What Life-Course Perspectives Offer the Study of Aging and Health

This chapter demonstrates the benefits of integrating life-course principles and methods into the study of aging, social factors, and illness. It begins with a brief overview of some of the essential characteristics shared by life-course perspectives. The chapter summarizes a major theoretical paradigm—;;the stress process—;;underlying a large proportion of research on social factors and illness. It presents some final thoughts about options for integrating life-course perspectives into the study of social factors and illness. Life-course trajectories are simply long-term patterns of change and stability. The social causation hypothesis posits that social factors are the causal agents—;;that social factors affect health both directly and, in some cases, indirectly through more proximate causal agents. The impact of social factors on long-term patterns of health and illness can be studied only if trajectory-based analyses are used. Investigators interested in the relationships between social factors and health implicitly subscribe to a social causation model.
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