Understanding the Sociological Term "Life Course Perspective"

Multi-generation family in kitchen
Hero Images / Getty Images

The life course perspective is a sociological way of defining the process of life through the context of a culturally defined sequence of age categories that people are normally expected to pass through as they progress from birth to death.

Included in the cultural conceptions of the life course is some idea of how long people are expected to live and ideas about what constitutes “premature” or “untimely” death as well as the notion of living a full life — when and who to marry, and even how susceptible the culture is to infectious diseases.

The events of one's life, when observed from the life course perspective, add to a sum total of the actual existence a person has experienced, as it is influenced by the person's cultural and historical place in the world.

Life Course and Family Life

When the concept was first developed in the 1960s, the life course perspective hinged upon the rationalization of the human experience into structural, cultural and social contexts, pinpointing the societal cause for such cultural norms as marrying young or likelihood to commit a crime. 

As Bengston and Allen posit in their 1993 text "Life Course Perspective," the notion of family exists within the context of a macro social dynamic, a "collection of individuals with shared history who interact within ever-changing social contexts across ever increasing time and space" (Bengtson and Allen 1993, p. 470).

This means that the notion of a family comes from an ideological need or want to reproduce, to develop community, or at the very least from the culture which dictates what a "family" means to them, particularly.

Life theory, though, relies on the intersection of these social factors of influence with the historical factor of moving through time, paired against personal development as an individual and the life-changing events that caused that growth.

Observing Behavioral Patterns From Life Course Theory

It is possible, given the right set of data, to determine a culture's propensity for social behaviors like crime and even athleticism.

Life course theory merges the concepts of historical inheritance with cultural expectation and personal development, which in turn sociologists study to map the course of human behavior given different social interaction and stimulation.

In "A Life Course Perspective on Immigrant Occupational Health and Well-Being," Frederick T.L. Leong expresses his frustration with "psychologists' tendency to ignore the time and contextual dimensions and use primarily static cross-sectional designs with decontextualized variables." This exclusion leads to the overlooking of key cultural impacts on behavioral patterns.

Leong goes on to discuss this as it relates to immigrants' and refugees' happiness and ability to integrate into a new society successfully. In overlooking these key dimensions of the life course, one might miss how the cultures clash and how they fit together to form a cohesive new narrative for the immigrant to live through.

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Crossman, Ashley. "Understanding the Sociological Term "Life Course Perspective"." ThoughtCo, Sep. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/life-course-definition-3026387. Crossman, Ashley. (2017, September 10). Understanding the Sociological Term "Life Course Perspective". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/life-course-definition-3026387 Crossman, Ashley. "Understanding the Sociological Term "Life Course Perspective"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/life-course-definition-3026387 (accessed November 17, 2017).