Interplay Of Human Lives Historical Time

The first of these themes that Elder suggested was the interplay of human lives and historical time. As social historians and sociologists began to study individual and family pathways, they observed that individuals born in different generations faced different possibilities and limitations within their different historical worlds or generations. Based on research and observation they suggested that as social change occurs, it will affect one group or generation differently than it will affect following groups and generations. An example of this is Elder’s (1974) research on the Great Depression and how that effected young and middle aged children. He found that the life course of the younger children, when compared with the middle aged children, were more seriously affected by family hardship. Others have provided evidence for Elder’s research as well (Elder, 1986; Rindfuss, Swicegood, & Rosenfeld, 1987; Shanahan et al., 1998).

Timing of Lives

In this theme, specific life events and transitions were studied by researchers to see at what ages they occurred. In looking at the different studies there were many ways to classify entrances and exits from certain statuses and roles. In B. George’s (1993) study he classified these entrances and exits as either “on-time” or “off-time” based on the social norms of transitions (George, 1993). For, example, childbearing in adolesence is considered off-time in industrial countries such as the U.S., but in many preindustrial countries it can be seen as on-time. ()

Another way researchers look at the timing is by age-graded differences (formal social organizations based on age). In looking at what influences these social organization differences in roles and behaviors, researchers linked it to the influence of biological, psychological, social, and spiritual processes. However, it should be noted that life course scholars and researchers have not directly addressed the issue of spiritual age. So, in the life course perspective age is usually considered from a biopsychosocial framework (Cavanaugh, 1996; Kimmel,1990;Settersten & Mayer,1997).

B. George also looked at the order in which life events and transitions occurred to gain a better understanding of age regularities and irregularities (George, 1993). Most of the studies that have been performed focus on children completing school and their entrance into adulthood (Modell, Furstenberg, & Hershberg, 1976; Settersten, 1998; Shanahan,Miech,& Elder,1998). Along with the age regularities and irregularities, researchers are interested in the length of time that an individual or family spend in a particular area without changes in their status or roles. In general, some researchers, such a B. George, are concluding that the longer we experience certain environments and conditions, the more likely it is that our behavior will be affected (George, 1996).

The final interest of scholars and researchers is the pace of transitions. In their studies they have found that the transition into young adulthood (completing school, leaving home, getting married) appears to be timed more rapidly than middle and late adulthood transitions (retiring or losing parents) (Hareven, 1978, 2000).

Linked or Interdependent Lives

Elder’s (1993) third theme emphasizes how the interdependence of human relationships both support and control. In this area (support and control) researchers have paid particular attention to the family as a source for this.

Links Between Family Members. Elder’s 1974 longitudinal research of children raised during the Great Depression is the base for the assumption of interdependence between family members. In his research he found that as greater economic pressures were experienced by parents, the risk for depressed feelings and marital conflict increased. As a result of this, the parents’ ability to care for their children decreased, and their children had an increased likelihood of showing signs of emotional distress, academic trouble, and behavior problems (Elder, 1974). This connection between hardship, nurturance, and child behaviors is now well established (e.g. Conger, Elder, Lorenz, Simons, & Whibeck, 1992; Conger et al., 1993). It should also be noted that parents’ lives are interdependent with the pathways of their children’s lives as well. As the children mature into adults there is a pattern of mutual support that is formed through life events and transitions (Harevan, 1996). This link and support is also changed in families through historical disruptions such as wars or major economic downturns. In immigrant families this disruption happens when the children pick up a new language and cultural norms faster than the adults and become interpreters for parents and grandparents (Hernandez & McGoldrick, 1999).

Links with the Wider World. At this point researchers know a lot more about how individuals and their families are interdependent than how individuals and families are interdependent to other groups. However, it has been shown that work has a great effect on families and their transitions (George, 1993). In 1997 Cooksey and his group of researches used data from the National Longitundinal Survey of Youth for ages 6 and 7 to look at the effects of emotions and behavior of children and work. They found that the children’s depression and aggressive behavior were not associated with whether their mothers were employed but rather with the type of work those mothers did (Cooksey et al., 1997). In other words, mothers who had occupations that required complex skills found that their children were less likely to be depressed and exhibit aggressive behavior than those children who mothers were in less skilled occupations (Cooksey et al., 1997).

In other research regarding links with the wider world, researchers concluded that family seemed to have significantly more influence on children’s behavior than the neighborhood did (Elder,1998; Furstenberg, Cook, Eccles, Elder, & Sameroff, 1999; Klebanov, Brooks-Gunn, Gordon, & Chase-Lansdale,1997). In another study done the research found that there were more differences in the behavior of children and adolescents among families in a particular neighborhood than when comparing families in one neighborhood to another. However, it should be noted that there is evidence to support that effects may be greater for children living in high poverty areas (Kats, Kling, & Liebman, 1999).

Human Agency in Making Decisions

Social historians have attempted to correct the traditional focus on lives of elites by studying the lives of common people (Hareven, 2000). By doing so, they discovered that many groups once considered passive victims,for example, working-class people, actually took independent action to cope with the difficulties imposed by the rich and powerful. Historical research now shows that slaves were often ingenious in their struggles to hold their families together (Gutman,1976),and that factory workers used informal networks and kinship ties to manage,and sometimes resist, pressures for efficiency (Hareven, 1982).

However, human agency has limits. These limits include an individual’s choice being restrained by structural and cultural arrangements of a historical era and unequal opportunities that may give others ore options than some. Elder (1998) notes in his research that the emphasis on human agency in this particular perspective has been assisted by Albert Bandura’s work on the two concepts of self-efficacy and the expectation that one can personally accomplish a goal.

Diversity in Life Course Trajectories

Ronald Rindfuss and colleagues are often cited for their study on the diversity of life course pathways. They studied the sequencing of five roles: work, education, homemaking, military, and other in 6,700 men and 7,000 women for 8 years following their 1972 high school graduation. The results suggested that men’s life course pathways are more rigidly structured than women’s. Some researchers hypothesize that this gender difference is because women’s lives are more intertwined with the family domain, which tends to operate on nonlinear time with many irregularities (Sattersten & Lovegreen, 1998). Sattersten and Lovegreen go on to suggest that in contrast, men’s lives are rooted more outside the family (the work world) that operate in direct time. However, in recent years, men’s and women’s life pathways have become more similar due to the education of women and their work patterns becoming closer to men’s. This is in contrast to the thought that it is because men have become more involved in the family domain (Sattersten & Lovegreen, 1998).

Research on the family life pathways in minority groups in the United States suggests that they differ from the family life pathways of whites. For example, in part to the high value placed on “kinkeeping” in many minority cultures, minority youth tend to leave home to live independently later than white youth (Stack, 1974). Interestingly enough when questioned about the appropriate age for leaving home minority respondents gave earlier deadlines for leaving home than white respondents in a random sample of a major urban U.S. city–even though the minority respondents actually left home at a later age than the white respondents (Sattersten, 1998).

Another source of diversity for countries with a lot of immigration is the immigrants individual experience leading to the decision to immigrate, the journey itself, and resettlement period (Devore & Schlesinger, 1999; Hernandez & McGoldrick, 1999). The decision to immigrate can vary from social, to religious, to political persecution or oppression. However when they finally escape that they face new challenges in the resettlement period. They must establish new social networks, changes in socioeconomic status, and the pressures to assimilate to their new environment. To add to that, aspects such as gender, race, social class, etc. add to the difficulty of resettling. Family roles are often renegotiated as children out perform the older family members in learning the language (Fabelo-Alcover, 2001).

Developmental Risk and Protection

As the life course perspective has continued to evolve, it has more clearly emphasized the links between the life events and transitions of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood (Shanahan, 2000). Studies indicate that childhood events sometimes shape people’s lives 40 or 50 years later (George,1996).

In Glen Elder’s (1974) study of children from the Great Depression, the long-term impact of developmental experiences was the subject of the beginning of life course research. In his study he compared two groups: the Oakland children who were born in 1920 and 1921 and the Berkeley children, who were born in 1928 and 1929. At the conclusion of this study, Elder concluded that the Oakland children who were born before the Great Depression faired more favorably than the Berkeley children, even though they both experienced the economic hardship and later difficulties in life transitions (Hutchinson). Elder found that this was due to the Oakland children (who were born before the Great Depression) experiencing normal stability and a secure childhood before the economic crisis and making the transition to adulthood after the worst of the downturn. In contrast, the Berkeley children experienced the worst years of the Depressions during their early childhood and when they reached adolescence many fathers were away in military roles and many mothers were working long hours in industrial factories (Elder 1974).

Shanahan and Elder have stated that the idea of developmental risk and protection is a major theme of the life course perspective (Shanahan & Elder, 1997). Other life scholars have added to this saying that it is not only the timing and sequencing of hard times but also the duration and spacing that provide risk as youth make the transition into adulthood. Others have borrowed sociologist Robert Merton’s concept of cumulative advantage and disadvantage to explain the inequality within groups across the life course ((Bartley et al.,1997; O’Rand, 1996).

Researchers and scholars propose that cumulative advantage and disadvantage are socially constructed. This means that social institutions and structures have developed mechanisms that ensure increasing advantage for tose who succeed early in life and increasing disadvantage for those who struggle (Settersten & Lovegreen,1998).

The idea of cumulative disadvantage has started to influence the research of the the wide spread occurrence of disease across communities (e.g.,Brunner,1997; Kellam & Van Horn, 1997; Kuh & Ben-Shlomo, 1997). Researchers in this area are particularly interested in social and geographical inequalities of chronic disease. Many suggest that as individuals experience more illness, have exposure to unfavorable environments, and unsafe behaviors the risk for chronic disease gradually accumulates. Along with this, researchers are interested in how sme experiences may break this chain of risk (e.g.,Brunner,1997; Kellam & Van Horn, 1997).

The study of risk and protection has led to an interest in the idea of resilience. This specifically refers to the ability of some individuals to fare well in the face of risk factors. In studying resilient children Fraser (1997) is looking at the interaction between risk factors and protective factors in their lives. However this area of study is far behind the study of risk factors but it is hypothesized that a cumulative effect will also be found for protective factors

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