SOLUTION: San Diego State University Economics Essay

SOLUTION: San Diego State University Economics Essay.

Competency 7: Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and
Communities. Social workers
collect and organize data, and apply critical thinking to interpret
information from clients and constituencies;
apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment,
person-in-environment, and other multidisciplinary theoretical
frameworks in the analysis of assessment data from clients and
develop mutually agreed-on intervention goals and objectives based
on the critical assessment of strengths, needs, and challenges within
clients and constituencies; and
select appropriate intervention strategies based on the assessment,
research knowledge, and values and preferences of clients and
Competency 8: Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups,
Organizations, and Communities. Social workers
critically choose and implement interventions to achieve practice
goals and enhance capacities of clients and constituencies;
apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment,
person-in-environment, and other multidisciplinary theoretical
frameworks in interventions with clients and constituencies;
use interprofessional collaboration as appropriate to achieve
beneficial practice outcomes;
negotiate, mediate, and advocate with and on behalf of diverse clients
and constituencies; and
facilitate effective transitions and endings that advance mutually
agreed-on goals.
Competency 9: Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups,
Organizations, and Communities. Social workers
select and use appropriate methods for evaluation of outcomes;
apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment,
person-in-environment, and other multidisciplinary theoretical
frameworks in the evaluation of outcomes;
critically analyze, monitor, and evaluate intervention and program
processes and outcomes; and
apply evaluation findings to improve practice effectiveness at the
micro, mezzo, and macro levels.
Dimensions of Human Behavior: The Changing Life Course
and Social Work Core Competencies
Dimensions of Human Behavior: The Changing Life Course and Social W
Ethical and











To all the teachers and students who have inspired me to think
more critically about human behavior. They are always in my
head and heart as I continue to learn about the fascinating
subject of human behavior.
Dimensions of Human
The Changing Life Course
Sixth Edition
Elizabeth D. Hutchison
Virginia Commonwealth University, Emerita
and Contributors
Los Angeles
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Washington DC
SAGE Publications, Inc.
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Copyright © 2019 by SAGE Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Hutchison, Elizabeth D.
Title: Dimensions of human behavior : the changing life course / Elizabeth D.
Hutchison, Virginia Commonwealth University, Emerita, and contributors.
Description: Sixth edition. | Thousand Oaks, California : SAGE, [2019] | Includes
bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018021374 | ISBN 9781544339344 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Social psychology. | Human behavior. | Life cycle, Human. | Social
Classification: LCC HM1033 .D553 2019 | DDC 302—dc23 LC record available at
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Acquisitions Editor: Joshua Perigo
Editorial Assistant: Noelle Cumberbatch
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Typesetter: C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.
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Cover Designer: Scott Van Atta
Marketing Manager: Jenna Retana
Brief Contents
Case Studies
• Chapter 1 A Life Course Perspective
• Chapter 2 Conception, Pregnancy, and Childbirth
• Chapter 3 Infancy and Toddlerhood
• Chapter 4 Early Childhood
• Chapter 5 Middle Childhood
• Chapter 6 Adolescence
• Chapter 7 Young Adulthood
• Chapter 8 Middle Adulthood
• Chapter 9 Late Adulthood
• Chapter 10 Very Late Adulthood
About the Author
About the Contributors
Detailed Contents
Case Studies
Chapter 1 A Life Course Perspective
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 1.1: The Suarez Family After September 11,
• Case Study 1.2: Michael Bowling, Swallowing His Pride
• Case Study 1.3: Phoung Le, Serving Family and
The Life Course Perspective and Social Work Practice
Theoretical Roots of the Life Course Perspective
Basic Concepts of the Life Course Perspective
Life Events
Turning Points
Major Themes of the Life Course Perspective
Interplay of Human Lives and Historical Time
Timing of Lives
Dimensions of Age
Standardization in the Timing of Lives
Linked or Interdependent Lives
Links With Family Members
Links With the Wider World
Human Agency in Making Choices
Diversity in Life Course Trajectories
Developmental Risk and Protection
Strengths and Limitations of the Life Course Perspective
Integration With a Multidimensional, Multitheoretical Approach
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 2 Conception, Pregnancy, and Childbirth
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 2.1: Jennifer Bradshaw’s Experience With
• Case Study 2.2: Cecelia Kin’s Struggle With the Options
• Case Study 2.3: The Thompsons’ Premature Birth
Sociocultural Organization of Childbearing
Conception and Pregnancy in Context
Childbirth in Context
Childbirth Education
Place of Childbirth
Who Assists Childbirth
Reproductive Genetics
Genetic Mechanisms
Genetic Counseling
Control over Conception and Pregnancy
Induced Abortion
Infertility Treatment
Fetal Development
First Trimester
Fertilization and the Embryonic Period
The Fetal Period
Second Trimester
Third Trimester
Labor and Delivery of the Neonate
Pregnancy and the Life Course
At-Risk Newborns
Prematurity and Low Birth Weight
Newborn Intensive Care
Major Congenital Anomalies
Conception, Pregnancy, and Childbirth Under Different
Substance-Abusing Pregnant Women
Pregnant Women With Eating Disorders
Pregnant Women With Disabilities
Incarcerated Pregnant Women
HIV-Infected Pregnant Women
Pregnant Transmen
Risk and Protective Factors in Conception, Pregnancy, and
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 3 Infancy and Toddlerhood
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 3.1: Holly’s Early Arrival
• Case Study 3.2: Sarah’s Teen Dad
• Case Study 3.3: Overprotecting Henry
Developmental Niche and Typical Infant and Toddler
Physical Development
Growth Patterns
Sensory Abilities
Motor Skills
The Growing Brain
Cognitive Development
Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development
Information Processing Theory
Language Development
Socioemotional Development
Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
Emotion Regulation
Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment
Ainsworth’s Theory of Attachment
Attachment and Brain Development
The Role of Play
Developmental Disruptions
Childcare Arrangements in Infancy and Toddlerhood
Parental Leave
Paid Childcare
Infants and Toddlers in the Multigenerational Family
Risks to Healthy Infant and Toddler Development
Inadequate Caregiving
Child Maltreatment and Trauma
Protective Factors in Infancy and Toddlerhood
Maternal Education
Social Support
Easy Temperament
National and State Policy
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 4 Early Childhood
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 4.1: Terri’s Terrible Temper
• Case Study 4.2: Jack’s Name Change
• Case Study 4.3: A New Role for Ron and Rosiland’s
Typical Development in Early Childhood
Physical Development
Cognitive and Language Development
Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development
Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Perspective
Information Processing Theory
Theory of Mind
Language Skills
Moral Development
Understanding Moral Development
Helping Young Children Develop Morally
Personality and Emotional Development
Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
Social Development
Peer Relations
Gender Role Development
Racial and Ethnic Identity
The Role of Play
Play as an Opportunity to Explore Reality
Play’s Contribution to Cognitive Development
Play as Practice for Morality
Play as an Opportunity to Gain Control
Play as a Shared Experience
Play as the Route to Attachment to Fathers
Developmental Delays and Disabilities
Early Childhood Education
Early Childhood in the Multigenerational Family
Risks to Healthy Development in Early Childhood
Ineffective Discipline
Divorce and Parental Relationship Dissolution
Community Violence
Domestic Violence
Child Maltreatment
Protective Factors in Early Childhood
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 5 Middle Childhood
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 5.1: Anthony’s Impending Assessment
• Case Study 5.2: Jasmine’s Headaches
• Case Study 5.3: Gabriela’s New Life
Historical Perspective on Middle Childhood
Middle Childhood in the Multigenerational Family
Development in Middle Childhood
Physical Development
Cognitive Development
Cultural Identity Development
Emotional Development
Social Development
The Peer Group
Friendship and Intimacy
Team Play
Gender Identity and Gender Roles
Technology and Social Development
Spiritual Development
Middle Childhood and Formal Schooling
Special Challenges in Middle Childhood
Family and Community Violence
Physical, Cognitive, Emotional, and Behavioral Challenges
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Emotional/Behavioral Disorder
Family Disruption
Risk Factors and Protective Factors in Middle Childhood
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 6 Adolescence
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 6.1: David’s Coming-Out Process
• Case Study 6.2: Carl’s Struggle for Identity
• Case Study 6.3: Monica’s Quest for Mastery
The Social Construction of Adolescence Across Time and Space
The Transition From Childhood to Adulthood
Biological Aspects of Adolescence
The Adolescent Brain
Nutrition, Exercise, and Sleep
Psychological Aspects of Adolescence
Psychological Reactions to Biological Changes
Changes in Cognition
Identity Development
Theories of Self and Identity
Gender Identity
Cultural Identity
Social Aspects of Adolescence
Relationships With Family
Relationships With Peers
Romantic Relationships
Relationships With Organizations, Communities, and
The Broader Community
Adolescent Spirituality/Religiosity
Adolescent Sexuality
Sexual Decision Making
Sexual Orientation
Pregnancy and Childbearing
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Potential Challenges to Adolescent Development
Substance Use and Abuse
Juvenile Delinquency
School-to-Prison Pipeline
Community Violence
Dating Violence and Statutory Rape
Poverty and Low Educational Attainment
Obesity and Eating Disorders
Depression and Suicide
Social Work Grand Challenge: Ensure Healthy Development for
All Youth
Risk Factors and Protective Factors in Adolescence
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 7 Young Adulthood
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 7.1: Caroline Sanders as a Transgender Young
• Case Study 7.2: Sheila Henderson’s Long-Awaited
Family Reunification
• Case Study 7.3: Jonathan Stuart and Kai Hale as Older
Parents of Twins
A Definition of Young Adulthood
Theoretical Approaches to Young Adulthood
Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory
Levinson’s Theory of Life Structure
Arnett’s Emerging Adulthood
Cultural and Social Class Variations
Multigenerational Concerns
Physical Functioning in Young Adulthood
The Psychological Self
Cognitive Development
Spiritual Development
Identity Development
Social Development and Social Functioning
Relationship Development in Young Adulthood
Romantic Relationships
Mentoring and Volunteering
Young Adults and Technology
Work and the Labor Market
Risk Factors and Protective Factors in Young Adulthood
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 8 Middle Adulthood
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 8.1: Mark Raslin, Finding Stability at 42
• Case Study 8.2: Lisa Balinski, Trying to Balance It All at
• Case Study 8.3: Maha Ahmed, Struggling to Find
Meaning and Purpose at 57
The Changing Social Construction of Middle Adulthood
Changing Age Demographics
A Definition of Middle Adulthood
Culture and the Construction of Middle Adulthood
Theories of Middle Adulthood
Erikson’s Theory of Generativity
Jung’s and Levinson’s Theories of Finding Balance
Life Span Theory and the Gain-Loss Balance
Biological Changes and Physical and Mental Health in Middle
Changes in the Reproductive System and Sexuality
Changes in the Brain
Changes in Health Status
Intellectual Changes in Middle Adulthood
Personality Changes in Middle Adulthood
Trait Approach
Human Agency Approach
Life Narrative Approach
Spiritual Development in Middle Adulthood
Relationships in Middle Adulthood
Middle Adulthood in the Context of the Multigenerational
Relationships With Spouse or Partner
Relationships With Children
Relationships With Parents
Other Family Relationships
Relationships With Friends
Work in Middle Adulthood
Risk Factors and Protective Factors in Middle Adulthood
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 9 Late Adulthood
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 9.1: The Smiths in Early Retirement
• Case Study 9.2: Ms. Ruby Johnson, Caretaker for 3
• Case Study 9.3: Joseph and Elizabeth Menzel, a German
Demographics of the Older Population
Diversity of the Late-Adult Population
Cultural Construction of Late Adulthood
Psychosocial Theoretical Perspectives on Social Gerontology
Biological Changes in Late Adulthood
Health and Longevity
Age-Related Changes in Physiology
The Aging Brain and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Alzheimer’s Disease
Parkinson’s Disease
Psychological Changes in Late Adulthood
Personality Changes
Intellectual Changes, Learning, and Memory
Mental Health and Mental Disorders
Social Role Transitions and Life Events of Late Adulthood
Families in Later Life
Work and Retirement
Caregiving and Care Receiving
The Search for Personal Meaning
Resources for Meeting the Needs of Elderly Persons
Informal Resources
Formal Resources
Technology and the Late-Adult Population
Risk Factors and Protective Factors in Late Adulthood
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Chapter 10 Very Late Adulthood
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
• Case Study 10.1: Margaret Davis Stays at Home
• Case Study 10.2: Pete Mullin Loses His Sister’s Support
• Case Study 10.3: Marie Cipriani Is Losing Her Life
Very Late Adulthood: Charting New Territory
Very Late Adulthood in Historical and Cultural Perspective
What We Can Learn From Centenarians
Functional Capacity in Very Late Adulthood
Relationships in Very Late Adulthood
Relationships With Family and Friends
Intimacy and Sexuality in Very Late Adulthood
Relationships With Organizations and Community
The Use of Technology
The Housing Continuum
Spirituality in Very Late Adulthood
The Dying Process
Advance Directives
Care of People Who Are Dying
End-of-Life Signs and Symptoms
Loss, Grief, and Bereavement
Theories and Models of Loss
Culture and Bereavement
The Life Course Completed
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
About the Author
About the Contributors
Case Studies
Case Information
Puerto Rican American
1.1 The Suarez family who lost family
Family After
member at the World Trade
September 11, Center on September 11,
2001, trauma in a
multigenerational family
1. A Life
1.2 Michael
His Pride
57-year-old male engineer
from the Midwest, laid off
from work, no health
insurance, stroke, still
1.3 Phoung
Le, Serving
Family and
60-something Vietnamese
refugee woman,
intergenerational family
acculturation issues
2.1 Jennifer
African American female,
late 30s, infertility issues
With Infertility
2.2 Cecelia
One woman’s struggles with
Kin’s Struggle
the options regarding
With the
pregnancy termination
2.3 The
Military family with
deployment in war zone,
premature baby
3.1 Holly’s
Early Arrival
3. Infancy 3.2 Sarah’s
Teen Dad
4. Early
Infant born 3 months
premature, caregiver stress
Teen father, primary
caregiver to infant daughter
Loss of toddler to
community violence,
traumatized mother caring
for infant son
4.1 Terri’s
3-year-old adopted female,
parenting issues
4.2 Jack’s
Name Change
4-year-old boy, parental
4.3 A New
Role for Ron
and Rosiland’s
3-year-old boy and 5-yearold sister, living with
grandmother while mother is
5.1 Anthony’s
6-year-old boy living in
impoverished section of
large city, adolescent mother,
problem behaviors at school
5.2 Jasmine’s
9-year-old girl, homeless
with her mother and siblings, 154
imprisoned father
5. Middle
5.3 Gabriela’s
New Life
11-year-old girl recently
moved from northern
Mexico to reunite with her
father in the United States,
mother with health problems,
father with substance-use
issues, discord at home
6.1 David’s
17-year-old male, son of
Bolivian immigrants, issues
of coming out as gay
17-year-old male, loneparent family, estranged
from father, underachieving
at school, drug
experimentation, overweight
6.3 Monica’s
Quest for
High-achieving high school
senior female, college
planning, racial identity
7.1 Caroline
Sanders as a
Young Adult
23-year-old trans female who
recently had gender
confirmation surgery,
transitioning at work
7.2 Sheila
28-year-old female, mother
of 8-year-old girl, recently
returned from second tour of
military duty in war zone,
brain injury, reentry issues
7.3 Jonathan
Stuart and Kai
Hale as Older
Parents of
Married upper-middle-class
gay couple, living in Hawaii,
soon to become the parents
of twins through surrogacy
6.2 Carl’s
Struggle for
Adolescence Identity
7. Young
8.1 Mark
42-year-old male with
history of childhood abuse,
homelessness, and mental
health and substance-abuse
and emotional stability
8. Middle
8.2 Lisa
Trying to
Balance It All
at 50
50-year-old female, daughter
of Polish immigrants to
Minnesota, high school
teacher, caregiver to
depressed mother, support
for young-adult daughters
8.3 Maha
Struggling to
Find Meaning
and Purpose at
57-year-old Arab American
woman, seeking
psychotherapy for depression
after the death of her mother
and her young-adult children
leaving home
Caucasian couple in early
9.1 The Smiths retirement, 66-year-old
in Early
woman and 68-year-old man, 313
difficult transition to
9. Late
71-year-old African
9.2 Ms. Ruby American woman, 4Johnson,
generation family, caregiving
Caretaker for 3 issues, difficulties with
medical expenses, end-of-life
79-year-old woman with
dementia of the Alzheimer’s
9.3 Joseph and
type, living in small town in
Bavaria, Germany, with 84Menzel, a
year-old husband, family
caregiving issues, informal
and formal caregiving
85-year-old Caucasian
10. Very
10.1 Margaret
Davis Stays at
85-year-old Caucasian
woman, rural southern West
Virginia, hypertension, type
2 diabetes, undiagnosed
memory problems, family
caregiving issues
10.2 Pete
Mullin Loses
His Sister’s
96-year-old secondgeneration male Irish
American Catholic, living in
rural Florida retirement
community with sister who
is dying, loss and grief
issues, care planning issues
10.3 Marie
Cipriani Is
Losing Her
Life Partner
86-year-old woman,
daughter of Italian
immigrants, longtime partner
to 79-year-old African
American woman with stage
IV lung cancer
Like many people, my life has been full of change since the first edition of
this book was published in 1999. After a merger/acquisition, my husband
took a new position in Washington, DC, and we moved to the nation’s
capital from Richmond, Virginia, where we had lived for 13 years. I
changed my teaching affiliation from the Richmond campus of the
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work to the satellite
program in northern Virginia. While I worked on the second edition of the
book in 2002, my mother-in-law, for whom my husband and I had served
as primary caregivers, began a fast decline and died rather quickly. A year
later, my mother had a stroke, and my father died a month after that.
Shortly after, our son relocated from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, and
our daughter entered graduate school. In 2005, we celebrated the marriage
of our daughter. After the third edition was published, we welcomed a first
grandchild, my husband started an encore career in California, and our son
was married. In the year I worked on the fourth edition, I retired from
teaching and joined my husband in California, we welcomed a second
grandchild, and my mother’s health went into steep decline and she died.
That was a year of great change in our family. After the fourth edition, my
son moved back to Massachusetts and now lives in the neighborhood
where we lived when he was a toddler. He and his wife are raising their
own young daughter there, and when we visit them, I am reminded that
sometimes the life course takes us in circles. Just as the fifth edition went
to press, my husband and I sold our home in California and moved to
Reno, Nevada, where we live 5 minutes from my daughter’s family and 40
minutes from beautiful Lake Tahoe. With this move, we have been able to
participate actively in the lives of two of our grandchildren. These events
and transitions have all had an impact on my life course as well as the life
journeys of my extended family.
But change has not been confined to my multigenerational family. Since
the first edition of the book was published, we had a presidential election
for which the outcome stayed in limbo for weeks. The economy has
peaked, declined, revitalized, and then gone into the deepest recession
since the Great Depression in the 1930s. It is strong again, for now. Also
since the first edition, terrorists hijacked airplanes and forced them to be
flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City
and into the Pentagon near my school. The United States entered military
conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the one in Afghanistan continues to
be waged at this writing, the longest war in U.S. history. Thirty-three
students at Virginia Tech died in a mass murder/suicide rampage that
shook the campus on a beautiful spring day, and a number of school
shootings have broken our collective hearts, including the recent shooting
at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Florida. Natural disasters
have killed and traumatized millions around the world, and the climate is
becoming increasingly unstable. New communication technologies
continue to be developed at a fast clip, increasing our global
interdependence and changing our behavior in ways both good and bad.
The United States elected, and then reelected, its first African American
president, but our government has been locked in an increasingly polarized
philosophical division, made worse by foreign interference in a
presidential election and increasingly hostile interactions on social media.
Since I was a child listening to my grandmother’s stories about the
challenges, joys, and dramatic as well as mundane events in her life, I have
been captivated by people’s stories. I have learned that a specific event can
be understood only in the context of an ongoing life story. As social
workers you will hear many life stories, and I encourage you to remember
that each person you meet is on a journey that is much more than your
encounters might suggest. I also encourage you to think about your own
life story and how it helps and hinders your ability to really see and hear
the stories of others.
Organized around life course time, this book tries to help you understand,
among other things, the relationship between time and human behavior.
The companion volume to this book, Person and Environment, analyzes
relevant dimensions of person and environment and presents up-to-date
reports on theory and research about each of these dimensions. This
volume shows how these multiple dimensions of person and environment
work together with dimensions of time to produce patterns in unique life
course journeys.
Life Course Perspective
As in the second, third, fourth, and fifth editions, my colleagues and I have
chosen a life course perspective to capture the dynamic, changing nature of
person–environment transactions. In the life course perspective, human
behavior is not a linear march through time, nor is it simply played out in
recurring cycles. Rather, the life course journey is a moving spiral, with
both continuity and change, marked by both predictable and unpredictable
twists and turns. It is influenced by changes in the physical and social
environment as well as by changes in the personal biological,
psychological, and spiritual dimensions.
The life course perspective recognizes patterns in human behavior related
to biological age, psychological age, and social age norms. In the first
edition, we discussed theory and research about six age-graded periods of
the life course, presenting both the continuity and the change in these
patterns. Because mass longevity is leading to finer distinctions among life
phases, nine age-graded periods were discussed in the second through fifth
editions and are again covered in this sixth edition. The life course
perspective also recognizes diversity in the life course related to historical
time, gender and gender identity, race and ethnicity, social class, sexual
orientation, ability/disability, and so forth, and we emphasize group-based
diversity in our discussion of age-graded periods. Finally, the life course
perspective recognizes the unique life stories of individuals—the unique
configuration of specific life events and person–environment transactions
over time.
General Knowledge and Unique Situations
The social and behavioral sciences help us to understand general patterns
in person–environment transactions over time. The purpose of social work
assessment is to understand unique configurations of person and
environment dimensions at a given time. Those who practice social work
must interweave what they know about unique situations with general
knowledge that comes from theory and empirical research. To assist you in
this process, as we did in the first five editions, we begin each chapter with
three stories, which we then intertwine with contemporary theory and
research. Most of the stories are composite cases and do not correspond to
actual people known to the authors. In this sixth edition, we continue to
expand on our efforts in the last five editions to call more attention to the
successes and failures of theory and research to accommodate human
diversity related to gender and gender identity, race and ethnicity, culture,
sexual orientation, disability, and so on. We continue to extend our
attention to diversity by being intentional in our effort to provide a global
context to understand the human life course.
In this sixth edition, we continue to use some special features that we hope
will aid your learning process. We have added learning objectives to each
chapter. As in the first five editions, key terms are presented in bold type
in the chapters and defined in the glossary. As in the fourth and fifth
editions, critical thinking questions are used throughout the chapters to
help you think critically about the material you are reading. Active
learning exercises and web resources are presented at the end of each
The bulk of this sixth edition will be familiar to instructors who used the
fifth edition of Dimensions of Human Behavior: The Changing Life
Course. Many of the changes that do occur came at the suggestion of
instructors and students who have been using the fifth edition. To respond
to the rapidity of changes in complex societies, all chapters have been
comprehensively updated. As the contributing authors and I worked to
revise the book, we were once again surprised to learn how much the
knowledge base had changed since we worked on the fifth edition. We did
not experience such major change between the first four editions, and this
led us to agree with the futurists who say we are at a point where the rate
of cultural change will continue to accelerate rapidly. You will want to use
the many wonders of the World Wide Web to update information you
suspect is outdated.
Also New in This Edition
The more substantial revisions for this edition include the following:
Learning objectives have been added to each chapter.
Consistency with Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
curriculum guidelines is emphasized in Chapter 1.
Coverage of advances in neuroscience continues to expand.
More content on traumatic stress appears throughout the book.
Content on the impact of information, communication, and medical
technologies on human behavior in every phase of life is greatly
Coverage of the global context of human behavior continues to
More content has been added on the effects of gender and gender
identity, race and ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, and
disability on life course trajectories.
New content on gender identity and expression was added to several
New exhibits have been added and others updated.
Some new case studies have been added to reflect contemporary
Web resources have been updated.
Digital Resources
SAGE edge offers a robust online environment featuring an impressive
array of tools and resources for review, study, and further exploration,
keeping both instructors and students on the cutting edge of teaching and
learning. SAGE edge content is open access and available on demand.
Learning and teaching has never been easier!
Instructor Teaching Site
SAGE edge for instructors supports teaching by making it easy to
integrate quality content and create a rich learning environment for
Test banks provide a diverse range of prewritten options as well as
the opportunity to edit any question and/or insert your own
personalized questions to effectively assess students’ progress and
Editable chapter-specific PowerPoint® slides offer complete
flexibility for creating a multimedia presentation for one’s course.
Exclusive access to full-text SAGE journal articles that have been
carefully selected support and expand on the concepts presented in
each chapter.
Multimedia content including audio and video resources are
available for use in independent or classroom-based explorations of
key topics.
Class activities for individual or group projects reinforce active
Course cartridges allow for easy LMS integration.
Student Study Site
SAGE edge for students provides a personalized approach to help
students accomplish their coursework goals in an easy-to-use learning
Mobile-friendly eFlashcards strengthen understanding of key terms
and concepts.
Mobile-friendly practice quizzes allow for independent assessment
by students of their mastery of course material.
Learning objectives reinforce the most important material.
Exclusive access to full-text SAGE journal articles that have been
carefully selected support and expand on the concepts presented in
each chapter.
One Last Word
I hope that reading this book helps you understand how people change
from conception to death and why different people react to the same
situations in different ways. I also hope that you will gain a greater
appreciation for the ongoing life stories in which specific events are
embedded. In addition, when you finish reading this book, I hope that you
will have new ideas about how to reduce risk and increase protective
factors during different age-graded periods and how to help clients find
meaning and purpose in their own life stories. I also hope you will have
new ideas about the implications of scientific knowledge about human
behavior across the life course for social work engagement, assessment,
intervention, and evaluation.
You can help me in my learning process by letting me know what you
liked or didn’t like about the book. Sometimes communications from
student readers have led to additions to the book.
—Elizabeth D. Hutchison
Reno, Nevada
A project like this book is never completed without the support and
assistance of many people. A sixth edition stands on the back of the first
five editions, and over the years, a large number of people have helped me
keep this project going. I am grateful to all of them, some of them known
to me and others working behind the scenes in a way not visible to me.
Steve Rutter, former publisher and president of Pine Forge Press,
shepherded every step of the first edition and provided ideas for many of
the best features of the second edition that are carried forward in this book.
Along with Paul O’Connell, Becky Smith, and Maria Zuniga, he helped to
refine the outline for the second edition, and that outline continues to be
used, in large part, in this sixth edition. I am especially grateful to Becky
Smith, who worked with me as developmental editor for the first two
editions. She taught me so much about writing and readers, and I often
find myself thinking How would Becky present this? Kassie Graves
provided disciplined and creative editorial assistance from 2006 to 2016,
for the third, fourth, and fifth editions of this book, and she became a dear
The contributing authors and I are grateful for the assistance Dr. Maria E.
Zuniga offered during the drafting of the second edition. She provided
many valuable suggestions on how to improve the coverage of cultural
diversity in each chapter. Her suggestions improved the second edition
immensely and have stayed with us as lasting lessons about human
behavior in a multicultural society.
I am grateful once again to work with a fine group of contributing authors.
They were gracious about timelines and incorporating feedback from
reviewers. Most important, they were committed to providing a state-ofthe-art knowledge base for understanding human behavior across the life
course. I am also grateful to collaborators who have provided rich case
studies for Chapters 5, 7, and 8.
We were lucky to be working again with the folks at SAGE. Joshua Perigo
came aboard as I worked to turn months of research and writing into what
you see in this book. He came with prior experience in working with
professors who use the book and with an organized view of what is helpful
to instructors and students. He has consistently been responsive to my
questions and concerns. How lucky I am to be working with Mark Bast as
copy editor again. He is a delight to work with, catches my errors, and
makes the words flow better. I would work with him forever. I am grateful
to have Tracy Buyan join the project as production editor; she is the person
who turns words and ideas into a gorgeous book. Thanks also to Alexandra
Randall who has provided editorial assistance with a number of tasks.
Many more people have worked behind the scenes to help us complete this
project. I wish I could thank them by name. I love the folks at SAGE.
I am grateful to my former faculty colleagues at Virginia Commonwealth
University (VCU) who set a high standard for scientific inquiry and
teaching excellence. They also provided love and encouragement through
both good and hard times. My conversations about the human behavior
curriculum with colleagues Rosemary Farmer, Stephen Gilson, Marcia
Harrigan, Holly Matto, Mary Secret, and Joe Walsh over many years have
stimulated much thinking and resulted in many ideas found in this book.
My students over 30 years also deserve a special note of gratitude. They
taught me all the time, and many things I learned in interaction with them
show up in the pages of this book. They also provided a great deal of joy
to my life journey, and I continue to enjoy keeping up with many of them
on social media. Those moments when I learn of former students doing
informed, creative, and humane social work are special moments, indeed,
and I am happy to say there are many such moments. Three former
students are chapter authors, and two former students have contributed
case studies for this edition. I have also enjoyed receiving e-mails from
students from other universities who are using the book and have found
their insights to be very helpful.
My deepest gratitude goes to my husband, Hutch. Since the first edition of
this book was published, we have weathered several challenging years and
experienced many celebratory moments. He is constantly patient and
supportive and often technically useful. But, more important, he makes
sure that I take time for fun and celebration. What a joy it has been to
travel over three fourths of my life journey with him.
Finally, I am enormously grateful to a host of reviewers who thoughtfully
evaluated the fifth edition and provided very useful feedback about how to
improve on it. Their ideas were very helpful in framing our work on this
sixth edition:
Carla Mueller
Lindenwood University
Julie Altman
California State University, Monterey Bay
Roger Delgado
California State University, Los Angeles
Rose Perz
Fordham University
Tracy Marschall
University of Indianapolis
Abbie Frost
Simmons College
Alexandra Crampton
Marquette University
Curtis Proctor
Millersville University
Dan Knapp
Aurora University
Debra Norris
University of South Dakota
Gabriela Novotna
University of Regina
E. Gail Horton
Florida Atlantic University
Ilze Earner
Hunter College, City University of New York
John McTighe
Ramapo College of New Jersey
Marissa Happ
Aurora University
Rosalind Corbett
San Diego State University
Annalease Gibson
Albany State University
Terri Lewinson
Georgia State University
Sonja Harry
Winston-Salem State University
1 A Life Course Perspective
Elizabeth D. Hutchison
Chapter Outline
Learning Objectives
Case Study 1.1: The Suarez Family After September 11, 2001
Case Study 1.2: Michael Bowling, Swallowing His Pride
Case Study 1.3: Phoung Le, Serving Family and Community
The Life Course Perspective and Social Work Practice
Theoretical Roots of the Life Course Perspective
Basic Concepts of the Life Course Perspective
Life Events
Turning Points
Major Themes of the Life Course Perspective
Interplay of Human Lives and Historical Time
Timing of Lives
Dimensions of Age
Standardization in the Timing of Lives
Linked or Interdependent Lives
Links With Family Members
Links With the Wider World
Human Agency in Making Choices
Diversity in Life Course Trajectories
Developmental Risk and Protection
Strengths and Limitations of the Life Course Perspective
Integration With a Multidimensional, Multitheoretical Approach
Implications for Social Work Practice
Key Terms
Active Learning
Web Resources
Learning Objectives
1.1 Compare one’s own emotional and cognitive reactions to three case
1.2 Summarize the relevance of the life course perspective for social
work competencies.
1.3 Identify some of the theoretical roots of the life course perspective.
1.4 Summarize five basic concepts of the life course perspective
(cohorts, transitions, trajectories, life events, and turning points).
1.5 Critique six major themes of the life course perspective (interplay
of human lives and historical time, timing of lives, linked or
interdependent lives, human agency in making choices, diversity in life
course trajectories, and risk and protection).
1.6 Evaluate the strengths and limitations of the life course perspective.
1.7 Recognize where themes of the life course perspective are
consistent with eight other major theoretical perspectives on human
1.8 Apply basic concepts and major themes of the life course
perspective to recommend guidelines for social work engagement,
assessment, intervention, and evaluation.
Case Study 1.1
The Suarez Family After September 11, 2001
Maria is a busy, active 19-year-old whose life was changed by the events of
September 11, 2001. Her mother, Emma Suarez, worked at the World Trade
Center and did not survive the attack.
Emma was born in Puerto Rico and came to the mainland to live in the South
Bronx when she was 5, along with her parents, a younger brother, two
sisters, and an older brother. Emma’s father, Carlos, worked hard to make a
living for his family, sometimes working as many as three jobs at once. After
the children were all in school, Emma’s mother, Rosa, began to work as a
domestic worker in the homes of a few wealthy families in Manhattan.
Emma was a strong student from her first days in public school and was
often at the top of her class. Her younger brother, Juan, and the sister closest
to her in age, Carmen, also were good students, but they were never the star
pupils that Emma was. The elder brother, Jesus, and sister, Aida, struggled in
school from the time they came to the South Bronx, and both dropped out
before they finished high school. Jesus returned to Puerto Rico to live on the
farm with his grandparents but has recently moved back to the South Bronx
now that both grandparents have died.
During her summer vacations from high school, Emma often cared for the
children of some of the families for whom her mother worked. One employer
was particularly impressed with Emma’s quickness and pleasant
temperament and took a special interest in her. She encouraged Emma to
apply to colleges during her senior year in high school. Emma was accepted
at City College and was planning to begin as a full-time student after high
school graduation.
A month before Emma was to start school, however, her father had a stroke
and was unable to return to work. Rosa and Aida rearranged their work
schedules so that they could share the care of Carlos. Carmen had a husband
and two young children of her own. Emma realized that she was now needed
as an income earner. She took a position doing data entry in an office in the
World Trade Center and took evening courses part-time. She was studying to
be a teacher, because she loved learning and wanted to pass on that love to
other students.
And then Emma found herself pregnant. She knew that Alejandro Padilla, a
young man in one of her classes at school, was the father. Alejandro said that
he was not ready to marry, however. Emma returned to work a month after
Maria was born, but she did not return to school. At first, Rosa and Aida
were not happy that Emma was pregnant with no plans to marry, but once
Maria was born, they fell hopelessly in love with her. They were happy to
share the care of Maria, along with Carlos, while Emma worked. Emma
cared for Maria and Carlos in the evenings so that Rosa and Aida could
Maria was, indeed, an engaging baby, and she was thriving with the
adoration of Rosa, Carlos, Aida, Juan, and Emma. Emma missed school, but
she held on to her dreams to be a teacher someday.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Emma left early for work at her job
on the 84th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center, because she
was nearing a deadline on a big project. Aida was bathing Carlos when
Carmen called about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Aida called
Emma’s number but did not get through to her.
The next few days, even weeks, are a blur to the Suarez family. Juan,
Carmen, and Aida took turns going to the Family Assistance Center, but
there was no news about Emma. At one point, because Juan was worried
about Rosa, he brought her to the Red Cross Disaster Counseling Center
where they met with a social worker who was specially trained for working
in disaster situations. Rosa seemed to be near collapse.
Juan, Rosa, and Aida all missed a lot of work for a number of weeks, and the
cash flow sometimes became problematic. They were blessed with the
generosity of their Catholic parish, employers, neighbors, and a large
extended family, however, and financial worries were not their greatest
concerns at that time. They struggled to understand the horrific thing that
happened to Emma, and although she didn’t understand what had happened,
Maria was aware of a great sadness in the household for several years.
Emma’s remains were never identified, but the Catholic parish helped the
family plan a memorial service.
Maria is lucky to have such a close, loving family, and they have tried to
give her a good life. She continues to live with Aida and Rosa while she
attends City College. Juan has married and has two young children now,
living around the corner from Aida and Rosa. Carlos died in 2011, 10 days
before the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Carmen and her family
also live nearby, and Maria has become close friends with Carmen’s two
daughters. She also has a special relationship with Carmen, who reminds her
of the pictures she has seen of her mother.
Maria is a good student and is meeting her dream of studying to be a teacher.
She loves to hear stories about the mother she can’t remember, and one of
Rosa’s favorite stories is about how smart Emma was and what a great
teacher she would have been. On Maria’s 13th birthday, Rosa gave her the
necklace that had been Emma’s 13th birthday gift, and Maria wears it every
day. Growing up in the Bronx, Maria has seen many television images of
those airplane attacks at the World Trade Center. She was disturbed,
however, by all the media coverage at the time of the 10th anniversary of the
attack. She began to think a lot about what her mother might have suffered
before her death, and she had nightmares for several nights. She built a small
memorial to her mother in the backyard and goes there to talk with her
mother when she is feeling particularly sad or when good things happen.
After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, Maria had a taste
of what her family had gone through after the airplanes struck the World
Trade Center. It was weeks before they learned the whereabouts of all their
relatives still living in Puerto Rico, and Maria thought she saw a reactivation
of traumatic stress in her grandmother and Aunt Aida. Some of their relatives
lost their homes and moved in with other relatives, and the future is still
uncertain for most of them. A social worker doing disaster relief must be
aware of the large impact that disasters have on the multigenerational family,
both in the present and for years to come.
Case Study 1.2
Michael Bowling, Swallowing His Pride
Michael Bowling always thought that if you are willing to work hard, you
will never need public assistance. He realizes now that he made judgments
about other people’s lives without really knowing much about them. And he
is convinced that his very life depends on getting some public assistance.
Here is his story.
Michael grew up in a small town in Missouri, the oldest of five children. His
parents were White hardworking factory workers who had grown up in the
midst of the Great Depression. His dad had to turn down a college
scholarship to work odd jobs to help scrape together enough to feed the
family. Michael’s parents were determined to give their children an easier
time, and though it was never easy, at least Michael and his siblings never
went to bed hungry. They always felt loved, and their parents had high hopes
for their children’s futures.
Michael started working 20 hours a week when he was 16 to help his parents
pay a hospital bill for one of his younger brothers. When he graduated from
high school, he joined the U.S. Army, hoping that might provide some
financial security for him and his family. He stayed in the U.S. Army for 4
years and then returned to his hometown. He soon found that there were no
good jobs there for him, and he decided to move to a nearby college town to
begin to study for a college degree. He found a low-paying job for 30 hours
per week, so it took him 7 years to earn his engineering degree.
When he graduated from college, he married the woman he had been dating
and found an engineering job in a larger city. The marriage lasted for 7 years,
there were no children, and the divorce was friendly. The career went well,
and Michael moved up the ranks in small and moderate-size firms. He was
able to buy a small house. He never married again, but he has been very
close to a younger sister who lives in the same city, and he became a kind of
substitute dad to her son and daughter after her husband left the family. His
parents lived long enough to see him doing well and took pride in his
success. Both parents died at a relatively young age, however, his dad of a
stroke at age 55 and his mother of breast cancer at age 58, after moving in
with Michael and using hospice care during her final 5 months.
At the age of 50, Michael got his dream job in a very large engineering firm.
Life was good! Then the firm hit hard times, and as one of the last hired,
Michael was one of the first to be laid off. He had some savings, so he could
make his mortgage payments and put food on the table. He cut where he
could, things like his gym membership and cable television, but held on to
the car and cell phone because he would need them for the job search. He put
out 10 resumes a day and made two cold calls per day. He felt lucky when he
found temporary jobs, but these projects never lasted long, and they never
offered health insurance. For the first 2 years after he was laid off, he bought
a very expensive individual health insurance policy, but as his savings
diminished, he dropped the policy.
Then one morning, when he was only 55 years old, Michael awoke with a
severe headache, numbness in the right side of his face, and weakness in his
right arm and leg. Because of his earlier experience with his father’s stroke,
Michael recognized these symptoms as warning signs of a stroke. He also
knew that it was imperative that he get immediate medical care; he called
911 and was taken to the comprehensive hospital a few blocks from his
home. Over the next 2 years, Michael used all his savings and took a second
mortgage on his house to pay his hospital and rehabilitation bills. He was
lucky that his stroke was not as serious as the one that had killed his dad, that
he knew to get immediate help, and he has made a good recovery. The only
remaining noticeable symptom is some left-sided weakness, particularly
when he is tired. As he recovered from the stroke, he resumed the job search
but, to date, has only found one very short-term project. His two brothers
have helped him out a little, when they realized that he was choosing
between buying food or his medication to prevent another stroke. But
Michael knows that his brothers struggle financially, and he finally realized
that he had to swallow his pride and apply for SNAP (food stamps) and
energy assistance, which he did in early 2014. At the same time, he signed
up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s federal
marketplace. He is sad that he is not able to help send his niece and nephew
to college as he had expected to do, but he is still very involved in their lives.
Michael is grateful to have survived his stroke, and he says that one bright
spot is that he has begun a daily meditation practice, which he finds
spiritually, emotionally, and physically beneficial. He credits this practice for
helping him to stay calm in the midst of the stresses in his life, and he adds
that it has helped him develop better understanding of himself and his life
journey. It has also helped him to pay attention to what is happening in his
body. He attends a stroke recovery support group at the rehabilitation center
and has developed some close friendships in the group.
Case Study 1.3
Phoung Le, Serving Family and Community
Le Thi Phoung, or Phoung Le as she is officially known in the United States,
grew up in Saigon, South Vietnam, in the midst of war and upheaval. She
has some fond memories of her first few years when Saigon was beautiful
and peaceful. She loves to remember riding on her father’s shoulders down
the streets of Saigon on a warm day and shopping with her grandmother in
the herb shops. But she also has chilling memories of the military presence
on the streets, the devastation caused by war, and the persistent fear that
pervaded her home.
Phoung was married when she was 17 to a man chosen by her father. She
smiles when she recounts the story of her future groom and his family
coming to visit with the lacquered boxes full of betrothal gifts of nuts, teas,
cake, and fruit. She admits that, at the time, she was not eager to marry and
wondered why her father was doing this to her. But she is quick to add that
her father made a wise choice, and her husband Hien is her best friend and is,
as his name suggests, “nice, kind, and gentle.” Their first child, a son, was
born just before Phoung’s 20th birthday, and Phoung reveled in being a
Unfortunately, on Phoung’s 20th birthday, April 30, 1975, life in Saigon
turned horrific; that is the day the North Vietnamese army overran Saigon.
For Phoung and Hien, as well as for most people living in South Vietnam,
just surviving became a daily struggle. Both Phoung’s father and her fatherin-law were in the South Vietnamese military, and both were imprisoned by
the Viet Cong for a few years. Both managed to escape and moved their
families around until they were able to plan an escape from Vietnam by boat.
Family members got separated during the escape, and others were lost when
pirates attacked their boats. Phoung’s father and one brother have never been
heard from since the pirate attack.
Phoung and Hien and their son spent more than 2 years in a refugee camp in
Thailand before being resettled in Southern California. Their second child, a
daughter, was born in the camp, and a second daughter was born 1 year after
they resettled in California. Over time, other family members were able to
join them in the large Vietnamese community where they live. Phoung’s and
Hien’s opportunities for education were limited during the war years, but
both came from families who valued education, and both managed to receive
several years of schooling. Luckily, because they were living in a large
Vietnamese community, language did not serve as a major barrier to
employment in the United States. Phoung found a job working evenings as a
waitress at a restaurant in Little Saigon, and Hien worked two jobs, by day as
a dishwasher in a restaurant and by night cleaning office buildings in Little
Saigon. Phoung’s mother lived with Phoung and Hien and watched after the
children while Phoung and Hien worked. Hien’s parents lived a few blocks
away, and several siblings and cousins of both Phoung and Hien were in the
neighborhood. The Vietnamese community provided much social support
and cultural connection. Phoung loved taking the children to visit the shops
in Little Saigon and found special pleasure in visiting the herb shops where
the old men sat around and spoke animatedly in Vietnamese.
Phoung grieved the loss of her beloved father and brother, but she wanted to
create a positive life for her children. She was happy that she was able to stay
connected to her cultural roots and happy that her children lived in a
neighborhood where they did not feel like outsiders. But she also wanted her
children to be able to be successful outside the Vietnamese community as
well as a resource for the community. She was determined that her children
would have the education that she and Hien had been denied. Although she
could have gotten by well in her neighborhood without English, she studied
English along with her children because she wanted to model for the children
how to live a bilingual, bicultural life. She was pleased that the children did
well in school and was not surprised at how quickly the older two adapted to
life in their adopted country. Sometimes there was tension in the
multigenerational family about how the children were acculturating, and
Phoung often served as the mediator in these tensions. She understood the
desire of the older generation to keep cultural traditions, and she herself
loved traditions such as the celebration of the Chinese New Year, with the
colorful dresses and the little red lai-see envelopes of good-luck money that
were given to the children. She wanted her children to have these traditional
experiences. But she also was tuned in to the children’s desire to be
connected with some aspects of the dominant culture, such as the music and
other popular media. She was also aware of how hard it was for the family
elders to enforce the traditional family hierarchy when they depended on
younger family members to help them navigate life in the English-speaking
world outside their cultural enclave.
When her children reached adolescence, Phoung herself was uncomfortable
with the Western cultural ideal for adolescent independence from the family,
but she found ways to give her children some space while also holding them
close and keeping them connected to their cultural roots. Other mothers in
the neighborhood began to seek her advice about how to handle the
challenging adolescent years. When her own adolescent children began to be
impatient with the pervasive sadness they saw in their grandparents, Phoung
suggested that they do some oral history with their grandparents. This turned
out to be a therapeutic experience for all involved. The grandparents were
able to sift through their lives in Vietnam and the years since, give voice to
all that had been lost, but also begin to recognize the strength it took to
survive and their good fortune to be able to live among family and a
community where much was familiar. The grandchildren were able to hear a
part of their family narrative that they did not know because the family had
preferred not to talk about it. Phoung was so pleased with this outcome that
she asked to start a program of intergenerational dialogue at the Vietnamese
Community Service Center. She thought this might be one way to begin to
heal the trauma in her community while also giving the younger generation a
strong cultural identity as they struggled to live in a multicultural world. She
continues to be an active force in that program, even though her own
children are grown.
Their 40s and early 50s brought both great sorrow and great joy to Phoung
and Hien. Within a 2-year period, Phoung’s mother and Hien’s mother and
father died. Phoung and Hien became the family elders. They provided both
economic and emotional support during times of family crisis, such as a
sibling’s cancer, a niece’s untimely pregnancy, and a nephew’s involvement
with a neighborhood gang. But there was also great joy. Phoung was very
good at her job and became the supervisor of the wait staff at the best
restaurant in Little Saigon. Hien was able to buy his own herb shop. After
attending the local community college, the children were all able to go on to
university and do well. Their son became an engineer, the older daughter
became a physician, and the younger daughter recently finished law school.
Their son is now father to two young children, and Phoung finds great joy in
being a grandmother. She is playing an important role in keeping the
grandchildren connected to some Vietnamese traditions. Phoung finds this
phase of life to be a time of balance in all areas of her life, and she is
surprised and pleased to find renewed interest in spiritual growth through her
Buddhist practices.
Social workers working with refugee families must be aware of the
conditions that led these families to flee their home countries as well as the
adjustments they have made upon resettlement.
The Life Course Perspective and Social Work
One thing the stories of the Suarez family, Michael Bowling, and Phoung
Le have in common is that they unfolded over time, across multiple
generations. We all have stories that unfold as we progress through life. A
useful way to understand this relationship between time and human
behavior is the life course perspective, which looks at how biological,
psychological, and social factors act independently, cumulatively, and
interactively to shape people’s lives from conception to death, and across
generations. It attempts to explain how humans change and stay the same
as they make their journey from conception to death. It also examines how
cultures and social institutions shape the patterns of individual and family
lives. Time, as well as characteristics of the person and the environment in
which the person lives, all play a large part in human behavior (see Exhibit
1.1). It is common and sensible to try to understand a person by looking at
the way that person has developed throughout different periods of life and
in different environments.
You could think of the life course as a path. But note that it is not a straight
path; it is a path with both continuities and twists and turns. Certainly, we
see twists and turns in the life stories of Emma Suarez, Michael Bowling,
and Phoung Le. If you want to understand a person’s life, you might begin
with an event history, or the sequence of significant events, experiences,
and transitions in a person’s life from conception to death. For young
Maria Suarez, the events of September 11, 2001, will become a permanent
part of her life story, even though she has no memory of that day. She
looks forward to the time when she will realize her mother’s dream of
becoming a teacher. Hurricane Maria has become another important part
of the event history of her family. An event history for Michael Bowling
might include joining the army, college graduation, wedding, divorce,
buying a house, deaths of his mother and father, dream job at age 50, and
stroke at age 55. Phoung Le’s event history would most likely include
military presence in the streets, getting married, becoming a mother,
escaping from Saigon, time spent in a refugee camp, resettlement in
California, family loss, and promotion at work.
You might also try to understand a person in terms of how that person’s
life has been synchronized with family members’ lives across time. Maria
Suarez’s, Michael Bowling’s, and Phoung Le’s stories are thoroughly
entwined with those of their multigenerational families.
Finally, you might view the life course in terms of how culture and social
institutions shape the pattern of individual lives. Maria Suarez’s life course
was changed forever by culture-related geopolitical conflict. The economic
and health care institutions are playing a central role in Michael Bowling’s
life in late midlife. Phoung Le lives biculturally and has taught her
children to do that as well.
This book and its companion volume Dimensions of Human Behavior:
Person and Environment provide ways for you to think about the nature
and complexities of the people and situations at the center of social work
practice. To begin to do that, we must first clarify the purpose of social
work and the approach it takes to individual and collective human
behavior. This was laid out in the 2015 Educational Policy and
Accreditation Standards of the Council on Social Work Education:
Exhibit 1.1 • Person, Environment, and Time Dimensions
The purpose of the social work profession is to promote human
and community well-being. Guided by a person and environment
construct, a global perspective, respect for human diversity, and
knowledge based on scientific inquiry, the purpose of social
work is actualized through its quest for social and economic
justice, the prevention of conditions that limit human rights, the
elimination of poverty, and the enhancement of the quality of
life for all persons. (Council on Social Work Education, 2015, p.
Let’s put that statement in some historical context. In 1952, at the annual
meeting of the American Association of Schools of Social Work, a
forerunner of the Council on Social Work Education, the presenters of a
workshop titled “Who Should Teach What in Human Growth and
Development” opened the workshop with this statement: “Knowledge and
understanding of human behavior is considered an indispensable base for
social work education and all of social work” (Social Welfare History
Archives, 1952). That made sense in 1952, and it makes sense today. At
the time of the workshop, human growth and behavior (HG&B) was
identified as essential content for the education of social workers. After the
formation of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in 1952 and
the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in 1955, the first
working definition of social work was drafted in 1958. In that definition,
Harriet Bartlett linked the person-in-environment perspective on human
behavior to the definition of social work (Kondrat, 2008). As you can see
in CSWE’s 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, six
decades later social work professional organizations continue to use the
person-in-environment—or person and environment—construct to
describe the profession’s approach to understanding human behavior.
Different subjects and different theories have been considered essential to
knowledge of person and environment at different times, but the person-inenvironment perspective has been a signature feature of the social work
profession. The life course perspective is a relatively recent attempt to
understand how people and environments influence each other and change
over time. It is an important theoretical perspective for developing several
social work competencies as outlined in the 2015 CSWE Educational
Policy Statement and presented in abbreviated form in Exhibit 1.2. One of
the reasons it is such an important theoretical perspective is that it has been
supported by a growing body of multidisciplinary research as you will see
in the ensuing discussion in this and all other chapters of the book.
Exhibit 1.2 • Summary of Social Work Competencies Supported by
the Life Course Perspective
Photo 1.1 The life course perspective emphasizes ways in which
humans are interdependent and gives special emphasis to the family
as the primary arena for experiencing the world.
© Kristy-Anne Glubish/Design Pics/Corbis
Social workers also have a well-defined value base to guide their efforts to
promote individual and community well-being. Six core values of the
profession have been set out in a preamble to the Code of Ethics
established by the National Association for Social Workers (NASW) in
1996 and revised in 2017 (NASW, 2017). These values are service, social
justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human
relationships, integrity, and competence. Throughout the chapters of this
book, the contributing authors and I provide suggestions about needed
social work services and how to provide those services in an ethical and
trustworthy manner. We take social work’s commitment to social justice
seriously, and social justice issues are highlighted in every chapter. The
life course perspective that forms the basis of this book puts equal value on
individual agency and human connectedness; therefore, it serves as a good
framework for social work’s commitments to both the dignity and worth of
the person as well as the importance of human relationships. The
contributing authors and I draw on the best available evidence about the
life course to assist you to develop and enhance expertise in working with
people of all life stages. The analysis of the life course perspective
presented in this book supports the development of the remaining two
social work competencies identified by the 2015 CSWE Educational
Policy Statement:
Competency 1: Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior:
“Social workers understand the value base of the profession and its
ethical standards.”
Competency 3: Advance Human Rights and Social, and Economic,
and Environmental Justice: “Social workers understand the global
interconnections of oppression and human rights violations, and are
knowledgeable about theories of human need.”
Theoretical Roots of the Life Course
The life course perspective (LCP) is a theoretical model that has emerged
over the last 50 years, across several disciplines. Sociologists,
anthropologists, social historians, demographers, epidemiologists, and
psychologists—working independently and, more recently, collaboratively
—have all helped to give it shape. The ideas have been developed from
multidisciplinary theory and research.
Glen Elder Jr., a sociologist, was one of the early authors to write about a
life course perspective, and his work is still foundational to the ongoing
development of the perspective. In the early 1960s, he began to analyze
data from three pioneering longitudinal studies of children that had been
undertaken by the University of California, Berkeley. As he examined
several decades of data, he was struck with the enormous impact of the
Great Depression of the 1930s on individual and family pathways (Elder,
1974). He began to call for developmental theory and research that looked
at the influence of historical forces on family, education, and work roles.
At about the same time, social history emerged as a serious field. Social
historians were particularly interested in retrieving the experiences of
ordinary people, from their own vantage point, rather than telling the
historical story from the vantage point of wealthy and powerful persons.
Tamara Hareven (1978, 1982a, 1996, 2000) played a key role in
developing the subdiscipline of the history of the family.
As will become clearer later in the chapter, the life course perspective also
draws on traditional theories of developmental psychology, which look at
the events that typically occur in people’s lives during different stages. The
life course perspective differs from these psychological theories in one
very important way, however. Developmental psychology looks for
universal, predictable events and pathways, but the life course perspective
calls attention to how historical time, social location, and culture affect the
individual experience of each life stage. A primary contribution of the life
course perspective is its focus on the life course as a whole, how what
happens in one period of a person’s life is connected to what happens in
other periods of that person’s life. For example, it calls attention to the
ways in which what happens in adolescence is influenced by what
happened in childhood and also influences the long period of adulthood
(Johnson, Crosnoe, & Elder, 2011).
The life course perspective is still relatively young, but its popularity has
grown across a broad range of disciplines (Alwin, 2012). In recent years, it
has begun to be used to understand the pathways of families (Min,
Silverstein, & Lendon, 2012), organizations (King, 2009), and social
movements (Della Porta & Diani, 2006). I suggest that it has potential for
understanding patterns of stability and change in all types of social
systems. Gerontologists increasingly use the perspective to understand
how old age is shaped by events experienced earlier in life (Seabrook &
Avison, 2012), but it has also become an increasingly popular perspective
for considering adolescent and young-adult transitions, such as the
transition to high school (Benner, 2011) and the transition to motherhood
(Umberson, Pudrovska, & Reczek, 2010). The life course perspective has
become a major theoretical framework in criminology (Chen, 2009; Prior,
2013) and the leading perspective driving longitudinal study of physical
and mental health behaviors and outcomes (Bauldry, Shanahan,
Boardman, Miech, & Macmillan, 2012; Evans, Crogan, Belyea, & Coon,
2009). It has also been proposed as a useful perspective for understanding
patterns of lifetime drug use (Hser, Longshore, & Anglin, 2007;
Lindström, Modén, & Rosvall, 2013).
Critical Thinking Questions 1.1
Think of your own life path. How straight has your path been? What
continuities can you identify? What, if any, twists and turns have been a part
of your life journey?
Basic Concepts of the Life Course Perspective
Scholars who write from a life course perspective and social workers who
apply the life course perspective in their work rely on a handful of staple
concepts: cohorts, transitions, trajectories, life events, and turning points
(see Exhibit 1.3 for concise definitions). As you read about each concept,
imagine how it applies to the lives of Maria Suarez, Michael Bowling, and
Phoung Le as well as to your own life.
As noted, Glen Elder Jr.’s observation that historical, sociocultural forces
have an impact on individual and family pathways was a major inspiration
for development of the life course perspective. With their attention to the
historical context of developmental pathways, life course scholars have
found the concept of cohort to be very useful. In the life course
perspective, a cohort is a group of persons born during the same time
period who experience particular social changes within a given culture in
the same sequence and at approximately the same age. Generation is
another term used to convey a similar meaning. Generation is usually used
to refer to a period of about 20 years, but a cohort may be shorter than that,
and life course scholars often make a distinction between the two terms,
suggesting that a birth cohort becomes a generation only when it develops
some shared sense of its social history and a shared identity (see Alwin,
McCammon, & Hofer, 2006).
Cohorts differ in size, and these differences affect opportunities for
education, work, and family life. For example, the baby boom that
followed World War II (1946 to 1964) in the United States produced a
large cohort. When this large cohort entered the labor force, surplus labor
drove wages down and unemployment up (Pearlin & Skaff, 1996;
Uhlenberg, 1996). Recently, researchers have been interested in the
Millennial generation, born from 1980 to the late 1990s, a generation that
has now surpassed baby boomers as the largest demographic group in the
United States. They have been found to have more student loan debt,
poverty, and unemployment when compared to the previous two
generations at the same age, and it is not yet clear how these circumstances
will affect the long-term trajectories of their lives (Drake, 2014).
Some observers suggest that cohorts develop strategies for the special
circumstances they face (Newman, 2008). They suggest that “boomers”—
the large cohort born from 1946 to 1964—responded to the economic
challenges of their demographic bubble by delaying or avoiding marriage,
postponing childbearing, having fewer children, and increasing the
presence of mothers in the labor force. However, one study found that
large cohorts in affluent countries have higher rates of suicide than smaller
cohorts, suggesting that not all members of large cohorts can find positive
strategies for coping with competition for limited resources (Stockard &
O’Brien, 2002). Other researchers have been interested in the adaptations
of Generation X—born from 1965 to 1979—and the Millennial generation.
Gen Xers grew up with fewer siblings and experienced higher rates of
parental divorce than the boomers. They have been less likely than earlier
generations to marry (Carlson, 2009). The Millennial generation is more
ethnically diverse than previous cohorts and grew up in a time of great
technological innovation. They have been found to be more tolerant of
diversity and more media-connected than earlier cohorts (Fry, Igielnik, &
Patten, 2018).
Exhibit 1.3 • Basic Concepts of the Life Course Perspective
One way to visualize the configuration of cohorts in a given society is by
using a population pyramid, a chart that depicts the proportion of the
population in each age group. As Exhibit 1.4 demonstrates, different
regions of the world have significantly different population pyramids. The
first pyramid shows the age distribution in the United States, one of the
Global North countries that has both low birth rates and low death rates.
The populations are getting older in these societies, with a declining
youthful population. These countries are becoming increasingly dependent
on immigration (typically more attractive to young adults) for a workforce
and taxpayers to support the aging population. It is predicted that 82% of
the projected U.S. population increase from 2005 to 2050 will be the result
of immigration (Passel & Cohn, 2008). Despite the economic necessity of
immigrants in societies with aging populations, in the United States, as in
many other affluent countries, there are strong anti-immigrant sentiments
and angry calls to close the borders.
The second pyramid in Exhibit 1.4 shows the age distribution for Uganda,
one of the less affluent Global South countries that have high birth rates
and shorter life expectancy, leading to a situation in which the majority of
people are young. In these countries, young people tend to overwhelm
labor markets and education systems, and national standards of living
decline. Some of these countries, such as the Philippines, have developed
policies that encourage out-migration, whereas other countries, such as
China, have developed policies to limit fertility.
Exhibit 1.4 also shows the ratio of males to females in each population
(women are represented on the left of each pyramid and men on the right).
A cohort’s sex ratio is the number of males per 100 females. Sex ratios
affect a cohort’s marriage rates, childbearing practices, crime rates, and
family stability. Although there are many challenges to getting reliable sex
ratio data, it is estimated that there are 105 males born for every 100
females in the world (Central Intelligence Agency, 2017). However,
several countries have a sex ratio at birth of more than 110 males per 100
females. It is thought that high sex ratios at birth represent a kind of sex
discrimination in some countries, where it might be attributed to sexselected abortion and infanticide. As you can see in Exhibit 1.4, sex ratios
decline across adulthood because males die at higher rates at every age.
Sex ratios can be further unbalanced by war (which leads to greater male
mortality) or death at childbirth (which leads to greater female mortality)
or to high rates of either male or female out-migration or in-migration.
Exhibit 1.4 • Population Pyramids for United States and Uganda
Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Population Division (2016).
A life course perspective is stagelike because it proposes that each person
experiences a number of transitions, or changes in roles and statuses that
represent a distinct departure from prior roles and statuses (Torres &
Young, 2016). Life is full of such transitions: starting school, entering
puberty, leaving school, getting a first job, leaving home, migrating,
retiring, and so on. Leaving the military, marrying and divorcing, and
rehabilitation from a stroke were important transitions for Michael
Bowling. Phoung Le has experienced a number of transitions, including
the beginning of war, becoming a mother, escaping, moving to a refugee
camp, and resettling in California. A transition is a process of gradual
change that usually involves acquiring or relinquishing roles, but it can be
any change in status, such as change in health status (Barban, 2013) or
citizenship status (Torres & Young, 2016). A transition can produce both
stress and opportunity (Benner, 2011).
Many transitions relate to family life: marriages, births, divorces,
remarriages, deaths. Each transition changes family statuses and roles and
generally is accompanied by family members’ exits and entrances. We can
see the dramatic effects of birth and death on the Suarez family as Maria
entered and Emma exited the family circle. Health professionals have
recently used the life course perspective, the concept of transitions in
particular, to understand role changes that occur in family caregiving of
older adults (Carpentier, Bernard, Grenier, & Guberman, 2010; Evans et
al., 2009). The concept of transitions is also increasingly used to study the
migration/immigration process (Gong, Xu, Fujishiro, & Takeuchi, 2011).
Transitions in collectivities other than the family, such as small groups,
communities, and formal organizations, also involve exits and entrances of
members as well as changes in statuses and roles. In college, for example,
students pass through in a steady stream. Some of them make the transition
from undergraduate to graduate student, and in that new status they may
take on the new role of teaching or research assistant.
Photo 1.2 The life course is full of transitions in roles and statuses;
graduation from college or university is an important life transition
that opens opportunities for future statuses and roles.
© ComStock/ThinkStock
Each life course transition is embedded in a trajectory that gives form to
the life course (Alwin, 2012). They are entry points to a new life phase. In
contrast with transitions, trajectories involve relatively stable long-term
processes and patterns of life, involving multiple transitions (Ruark et al.,
2016). For example, you may look forward to graduating from your
program of social work study. Graduation is a transition, but it is a
transition embedded in a career trajectory that will probably involve a
number of other transitions along the way, such as a licensing exam, job
changes, promotions, and perhaps periods of discontent or burnout. At
some point, you may look back on your career path and see patterns that at
the moment you can’t anticipate. Trajectories are best understood in the
rearview mirror. We do not necessarily expect trajectories to be a straight
line, but we do expect them to have some continuity of direction. Hser et
al. (2007) recommend the life course perspective for understanding drug
use trajectories (or careers) that may include onset of use, acceleration of
use, regular use, cessation of use, and relapse. Treatment may or may not
be included in this trajectory.
Because individuals and families live in multiple spheres, their lives are
made up of multiple, intertwined trajectories—such as educational
trajectories, family life trajectories, health trajectories, and work
trajectories (Leong, Eggerth, & Flynn, 2014). These strands are woven
together to form a life story. The interlocking trajectories of a life course
can be presented visually on separate lifeline charts or as a single lifeline.
See Exhibit 1.5 for instructions on completing a lifeline of interlocking
Life Events
Specific events predominate in the stories of Maria Suarez, Michael
Bowling, and Phoung Le: terrorist attack, a stroke, escape from the
homeland. A life event is a significant occurrence in a person’s life that
may produce serious and long-lasting effects. The term refers to the
happening itself and not to the transitions that occur because of the
happening. For example, loss of a spouse is a relatively common life event
in all societies. The death of the spouse is the life event, but it precipitates
a transition that involves changes in roles and statuses. When we reflect on
our own lives, most of us can quickly recall one or more major life events
that had long-lasting impact.
One common method for evaluating the effect of life events is the use of a
life events rating scale such as Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe’s
Schedule of Recent Events, also called the Social Readjustment Rating
Scale (Holmes, 1978; Holmes & Rahe, 1967). The Schedule of Recent
Events, along with the rating of the stress associated with each event,
appears in Exhibit 1.6. Holmes and Rahe constructed their schedule of
events by asking respondents to rate the relative degree of adjustment
required for different life events.
Inventories like the Schedule of Recent Events can remind us of some of
the life events that affect human behavior and life course trajectories, but
they also have limitations:
Life events inventories are not finely tuned. One suggestion is to
classify life events along several dimensions: major versus
minor, anticipated versus unanticipated, controllable versus
uncontrollable, typical versus atypical, desirable versus
undesirable, acute versus chronic. (Settersten & Mayer, 1997, p.
Most existing inventories are biased toward undesirable, rather than
desirable, events. Not all life events prompt harmful life changes. Indeed,
researchers have begun to distinguish between positive and negative life
events and to measure their different impacts on human behavior. For
example, one research team explored the impact of recalled positive and
negative life events on the psychological well-being of adolescents and
found that the impact of recalled events varies by personality type (Garcia
& Siddiqui, 2009). Another research team investigated how positive and
negative life events trigger weight loss and weight gain, finding that
weight loss is more associated with positive life events and weight gain
with negative life events (Ogden, Stavrinaki, & Stubbs, 2009). And
another research team examined the impact of positive and negative life
events on oral health, finding that negative life events are associated with
poor oral health, but no association exists between oral health and positive
life events (Brennan & Spencer, 2009).
Exhibit 1.5 • My Lifeline (Interlocking Trajectories)
Exhibit 1.6 • Life Change Events From the Holmes and Rahe
Schedule of Recent Events
Source: Holmes, T. H., & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The social
readjustment rating scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11(2),
However, the preponderance of research on the impact of life events on
human behavior focuses on the negative impact of negative life events, and
researchers still find life events scales to be useful tools, especially in light
of evolving research on developmental risk and protection. Some
researchers are trying to understand the mechanisms that link stressful life
events with immune system pathology (Herberth et al., 2008). Other often
researched topics include the role of negative life events in depressive
symptoms (Miklowitz & Johnson, 2009) and high blood pressure (Feeney,
Dooley, Finucane, & Kenny, 2015), and the impact of traumatic life events
on mental health (Mongillo, Briggs-Gowan, Ford, & Carter, 2009). One
research team found the Holmes-Rahe scale to be helpful in predicting
suicide risk in a Madrid, Spain, sample (Blasco-Fontecilla et al., 2012). A
Chinese research team used Zhang’s life events scale and found death of a
spouse and financial crisis to be associated with higher risk of cognitive
impairment in older adults (Deng et al., 2012).
Psychologists have long studied the short- and long-term impact of
stressful life events on child, adolescent, and adult functioning. More
recently, they have also studied the relationships among stressful life
events, biology, and personality. Here are three examples of that research.
A Swiss research team (Orth & Luciano, 2015) studied the relationships
among self-esteem (defined as one’s evaluation of one’s worth),
narcissism (characterized by grandiose self-concept, feelings of
superiority, and self-centeredness), and stressful life events. They found
that people high in narcissism have an increased likelihood of experiencing
a larger number of stressful life events. They also found that an increase in
stressful life events was predictive of lower self-esteem. A team of
international researchers (Salvatore et al., 2015) studied a U.S. sample to
investigate the interaction of stressful life events and the GABRA2 gene in
producing intergenerational continuity in parents’ and adolescents’
externalizing behavior (problem behavior directed toward the external
environment). They found that parental externalizing behavior predicts a
greater number of stressful life events, which in turn predicts higher levels
of adolescent externalizing behavior. However, they found that the pattern
of parental externalizing → stressful life events → adolescent
externalizing was stronger for those adolescents with a specific GABRA2
genotype. Another international research team (Hygen et al., 2015) studied
longitudinal data from a sample of children living in Norway to investigate
the relationships among child exposure to stressful life events, the COMT
gene, and aggression. They found that children with the COMT gene were
more likely to behave aggressively in reaction to stressful life events than
children without the gene. Taken together these three studies suggest that
both biological and personality factors play a role in how different people
respond differently to the same stressful life events.
Turning Points
It would be interesting to ask Michael Bowling and Phoung Le whether
they identify any turning points in their lives. We might be surprised by
their answers. Even though Maria Suarez was too young to think of
September 11, 2001, as a turning point in her life, there is no doubt that the
events of that day changed the course of her life. A turning point is a time
when major change occurs in the life course trajectory. We sometimes call
these “defining moments.” Turning points may occur in the individual life
course, but social science researchers also study turning points in social
systems such as families, cultures, organizations, economies, or
At the individual level, the turning point may involve a transformation in
how the person views the self in relation to the world and/or a
transformation in how the person responds to risk and opportunity
(Cappeliez, Beaupré, & Robitaille, 2008; Ferraro & Shippee, 2009). It
serves as a lasting change and not just a temporary detour. As significant
as they are to individuals’ lives, turning points usually become obvious
only as time passes (George, 2009). Yet in one Finnish study, 99% of
respondents in their mid-30s reported that there had been at least one
turning point in their lives; the average number of reported turning points
was three (Rönkä, Oravala, & Pulkkinen, 2003).
The addition of the concept of turning point is an important way that the
life course perspective departs from traditional developmental theory.
According to traditional developmental theory, the developmental
trajectory is more or less continuous, proceeding steadily from one phase
to another. But life course trajectories are seldom so smooth and
predictable. They involve many discontinuities, or sudden breaks, and
some special life events become turning points that produce a lasting shift
in the life course trajectory. Inertia tends to keep us on a particular
trajectory, but turning points add twists and turns or even reversals to the
life course. For example, we expect someone who is addicted to alcohol to
continue to organize his or her life around that substance unless some
event becomes a turning point for recovery (Hser et al., 2007).
Transitions and life events do not always produce the major change that
would constitute a turning point. However, either a transition or life event
may be perceived as a turning point as time passes. Longitudinal research
indicates that three types of life events can serve as turning points (Rutter,
1. Life events that either close or open opportunities
2. Life events that make a lasting change on the person’s environment
3. Life events that change a person’s self-concept, beliefs, or
Some events, such as migration to a new country, are momentous because
they qualify as all three types of events (Gong et al., 2011). Migration,
whether voluntary or involuntary, certainly makes a lasting change on the
environment in which the person lives; it may also close and open
opportunities and cause a change in self-concept and beliefs. Certainly,
that seems to be the case for Phoung Le. Keep in mind, however, that
individuals make subjective assessments of life events. The same type of
life event may be a turning point for one individual, family, or other
collectivity, but not for another. For example, one research team found that
an HIV diagnosis was a turning point for 37% of their sample of HIVpositive people but was not reported as a turning point for 63% of the
sample (Kremer, Ironson, & Kaplan, 2009). Another researcher found that
myocardial infarction can be a turning point because it leads to
reevaluation of attitudes about self, life, religion, and others (Baldacchino,
2011). It appears that Michael Bowling’s stroke was a turning point in the
same way.
We have been talking about life events as turning points, but slowermoving transitions can also serve as turning points depending on the
individual’s assessment of their importance. A transition can become a
turning point under five conditions (Hareven, 2000):
1. When the transition occurs simultaneously with a crisis or is followed
by a crisis
2. When the transition involves family conflict over the needs and wants
of individuals and the greater good of the family unit
3. When the transition is “off-time,” meaning that it does not occur at
the typical stage in life
4. When the transition is followed by unforeseen negative consequences
5. When the transition requires exceptional social adjustments
One research team interviewed older adults aged 60 to 87 about perceived
turning points in their lives and found that the most frequently reported
turning points involved health and family. The perceived turning points
occurred across the entire life course, but there was some clustering at
midlife (ages 45–64), a period in which 32.2% of the reported turning
points occurred (Cappeliez et al., 2008). Gender differences have been
found in reported turning points in samples of young adults as well as
samples of older adults, with women reporting more turning points in the
family domain and men reporting more turning points in the work domain
(Cappeliez et al., 2008; Rönkä et al., 2003). It is not clear whether this
gender difference will be manifested in future cohorts if women’s work
trajectories continue to become more similar to men’s. Researchers have
studied the turning points that lead women to leave abusive relationships
(Khaw & Hardesty, 2007) and the turning points in the caregiving careers
of Mexican American women who care for older family members (Evans
et al., 2009). This latter research identifies a “point of reckoning” turning
point when the caregiver recognizes the need for extensive caregiving and
reorganizes her life to accept responsibility for providing care.
Loss of a parent is not always a turning point, but when such a loss occurs
off-time, as it did with Maria Suarez, it is often a turning point. Emma
Suarez may not have thought of her decision to take a job in the World
Trade Center as a turning point for her family, because she could not
foresee the events of September 11, 2001.
Most life course pathways include multiple turning points, some that send
life trajectories off track and others that bring life trajectories back on
track. In fact, we could say that the intent of many social work
interventions is to get life course trajectories back on track (Olsson,
Strand, & Kristiansen, 2014). We do this when we plan interventions to
precipitate a turning point toward recovery for a client with an addiction.
Or we may plan an intervention to help a deteriorating community reclaim
its lost sense of community and spirit of pride. It is interesting to note that
many social service organizations have taken “Turning Point” for their
name. Criminal justice researchers have been interested in learning what
types of role transitions can become turning points in a criminal career,
leading to desisting from criminal activities. They have found that for
some offenders, marriage, military experience, employment, or becoming
a parent can precipitate such a turning point (Michalsen, 2011; Schroeder,
Giordano, & Cernkovitch, 2010). One researcher found that residential
change can be a turning point for parolees leaving prison (Kirk, 2012).
Researchers have also found that turning points can facilitate posttraumatic
growth for men with histories of child sexual abuse, although the exact
nature of these turning points is not clear (Easton, Coohey, Rhodes, &
Moorthy, 2013).
Critical Thinking Questions 1.2
Consider the life course story of either Michael Bowling or Phoung Le.
Based on the information you have, what do you think would be the chapter
titles if Michael Bowling wrote a book about his life? What would be the
chapter titles if Phoung Le wrote about her life? How about a book about
your own life to date: what would be the chapter titles of that book? Which
show up more in the chapter titles, life transitions (changes in roles and
statuses) or life events (significant happenings)?
Major Themes of the Life Course Perspective
Two decades ago, Glen Elder Jr. (1994) identified four dominant, and
interrelated, themes in the life course approach: interplay of huma…
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