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Social Sci LibreTexts

4.7B: The Life Course

  • Page ID
    8007
  • The life course approach analyzes people’s lives within structural, social, and cultural contexts.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Explain the life course perspective as it relates to a person’s development from infancy to old age, in terms of structural, social and cultural contexts

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • The life course approach refers to an approach developed in the 1960s for analyzing people’s lives within structural, social, and cultural contexts.
    • The life course approach examines an individual’s life history and sees for example how early events influence future decisions and events, giving particular attention to the connection between individuals and the historical and socioeconomic context in which they lived.
    • In a more general reading of the life course, human life is seen as divided into stages, which are somewhat arbitrary, but capture periods of life that are similar across cultures. These stages of life often inform and are reinforced by legal definitions of life stages.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • socioeconomic: Of or pertaining to social and economic factors.
    • life course: the sequence of events, roles and age categories that people pass through from birth until death, all of which are culturally defined
    • age: Mature age; especially, the time of life at which one attains full personal rights and capacities.

    The life course approach, also known as the life course perspective, or life course theory, refers to an approach developed in the 1960s for analyzing people’s lives within structural, social, and cultural contexts. Origins of this approach can be traced to pioneering studies such as Thomas’s and Znaniecki’s “The Polish Peasant in Europe and America” from the 1920s or Mannheim’s essay on the “Problem of generations”.

    The life course approach examines an individual’s life history and sees for example how early events influence future decisions and events, giving particular attention to the connection between individuals and the historical and socioeconomic context in which they have lived. It holds that the events and roles that are part of the person’s life course do not necessarily proceed in a given sequence, but rather constitute the sum total of the person’s actual experience.

    In a more general reading, human life is seen as often divided into various age spans such as infancy, toddler, childhood, adolescence, young adult, prime adulthood, middle age, and old age. These divisions are somewhat arbitrary, but generally capture periods of life that reflect a certain degree of similarity in development across cultures.

    image

     

    Old Age: This man is well into his later years and depicts life in its final stages.

    In many countries, such as Sweden and the United States, adulthood legally begins at the age of eighteen. This is a major age milestone that is marked by significantly different attitudes toward the person who undergoes the transition. This is an example that demonstrates the influence of developmental stages on legal determinations of life stages, and thus, attitudes towards people at different stages of the human life course.

    image

     

    Infant: This picture depicts an individual at the earliest of life stages.