The Changing Social Construction of Age and the Life Course: Precarious Identity and Enactment of “Early” and “Encore” Stages of Adulthood

Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


This chapter examines trends in the social construction of age, noting increasing differentiation historically in early life, which now extends across the life span. Such differentiation is accentuated by the pace of social change, disruptive to existing, seemingly “natural” norms and expectations about age and life course stages. The unraveling of age-graded expectations invariably generates ambiguities in age-linked identities and behavior. Growing recognition of “early adulthood” and “encore adulthood” results from the mismatch between outdated expectations and new economic and demographic realities, as well as shifts in the goals, values and preferences of individuals. Changing structural contexts and individual orientations produce striking cross-cohort variations in the experiences of individuals of the same age in different time periods, and in the linked lives of those attached to them. Finally, we point to increasing diversity within age categories and cohorts that is accompanied by cumulative inequalities across all phases of life.


Adolescence Early adulthood Youth Encore adulthood Retirement Frail elderly Gender Linked lives Social construction of life stages Cumulative inequality 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Life Course Center and Department of SociologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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