Putting It Together: Lifespan Development

Woman reading to two young children

Lifespan development is the scientific study of how and why people change or remain the same over time. As we are beginning to see, lifespan development involves multiple domains and many ages and stages that are important in and of themselves, but that are also interdependent and dynamic and need to be viewed holistically. There are many influences on lifespan development at individual and societal levels (including genetics); cultural, generational, economic, and historical contexts are often significant. And how developmental research is designed and data are collected, analyzed, and interpreted can affect what is discovered about human development across the lifespan.

In this module, we mentioned the “Up” Series several times, which followed individuals beginning from age 7 on through, in the most recent program, age 63. What can we learn about lifespan development from the interviews conducted every seven years and depicted in the series? One analyst summarized the life lessons from the series as the following:

  1. Life goes on.
  2. Count your blessings.
  3. Relationships matter—a lot.
  4. Money also matters—but only up to a point.
  5. Don’t compare yourself to others.[1]

Would you agree or disagree with these conclusions? Why or why not? Keep in mind what you’ve learned about variables of culture, social class, time in history, cohort, and gender. Do you see examples of normative age-graded, normative history-graded, and nonnormative influences on the development in the “Up” Series? How much have the individuals changed and how much have they stayed the same? Has social class defined them and the trajectories of their lives? If you were to conduct your own longitudinal research, what would you aim to discover? Keep these questions in mind as we continue to dig deeper into the study of the lifespan.


  1. Smith, J.A. (2013, March 9). Five life lessons from "56 Up." Greater Good Magazine.

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Lifespan Development by Lumen Learning 2019 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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