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Aging and the Life Course, Theories of

Angela M. O'Rand


The life course perspective provides an orienting framework for identifying the mechanisms that link lives and social structures in historical time. It focuses on the intersection between biography and history ( Mills 1959 ). Accordingly, the conceptualization of time is a central concern. Biographical time is defined by the links between chronological age, psychophysical development and/or decline, and successive social statuses. Biographies are variable sequences of social statuses across the life span, with some statuses (but not all) highly correlated with chronological age. Historical time also has chronological and social components, with the latter tied to events or periods that exert differential influences on biographies. Age , period , and cohort are core concepts in the life course perspective. Briefly defined, age refers to biographical time; period refers to historical time; and cohort refers to a group whose members experience a particular event at the same time in their lives. Persons born at the same time constitute a birth cohort. As they age they come to encounter historical events from a different social vantage point than other birth cohorts. So, for example, members of the US Baby Boom cohort, born between 1946 and 1964, face historical events such as the Vietnam War or the stock market bubble of the 1990s, and experience them differently from other ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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