Karl Ulrich Mayer
New Directions in Life Course Research
Life courses are studied in sociology and neighboring fields as developmental processes, as culturally and normatively constructed life stages and age roles, as biographical meanings, as aging processes, as outcomes of institutional regulation and policies, as demographic accounts or as mere empirical connectivity across the life course. This review has two aims. One aim is to report on recent trends of research in life course sociology focusing on empirical studies published in the year 2000 and after. The other aim is to assess the overall development of the field. Major advances can be observed in four areas: national individual-level longitudinal data bases; the impact of institutional contexts on life courses; life courses under conditions of societal ruptures; and health across the life course. In four other areas advancements have been less pronounced: internal dynamics and causal linkages across life; the interaction of development and socially constructed life courses; theory development and new methods. Overall, life course sociology still has far to go to reach its full potential.