Theoretical and Technical Orientations Toward Longitudinal Research in the Social Sciences

Frans Willekens


This paper views life as a developmental process, embedded in a multilevel
context. It addresses a number of theoretical, modelling and measurement issues at a relatively abstract level, integrating insights from different disciplines that study developmental processes. At the theoretical level, the usefulness of the life course as an organising principle is discussed. At the analytical level, the main building blocks of the life course are identified, with the life event being the unit of analysis. Each life event has three core aspects: the time at occurrence, the likelihood of occurrence (risk of experiencing the event), and the reason for occurrence. Notions of time, risk, exposure, uncertainty, and interaction are discussed. These basic concepts neatly connect life course theory and life history models.

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