decade.  So too do men’s responses to the statement “I feel that my life has real purpose.”  Accordingly, for the typical Christian man, these are years of alienation and uneasiness as one increasingly grapples with, but does not immediately accept, his lot in life and his pending (seemingly obscure) legacy.

What’s the root cause of the turbulence? Our data suggest that it’s largely a decline in “gratitude” – less gratitude for God’s presence in their lives and for His blessings.  Some men in their forties may lose perspective about how what they really have and instead become destructively focused on what’s missing from their lives, what their lives will never be.  Consequently, all else starts to spiral downward.

So one possible remedy, it seems, would be to reverse this mindset.  A daily focus on what one has rather than on what one does not have may begin to change everything. As we said in Chapter 4, authentic, moment-to-moment gratitude is a virtue that parents all the other virtues and at no other point in life do men need it more.  (Click here to read that chapter, entitled “Gratitude: Pathway to Permanent Change”). 

Character changes over 40