Life-Course Theories in
Emerging Adulthood
Individuals and Families: Diverse Perspectives
Unit 2 – Chapter 4
Life-Course Theories
• Describe changes in behaviour in age-graded patterns as
individuals mature
• Behaviour of individuals results from inner psychological
changes in response to life circumstances
• Sometimes called developmental theories
• Life-course theories are created by analyzing the behaviours
of large groups of individuals over a long period of time
• Life-course theories began to appear in the 1950s
• Life-course theories reflect the historical and cultural context
in which the researchers conducted their studies
Examples of Life-Course Theories
Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Life
Klaus Riegel’s Dimensions of Development
Jane Loevinger’s Theory of Ego Development
The Family Life-Cycle Framework
Leonard Pearlin’s Theory of Psychological Distress
Daniel Levinson’s Theory of the Seasons of Life
Jeffrey Arnett’s Theory of Emerging Adulthood
Erikson’s Eight Stages of Life
• A series of eight stages in which an individual’s identity
emerges and matures
• Each stage presents a dilemma that must be overcome
or the person might face difficulties later in life
• Psychological and social clocks impact progression
through stages
• Dilemma during adolescence and young adulthood is
defined as “identity versus role confusion”
• Dilemma during young adulthood is “intimacy versus
Identity vs. Role Confusion
The task is to define who you are and who
you will be in the future
There are many decisions to be made
during this time that will impact on the
Until they define who they are, adolescents
and young adults will remain confused
about the role they will play in adulthood
By resolving the dilemma, individuals
acquire the strength of fidelity—the ability
to live by society’s standards
Intimacy vs. Isolation
Intimacy is being able to merge
yourself with another without losing
Intimacy is the ability to trust a person
enough to reveal your personal
thoughts and feelings to them
Includes relationships with all people—
friends, dating partner, etc.
Erikson believes that relationships
would be shallow without an identity
Klaus Riegel’s Dimensions of Development
Four interrelated internal and external
dimensions of development:
• Internal psychological dimension: emotional maturity,
independence, maturity of mental processes
• Internal biological dimension: physical and sexual
• External cultural-sociological dimension: expectations
and opportunities defined by society
• External environmental dimension: physical, economic,
and political environment in which one lives
Klaus Riegel’s Dimensions of Development
• Development occurs when a change
in one dimension requires an
adjustment in one or more of the
other dimensions
• Riegel’s theory integrates the
physical and psychological
dimensions with the external social
and environmental dimensions
Jane Loevinger’s Theory of Ego Development
• Identified 10 stages in the formation of the ego
• Full ego development is described as having an
autonomous self
• Loevinger sees the search for understanding of ego (or
identity) as the centre of human development
• Autonomous self: being self-reliant person who
accepts oneself and others as multifaceted and unique
Three stages of Loevinger’s Theory
of Ego Development are relevant to
the adolescent and young adult:
• Conformist stage: view life in simple
stereotypical ways
• Self-aware stage: begin to understand
and accept individual differences
• Conscientious stage: able to
appreciate others as individuals
Jane Loevinger’s Theory of Ego Development
• Loevinger believes individuals
require a clear sense of themselves
before they can develop intimate
relationships with others
• Progress from one stage to the next
is determined by an individual’s
psychological clock, not by
chronological age or the social
The Family Life-Cycle Framework
• Describes early adulthood as the time
when individuals are launched from their
families of origin
• Parents and youth must separate from
one another = change in
relationship/new roles
• Family of Orientation  Family of
Three tasks of the young adult:
• Forming an identity separate
from family of origin
• Making a commitment to career
or workplace role
• Developing intimate
relationships with peers outside
of family
Leonard Pearlin’s Theory of
Psychological Distress
• Life course of continuous change
required by distress
• Distress: a stimulus that requires a
psychological response
• Young adults might experience distress
as the individual acts to achieve their
dreams formed in adolescence
The path one takes is determined by four
• Individual characteristics
• Range of skills an individual has
for coping with stress
• Availability of social support
• Nature and timing of stress that
requires a response
Similarities in Life-Course Theories
Because individuals change in
response to similar external
circumstances and stresses that
affect their lives (the social clock)
Individuals can anticipate and
prepare for these role changes (e.g.,
by socializing)
Cohort effect – changes in behaviour
result from socialized responses to a
common external social clock, not
age-linked inner changes
Daniel Levinson’s Theory of the
Seasons of Life
• Life course evolves through seasons
lasting about 25 years each
• From age 17–22, the adult season begins
• Individuals prepare for an adult life
structure by separating from family of
Early Life Structure for Early Adulthood
From age 22 to 28, individual enters the adult world—time
for building one’s life structure:
Forming a Dream and giving it a place in one’s
life structure
Forming an occupation
Forming mentor relationships
Forming love relationships, marriage, and
The Dream
The Dream is the individual’s sense of self in
the adult world and is the core of the life
The nature of the Dream will vary but most
include a combination of occupation, family,
and community roles
From ages 22 to 28, young adults build and
test a preliminary life structure to attain their
Age-30 Transition
From age 28–33, individuals re-evaluate the
life structures formed in their 20s
“Am I living my dream? If I am to change my
life ... I must now make a start, for soon it will
be too late.”
This is a time to “get real” before “settling
down” in their 30s
Jeffrey Arnett’s Theory of Emerging
• Distinct stage in the life course between
adolescence and adulthood
• Arnett argues individuals from 18–25
years of age in industrialized countries are
not yet adults but no longer adolescents
• Emerging adults focus identity exploration
in a variety of possible life directions in
love, work, and worldviews
Move in and out of the parental
Have not achieved financial
Individuals are semiautonomous
Most young adults do not feel like
they have reached adult status
Opportunities for identity exploration
separate from and prior to making
decisions for adulthood
Identity Exploration
• Young adults focus their
exploration in three areas:
• Seems that there is more time
for exploration and the
opportunity for experimentation
now than in the past
Consider the following:
Divide into 8 groups
Each group will examine one of
the photo/figures in Chapter 4
(pages 99–111)
Consider the questions presented
with each photo. Refer to
information from this presentation
and the textbook when responding
Share your responses with the

Leonard Pearlin's Theory of Psychological Distress