Methods of Life Course Research

  • George P. Moschis


Researchers who employ the life course paradigm to investigate various phenomena can use both positivistic methodologies, which are grounded in the assumption of causal relations, as well as humanistic approaches capable of helping enrich their understanding of various phenomena (Giele and Elder 1998a; Shanahan et al. 2016). Several techniques of data analysis, both quantitative and qualitative, can be used to investigate consumption-related issues within the life course paradigm (for a review of life course methods, see Giele and Elder 1998a; Mortimer and Shanahan 2003; Shanahan et al. 2016). This chapter presents research designs appropriate for life course research and explains the main methods of analysis. It gives illustrations of recently emerged quantitative methods, with special emphasis on event history analysis, and several qualitative or humanistic (interpretive) methods. Also, this chapter provides information on limitations and potential applications of analytic methods that are yet to be widely used in life course studies. Additional illustrations of applications of life course methods are shown in later chapters.


  1. Adler, N., Bush, N. R., & Pantell, M. S. (2012). Rigor, vigor, and the study of health disparities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(Suppl. 2), 17154–17159.Google Scholar
  2. Allison, P. D. (1984). Event history analysis. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Atchley, R. C. (1987). Aging: Continuity and change (2nd ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing.Google Scholar
  4. Axim, W. G., Pierce, L., & Ghimire, D. (1999). Innovations in life history calendar applications. Social Science Research, 28(3), 243–264.Google Scholar
  5. Balkwell, C. (1985). An attitudinal correlate of the timing of a major life event: The case of morale in widowhood. Family Relations, 34(4), 577–581.Google Scholar
  6. Barnhart, M., & Peñaloza, L. (2013). Who are you calling old? Negotiating old age identity in the elderly consumption ensemble. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(6), 1133–1153.Google Scholar
  7. Belk, R. W., Fischer, E., & Kozinets, R. V. (2013). Depth interview. In R. W. Belk, E. Fischer, & R. V. Kozinets (Eds.), Qualitative consumer and marketing research (pp. 31–57). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  8. Belli, R. F. (1998). The structure of autobiographical memory and the event history calendar: Potential improvements in the quality of retrospective reports in surveys. Memory, 6(4), 383–406.Google Scholar
  9. Blane, D. B. (1996). Collecting retrospective data: Development of a reliable method and a pilot study of its use. Social Science & Medicine, 42(5), 751–757.Google Scholar
  10. Blossfeld, H. P., & Rohwer, G. (1995). Techniques of event history modeling: New approaches to causal analysis. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  11. Campbell, R. T., & O’Rand, A. M. (1988). Settings and sequences: The heuristics of aging research. In J. Birren & V. Bengtson (Eds.), Emergent theories of aging (pp. 58–79). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  12. Chatters, L. M., & Taylor, R. J. (1989). Life problems and coping strategies of older black adults. Social Work, 34(4), 313–319.Google Scholar
  13. Churchill, G. A., & Moschis, G. P. (1979). Television and interpersonal influences on adolescent consumer learning. Journal of Consumer Research, 6(1), 23–35.Google Scholar
  14. Clausen, J. A. (1998). Life reviews and life stories. In J. Z. Giele & G. H. Elder Jr. (Eds.), Methods of life course research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (pp. 189–212). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Cohen, L. H. (1988). Measurement of life events. In L. H. Cohen (Ed.), Life events and psychological functioning (pp. 11–30). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Cohen, J., Cohen, P., West, S. G., & Aiken, L. S. (2003). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis in the behavioral sciences (3rd ed.). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  17. Elder, G. H. (1998). Life course and human development. In W. Damon & R. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (pp. 939–991). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  18. Elder, G. H., & Kirkpatrick, M. J. (2002). The life course and aging: Challenges, lessons, and new directions. In R. A. Settersen (Ed.), Invitation to the life course: Toward new understanding of later life, Part II (pp. 49–81). Amityville, NY: Baywood.Google Scholar
  19. Elder, G. H., George, L. K., & Shanahan, M. J. (1996). Psychosocial stress over the life course. In H. B. Kaplan (Ed.), Psychosocial stress: Perspectives on structure, theory, life course, and methods (pp. 247–292). Orlando: Academic.Google Scholar
  20. Eysenck, H. J. (1983). Stress, disease and personality: The inoculation effect. In C. Cooper (Ed.), Stress research (pp. 121–146). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  21. Featherman, L., & Peterson, T. (1985). Markers of aging: Modeling the clocks that time us, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, New Orleans, Center for Demography and Ecology, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.Google Scholar
  22. Fraser, M. W., Jenson, J. M., Kiefer, D., & Popuang, C. (1994). Statistical methods for the analysis of critical life events. Social Work Research, 18(3), 163–177.Google Scholar
  23. Freeman, M. (1984). History, narrative, and life-span developmental knowledge. Human Development, 27(1), 1–19.Google Scholar
  24. Gentry, J. W., Baker, S. M., & Kraft, F. B. (1994). The role of possessions in creating, maintaining, and preserving one’s identity: Variation over the life course. Advances in Consumer Research, 22, 413–418.Google Scholar
  25. George, L. K. (1989). Stress, social support, and depression over the life-course. In K. S. Markides & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Aging, stress and health (pp. 241–267). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  26. George, L. K. (1993). Sociological perspectives on life transitions. Annual Review of Sociology, 19, 353–373.Google Scholar
  27. Giele, J. Z., & Elder, G. H. (Eds.). (1998a). Methods of life course research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  28. Giele, J. Z., & Elder, G. H. (1998b). Life course research: Development of a field. In J. Z. Giele & G. H. Elder (Eds.), Methods of life course research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (pp. 5–27). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  29. Harrison, R. L., Veeck, A., & Gentry, J. W. (2011). A life course perspective of family meals via the life grid method. Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, 3(2), 214–233.Google Scholar
  30. Helsen, K., & Schmittlein, D. (1993). Analyzing duration times in marketing: Evidence of effectiveness of hazard models. Marketing Science, 11(4), 395–414.Google Scholar
  31. Henry, B., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Langley, J., & Silva, P. A. (1994). On the ‘remembrance of things past’: A longitudinal evaluation of the retrospective method. Psychological Assessment, 6(2), 92–101.Google Scholar
  32. Herbert, T. B., & Cohen, S. (1996). Measurement issues in research on psychosocial stress. In H. B. Kaplan (Ed.), Psychosocial stress: Perspectives on structure, theory, life course, and methods (pp. 293–333). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  33. Hermanowicz, J. C. (2016). Longitudinal qualitative research. In M. L. Shanahan, J. T. Mortimer, & M. K. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of the life course: Volume II (pp. 491–514). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  34. Hetherington, E. M., & Baltes, P. B. (1988). Child psychology and life-span development. In E. M. Hetherington, R. M. Lerner, & M. Perlmutter (Eds.), Child development life-span perspective (pp. 1–19). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  35. Hughes, D. C., Blazer, D. G., & George, L. K. (1988). Age differences in life events: A multivariate controlled analysis. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 27(3), 207–220.Google Scholar
  36. John, D. R. (1999). Consumer socialization of children: A retrospective look at twenty-five years of research. Journal of Consumer Research, 26(3), 183–213.Google Scholar
  37. Kanner, A. D., Coyne, J., Schaefer, C., & Lazarus, R. (1981). Comparison of two modes of stress measurement: Daily hassles and uplifts versus major life event. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 4(1), 1–39.Google Scholar
  38. Karweit, N., & Kertzer, D. (1998). Data organization and conceptualization. In J. Z. Giele & G. H. Elder (Eds.), Methods of life course research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (pp. 81–97). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  39. Kim, K. J., Conger, R. D., Elder, G. H., & Lorenz, F. O. (2003). Reciprocal influences between stressful life events and adolescent internalizing and externalizing problems. Child Development, 74, 127–143.Google Scholar
  40. Lee, E., Mathur, A., Kwaifatt, C., & Moschis, G. P. (2012). The timing and context of consumer decisions: Insights from the life course paradigm. Marketing Letters, 23(3), 793–805.Google Scholar
  41. Lerner, R. M. (1988). Personality and development: A life-span perspective. In E. M. Hetherington, R. M. Lerner, & M. Perlmutter (Eds.), Child development in life-span perspective (pp. 21–46). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  42. Lewit, E. M., Coate, D., & Grossman, M. (1981). The effects of government regulation on teenage smoking. Journal of Law and Economics, 25(3), 273–298.Google Scholar
  43. Lowenthal, M., Thurnher, M., & Chiriboga, D. A. (1975). Four stages of life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  44. Macmillan, R., & Fustenberg, F. (2016). The logic and practice of growth curve analysis: Modeling strategies for life course dynamics. In M. L. Shanahan, J. T. Mortimer, & M. K. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of the life course: Volume II (pp. 541–570). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  45. Mathur, A., Moschis, G. P., & Lee, E. (2008). A longitudinal study of the effects of life status changes on changes in consumer preferences. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 36(2), 234–246.Google Scholar
  46. Mayer, K. U., & Tuma, N. B. (1990). Life course research and event history analysis: An overview. In K. U. Mayer & N. B. Tuma (Eds.), Event history analysis in life course research (pp. 3–20). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  47. Merton, R. (1988). Some thoughts on the concept of sociological autobiography. In M. W. Riley (Ed.), Sociological lives (pp. 17–21). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  48. Mick, D., & Buhl, C. (1992). A meaning-based model of advertising experiences. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(3), 317–338.Google Scholar
  49. Minowa, Y., & Belk, R. (in press). Qualitative approaches to life course research: Linking life story to gift giving. Journal of Global Scholars of Marketing (Moschis tribute special issue).Google Scholar
  50. Minowa, Y., & Belk, R. W. (2018). Romantic gift giving of mature consumers: A storgic love paradigm. In Y. Minowa & R. W. Belk (Eds.), Gifts, romance, and consumer culture (pp. 37–64). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  51. Minowa, Y., Khomenko, O., & Belk, R. W. (2011). Social change and gendered gift-giving rituals: A historical analysis of valentine’s day in Japan. Journal of Macromarketing, 31(1), 41–56.Google Scholar
  52. Monroe, S. M., & Peterman, A. M. (1988). Life stress and psychopathology. In L. H. Cohen (Ed.), Life events and psychological functioning (pp. 31–63). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  53. Moody, H. R. (1988). Toward a critical gerontology: The contribution of humanities to theories of aging. In J. E. Birren & V. I. Bengston (Eds.), Emergent theories of aging (pp. 19–40). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  54. Moore, R., & Brand, J. E. (2016). Causality in life course studies. In M. L. Shanahan, J. T. Mortimer, & M. K. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of the life course: Volume II (pp. 515–540). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  55. Mortimer, J. T., & Shanahan, M. J. (Eds.). (2003). Handbook of the life course. New York: Plenum Publishers.Google Scholar
  56. Moschis, G. P. (1987). Consumer socialization: A life-cycle perspective. Boston: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  57. Moschis, G. P. (2000). Consumer behavior in later life: Multidisciplinary approaches and methodological issues. Research in Consumer Behavior, 9, 103–128.Google Scholar
  58. Moschis, G. P. (2007). Stress and consumer behavior. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 35(3), 430–344.Google Scholar
  59. Moschis, G. P., Lee, E., Mathur, A., Rigdon, E., & Kwai Fatt, C. (2015). A study of delayed purchases of enabling products: The case of hearing aids. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 39(4), 350–366.Google Scholar
  60. Murrell, S. A., Norris, F. H., & Grote, C. (1988). Life events in older adults. In L. H. Cohen (Ed.), Life events and psychological functioning (pp. 96–122). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  61. Norris, F. H., & Walker, M. K. (1980). Review of the literature on project variables and their candidate measures. Louisville: University of Louisville, Urban Studies Center.Google Scholar
  62. O’Guinn, T. C., & Faber, R. J. (1989). Compulsive buying: A phenomenological exploration. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(2), 147–157.Google Scholar
  63. Parke, R. D. (1988). Families in life span perspective: A multilevel developmental approach. In E. M. Hetherington, R. M. Lerner, & M. Perlmutter (Eds.), Child development in life span perspective (pp. 159–190). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  64. Pearlin, L. I., & Skaff, M. M. (1996). Stress and the life course: A paradigmatic alliance. The Gerontologist, 36(2), 239–247.Google Scholar
  65. Pechman, C., Levine, L., Loughlin, S., & Leslie, F. (2005). Impulsive and self-conscious: Adolescents’ vulnerability to advertising and promotion. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, 24(2), 202–221.Google Scholar
  66. Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Lee, J., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 879–890.Google Scholar
  67. Reker, G. T., & Wong, P. T. (1988). Aging as an individual process: Toward a theory of personal meaning. In J. E. Birren & V. L. Bengtson (Eds.), Emergent theories of aging (pp. 214–246). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  68. Rentz, J. O., & Reynolds, F. D. (1983). Separating age, cohort, and period effects in consumer behavior. Journal of Marketing Research, 20(1), 12–20.Google Scholar
  69. Rodgers, W., & Hertzog, A. R. (1987). Interviewing older adults: The accuracy of factual information. Journal of Gerontology, 42(4), 387–394.Google Scholar
  70. Salthouse, T. (2010). Major issues in cognitive aging. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Saphir, M. N., & Chaffee, S. H. (2002). Adolescents’ contributions to family communication. Patterns. Human Communication Research, 28(1), 86–108.Google Scholar
  72. Scott, J., & Alwin, D. (1998). Retrospective versus prospective measurement of life histories in longitudinal research. In J. Z. Giele & G. H. Elder (Eds.), Methods of life course research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (pp. 98–127). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  73. Shanahan, M. L., Mortimer, J. T., & Johnson, M. K. (2016). Introduction: Life course studies—trends, challenges, and future directions. In M. L. Shanahan, J. T. Mortimer, & M. K. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of the life course: Volume II (pp. 1–23). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  74. Starr, J. M. (1982–1983). Toward a social phenomenology of aging: Studying the self-process of biographical work. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 16 (4), 255–270.Google Scholar
  75. Tausig, M. (1982). Measuring life events. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 23(1), 52–64.Google Scholar
  76. Thompson, C. J., Locander, W. B., & Pollio, H. R. (1989). Putting consumer experience back into consumer research: The philosophy and method of existential-phenomenology. Journal of Consumer Research, 16(2), 133–146.Google Scholar
  77. Thornberry, T. P. (2016). Three generation studies: Challenges and promise. In M. L. Shanahan, J. T. Mortimer, & M. K. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of the life course: Volume II (pp. 571–596). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  78. Turner, J. R., & Avison, W. R. (1992). Innovations in the measurement of life stress: Crisis theory and the significance of event resolution. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 33(1), 36–50.Google Scholar
  79. Vuchinich, S., Teachman, J., & Crosby, L. (1991). Families and hazard rates that change over time: Some methodological issues in analyzing transitions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 53(4), 898–912.Google Scholar
  80. Wallendorf, M., & Brucks, M. (1993). Introspection in consumer research: Implementation and implications. Journal of Consumer Research, 20(3), 339–359.Google Scholar
  81. Wells, W. D. (1993). Discovery-oriented consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(4), 489–504.Google Scholar
  82. Yamaguchi, K. (1991). Event history analysis. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  83. Yang, Y. (2008). Social inequalities in happiness in the United States, 1972 to 2004: An age-period-cohort analysis. American Sociological Review, 73(2), 204–226.Google Scholar
  84. Yang, Z., & Netemeyer, R. G. (2015). Differential effects of parenting strategies on child smoking trajectories: A longitudinal assessment over twelve years. Journal of Business Research, 68(6), 1273–1282.Google Scholar
  85. Yoon, C., Cole, C. A., & Lee, M. P. (2009). Consumer decision making and aging: Current knowledge and future directions. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19(1), 2–16.Google Scholar
  86. Zautra, A. J., Guarnaccia, C. A., Reich, J. W., & Dohrenwend, B. P. (1988). The contribution of small events to stress and distress. In L. G. Cohen (Ed.), Life events and psychological functioning (pp. 123–148). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • George P. Moschis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MarketingGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations