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Socialization: The Life Course

Socialization: The Life Course

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize how socialization impacts people at different stages of the life course, including childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, I hope you're having a great day. In this lesson, we're going to talk about socialization and the life course. Our biology and our culture combine as we age to delineate stages of life-- childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, et cetera. These stages, their social constructions-- will explain what that means in a second-- but they really combine. They're substantiated by biology and culture to dictate nice, little stages. And each stage has different challenges, et cetera.

So in this lesson, we're going to talk about each of these stages, starting with childhood. Well, the first stage in the life course is childhood. This is roughly the first 12 years of your life from the time you're born till you're 12.

In the United States, we put a premium on "innocence" of the child. We don't want the child to grow up too fast. You've all heard those expressions. So we value childhood as a time of carefree innocence and exploration, exploring the world. And we pity those children who have had to face adult stresses and problems and troubles in these crucially formative years. We want childhood to be a time of unbridled play, exploration, and learning free from any of the stresses of adult life. But you see, as I mentioned, these stages are socially constructed.

This is a social construction of the idea of childhood. In other parts of the world, childhood like this doesn't exist. It's different. A lot of places in the world, children have to work. They don't get to have this innocence and exploration period that wealthy countries have for their children.

The second stage of the life course is adolescence. And that's typically associated with the teenage years, 13 to 19. Adolescence is a time of confusion, a feeling in between childhood on the one hand and adulthood on the other. You're not children still, but you're also not yet adults. So this can cause a lot of confusion for the child or the adolescent negotiating these two conflicting patterns. So you hear the phrase "angsty teen."

Well, it's because they're living through all of these contradictions in roles. They don't know yet how to behave, so they have to figure it out. This is a time of figuring out your role.

The next and by far largest stage of our lives is what we call adulthood. Roughly, 18 to 60. It's the big stage. Our identities, personalities, world views, everything like this has largely been set. And we can pursue our long-term goals in terms of our career, hobbies, family, children.

Of course, jarring events can happen that will disrupt our more stable sense of self, like when we get a divorce or if someone dies that we're close to, a spouse or child or something. Or we can become befallen by serious illness. These can disrupt our stable sense of selves. But by far, overwhelmingly, adults are more stable than children and adolescents.

With this stability then, and all these multiple roles, adults can feel stressed because they have to juggle multiple roles. Often, adults are workers or professionals, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, and friends all at the same time. So adulthood is a game of juggling different sets and different types of social relationships.

The final stage is old age, over 60 and beyond. This is a really growing number in advanced societies because medical and technological advancements with the Industrial Revolution have made it possible for people to live much longer. The Industrial Revolution has given us continually longer life expectancies. So it becomes an important question then what society will do with its aging population. And how elderly people are treated in society.

There's a particular academic discipline, in fact, that is concerned with studying the aging and the elderly, both biologically and socially. And we call this gerontology. It looks at elderly people as a cohort, which if you're not familiar with that term, a cohort is a group of people united by some common characteristic, like age, occupation, et cetera. But typically, we use age to define cohort.

But we don't always treat elderly people as nicely as we should. For instance in American society, we privilege youth over age. We all want to stay young, stay active, stay wrinkle free with no gray hair. And for men, with all of our hair. To grow old is looked upon with scorn or negativity, sometimes.

Seniors leave the workforce, then they must be tended to by the younger generation. So all of this combines to amount in a cultural privilege of youth over aging. And can lead to what we call ageism, which is the discrimination against elderly people and the aging in society.

But on the other side of the coin, we could celebrate the elderly and organize our social life around their wisdom and their influence. If we did this, we'd be living in what's called a gerontocracy, which is a social structure in which the elderly have the most power, wealth, and prestige.

The Industrial Revolution kind of did away with gerontocracy. Gerontocracy is more common in traditional, more land-based societies where older people are seen as much wiser. They own more. They've lived a lot longer. And it's not easy to live as long as we do now. So these people were respected for their wisdom and their old age.

Well, thank you for joining me. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.

Terms to Know

A socially constructed period of the life course that is associated with the teenage years that is often confusing to navigate because it is caught between childhood and adulthood.


A socially constructed period of the life course that comes after the teenage years and goes until about age sixty. This is the period where most of our accomplishments take place, including raising a family and pursuing a career.


Discrimination against the elderly and the ageing in society.


A socially constructed period of the life course that goes from birth to approximately age 12.


A group of people that share some common characteristic like age.


A social arrangement in which the elderly have the most power, wealth, and prestige.


The study of the biological and social aspects of ageing and the elderly.

Old Age

A socially constructed period of the life course that refers to the later years in life, generally those after sixty.


The lifelong process of learning one's culture and of internalizing the norms and behaviors considered appropriate of adults in society.