The Life-Course Perspective

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Bengston and DeLiema offer a rather concise definition of a Life-Course theory of aging:  it is ““based on the premise that to understand the present circumstances of elderly people, we must take into account the social and psychological forces operating throughout the earlier course of their lives…it is a multidisciplinary perspective, drawing concepts and methods from sociology, psychology, biology, anthropology and history” (Bengtson & DeLiema, 2016, p. 34).   The main things to note in this definition is that the theory suggests that this is a life-long process. It isn’t merely one event, or a behavior engaged in as one ages, that defines an aging person’s outlook on life. A variety of forces—social and psychological—cumulating throughout one’s life all converge in one’s autumn years.  Since the theory is so multi-faceted, taking into account many influences on one’s life, it is also a multidisciplinary theory.

Another definition, which you may find more palatable, defines the life-course as “an age-graded sequence of socially defined roles and events that are enacted over historical time and place. This view comes with the understanding that changes in the life course of individuals have consequences for development and that historical change may alter the life course and developmental trajectories by recasting established pathways” (Elder, Johnson, & Crosnoe, R, 2003, pp. 15-16).   A few things worth highlighting in this definition:  socially defined roles change based on place and time. Also, these changes which occur throughout life can impact how one develops into old age.

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