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Aging: The Bio-Ecological Model of Development

Introduction

The concept of age has now been discussed on many levels and from a variety of angles to discover whether there really is a possibility to define one properly. Although the vast majority of people perceive age as the timeframe one has existed, there is a series of major contributions to this notion. Over the last years, researchers from all over the world have been paying close attention to the social, cultural, and physical factors that influence a person’s age. In the course of this paper, a particular case study will be analyzed on the subject of different age perceptions on the basis of various definitions and theories. The central theoretical foundation of the study will concern Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological theory of human development.

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The Variety of Age Perceptions

Each individual, regardless of age group, cannot be unanimously credited to fall into a certain category. A series of precedents that may potentially influence one’s lifestyle is to be taken into consideration, as it is rarely happening nowadays that one’s biological peculiarities perfectly match both intellectual and social skills. Hence, in the course of this discussion, the example of 60-year-old Peter will help get acquainted with the existing approaches to age calculation.

The first option is known as chronological age perception. This notion can be defined as the age of a person as measured from birth to a particular date at present. While chronological age seems to be extremely synonymic to biological age, it is more concerned with the external factors that deal with location peculiarities (1). For this reason, sociologists frequently address this notion when dealing with a state’s demographic rate creation. Speaking of Peter’s case, his chronological age is claimed to be sixty years old.

When dealing with the notions of physical and biological age, it is important to define how to differentiate these seemingly identical terms. To begin with, while chronological, physical, and biological age is calculated in the same way, estimating the age measured from the birthday, all of these notions have a different context. The physical age, in this situation, constitutes the age concerning physical abilities an individual might have on a certain life stage. The biological age is, then, more health and body-oriented. Regarding this, Peter’s physical age would also be marked as a 60-year-old man.

The following option can be considered as the opposite of the terms explained above due to it having distant relation to the time a person was born. One’s psychological age is determined by the way a person feels regardless of the exact date of birth. Such a perception may vary greatly, claiming older psychological age for the youth and being significantly diminished by the older adults. As controversial as it may be, the older people get, the more optimistic they tend to become when speaking of their mental state and life expectancy. According to the statistics, adults tend to claim they feel younger than their biological age by at least 20% (2). The percentage may even increase over the years, but in Peter’s case, such a number would be appropriate due to his balanced aging process. Thus, Peter’s psychological age can be estimated as forty-eight years old with a fine error.

Finally, as it may be understood from the title, the notion of social age stands for the age by which one gains a particular position in the social environment in which he or she exists. In this case, with age, an individual obtains a whole new perspective of a life cycle and aspects of responsibilities and duties predetermined by each of these stages (1). Speaking of Peter, the men over sixty are, in most cases, retired, having already served their labor duty to the community. Peter, in this case, is, by all means, an average representative of the elderly social group while enjoying his retirement. However, being socially inactive, his age perception may be distorted and considered older. Hence, Peter’s social age seems to have reached its early seventies.

Age- and History-Graded Influences

Throughout one’s life experiences, there usually exists a variety of external factors that are capable of affecting the quality of this life. One of the major aspects of such influence is constituted by age-graded peculiarities. These influences can be defined as certain markers a person is supposed to overcome in the course of a lifetime. Some of the most culturally universal are primary, secondary, higher education, work, family planning, and retirement. Being an older adult, Peter has already lived through the major staging points, finding himself on the stage of retirement. In terms of this timeframe, many individuals find themselves having some health issues and dedicating more time to family and friends due to the absence of other responsibilities. However, when talking about Peter, the situation is slightly different. He has lost connection with the outside world since his wife passed away, but his physical characteristics, on the contrary, are quite better than the ones of an average 60-year-old man.

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Another quite important area of influence is known as the history-graded aspect. Its major idea lies in the fact that throughout one’s life, a person becomes inevitably influenced by some outer precedents, also known as determinants. In the context of history-graded influences, these determinants fall into the biological and environmental ones. Speaking of biological precedents, Peter has been exposed to many health hazards throughout his life, such as various flu epidemics. Peter’s youth was closely connected to the HIV/AIDS epidemics outbreak in North America. When speaking of today, Peter could be under serious threat of COVID-19, as this virus is quite likely to affect older people with chronic health issues.

When talking about environmental determinants, there is a series of precedents that could potentially affect Peter’s lifestyle. To begin with, he was born at the height of the Cold War, which created many misunderstandings and imbalances in the world. Although the situation got relatively better at the end of the 20th century, the world today is still replete with implicit armed conflicts that affect one’s mental health and, thus, health conditions.

Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-Ecological Theory of Human Development

In the course of this paper, it was already outlined how various external factors are combined in symbiosis when estimating one’s age. One of the pioneers of this theory development was American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner. According to his findings, an individual from the very childhood is surrounded by a variety of sociocultural layers that define one’s development and, consequently, age (3). These layers are known as ecological systems, embracing the levels of the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem.

In order to obtain a better understanding of a theory, it can be applied to Peter’s case by analyzing his development on each of these stages. To begin with, the microsystem denotes one’s immediate environment, which stands for interaction with the closest individuals, like family members. Peter does not have a family to interact with anymore, so there is no chance to fulfill this layer’s needs, although earlier in his life, it may have contributed a lot to his development. As a matter of fact, the lack of communication then affects each following layer due to Peter’s isolated lifestyle. Hence, according to Bronfenbrenner’s theory, the bio-ecological environment of this person is quite limited. However, this theory is considered to be more significant when applied to earlier life stages, so more details of Peter’s life are required in order to estimate what a psychologist would say on the subject.

As it can be outlined from the theory, human development is dependent on a great variety of psychological and cultural aspects. For this reason, it is hard to estimate whether one of these systems has a more significant impact than any other constituent. While each of the aspects is of significant importance, in the case of Peter, it was estimated that they are considerably co-dependent. Hence, once the microsystem has some complications, each of the following systems is affected by this dysfunction. As a result, it may be suggested that the microsystem is of crucial importance for human development.

The system created by Urie Bronfenbrenner is, by all means, of universal character, as it takes into consideration the very notion of cultural influence without any exhaustive concretization. The patterns of human development are quite similar within different cultures. One of the major differences lies in the age groups culturally designed for a particular lifestyle shift. Bronfenbrenner’s theory, however, does not imply any of these limitations and hence, can be practiced by psychologists regardless of geographical location.

Conclusion

The concept of age has always been a subject of continuous discussion. In the course of the following paper, an attempt was made to critically discuss implications that could potentially influence one’s perception of age. The discussion was based upon the case study of a 60-year-old Peter’s lifestyle. At first, his age was estimated through the prism of different approaches to age calculation. The second part of the research was dedicated to the analysis of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological theory of human development and its scopes of impact on psychology. Hence, it was estimated that sociocultural peculiarities have a major impact on one’s age estimation and overall well-being.

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References

Séguy I., Courgeau D., Caussinus H., Buchet L. Chronological age, social age and biological age. Axe Méthodes et Concepts. 2018;12: 1-7.

Chopic W. J., Bremner R. H., Johnson D. J., Giasson H. L. Age differences in age perceptions and developmental transitions. Front. Psychol. 2018;9.

Vélez-Agosto N. M., Soto-Crespo J., Vizcarrondo-Oppenheimer M., Vega-Molina S., García Coll C. Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory revision: moving culture from the macro into the micro. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2017;12(5): 900-910.

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