Life Course Theory has Five Basic Principles:

  1. Life-Span Development:  Human development and aging are lifelong   processes.
  2. Agency:  Individuals construct their own lives through the choices and actions they take within the opportunities and constraints of history and social circumstance.
  3. Time and Place:  The life course of individuals is embedded and shaped by the historical times and places they experience over their lifetime.
  4. Timing:  The developmental antecedents and consequences of life transitions, events, and behavioral patterns vary according to their timing in a person’s life.
  5. Linked Lives:  Lives are lived interdependently and socio-historical influences are expressed through this network of shared relationships.

These principles are evident in Elder’s major works, including more than a dozen books and hundreds of journal articles.  As one example, he designed a similar reconfiguration of another historical, longitudinal data source — the Stanford-Terman study, which followed a group of gifted children for over eighty years — to assess the long-term impact on men’s lives of serving during World War II.  More recently, he partnered with Rand Conger to conduct a decade-long study of farm families living through the collapse of the agricultural economy in Iowa in the 1980s.  In both cases, Elder has driven home the simple but all important idea that our lives are lived in time and place.1

Handbook Chapters by Elder on Life Course Research:

Over 17 years Elder co-authored three chapters on the life course published in
The Handbook of Child Psychology. The second and third chapters build upon the prior ones:
Elder, G. H. Jr. 1998. The Life Course and Human Development. In R.M. Lerner (ed.) Volume1: Theories of Human Development: Contemporary Perspectives in William Damon (editor-in-chief), The Handbook of Child Psychology, 5th edition New York: Wiley.

Elder, G. H., Jr. & M. J. Shanahan. 2006. The Life Course and Human Development. In R.M. Lerner (ed.) Theoretical Models of Human Development, (Volume 1: The Handbook of Child Psychology, 6th edition). William Damon, series editor. New York: Wiley.

Elder, G.H., Jr., M. J. Shanahan, & J.H. Jennings. 2015. Human Development in Time and Place. M. Bornstein and T. Leventhal (eds.) Ecological Settings and Processes in Developmental Systems, Volume 4 of R.M. Lerner (eds) The Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science. New York; Wiley.

Other chapters co-authored by Elder in The Handbook of the Life Course:
Elder, G. H., Jr., M. K. Johnson & R. Crosnoe , 2003. The Emergence and Development of the Life Course. In Handbook of the Life Course, eds. J. Mortimer and M. J. Shanahan (H.Kaplan, series, editor) New York: Plenum Publishing.

Elder, G. H., Jr. & L.K. George. 2015. Age, Cohorts, and the Life Course”. Second edition, Handbook of the Life Course (eds.) M.J. Shanahan, J. Mortimer, & M.J. K. Springer.

Current Research:

American Lives in a New Century: The Oakland and Berkeley Data Archives at the Berkeley Institute of Human Development — Elder’s projects especially Children of the Great Depression and Living on the Edge.

Research Overview:


Life Course Studies — Elder directed this trainee and
research program up to 2010.

Families, Social Change, and Individual Lives


Life Course Studies Abroad

Research Data Archives:

Elder Dataverse Files


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