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Life Course

Ktey Concepts And Distinctions, Contributions To Aging, Challenges And Developments In Conducting Life Course Research

C. Wright Mills described the task and promise of the sociological imagination as the ability to "grasp history and biography and the relations between the two." The life course perspective takes this task seriously, providing a theoretical framework, concepts, and analytical tools for examining how lives unfold in historical contexts. This perspective views aging as a life-long process. Examples of research employing a life course perspective include studies of the influence of early or midlife events on later life outcomes, patterns and pathways in midlife that enhance healthy aging, and the timing and sequence of key events such as retirement (Elder and Pavalko; Elder, Shanahan, and Clipp; Han and Moen; Moen, Dempster-McClain, and Williams). The life course perspective also views these processes as imbedded in historical contexts, and thus expects that they will vary across birth cohorts and be influenced by historical events. Much of life course research also examines how aging differs for persons born in different historical times or who encounter different historical events.

A life course perspective on aging began to be developed in the 1960s as social scientists became increasingly interested in time, process, and variability in how individuals age. Key research programs, such as Glen Elder's work on the Great Depression and the Second World War, Matilda Riley's research on aging and social change and Bernice Neugarten's emphasis on norms for life events have provided the organizing themes that have guided life course research. Contributions from human development, demography, family sociology, social psychology and history have provided additional theoretical and conceptual development. These have been further aided by investments in long-term longitudinal data collections such as the National Longitudinal Surveys, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, and the Retirement History Survey. These are just a few of the many public data sets that allow empirical investigation of life course processes for a large number of individuals and groups.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 3