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Ph.D., Howard W. Odum Research Professor, Sociology
Research Professor, Psychology
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Glen H. Elder Jr. wants to understand how the changing social, economic and cultural environment of people influences their lives from childhood to old age, as expressed in modes of adaptation, health, and well-being. In this research, now called life course studies, he has observed and compared people in different birth cohorts over decades of their lives. His work has followed and observed children of the Great Depression through military service in World War II as well as rural farm youth during the economic recessions of the 1980s. A recently completed study follows members of California's 1900 generation across the turbulence of 1920s prosperity, the Great Depression, and the economic boom of the War years .

Glen Elder's career has focused on understanding the reciprocal influences of changing environments and people's lives through the use of longitudinal samples of individuals and cohort members. These changing environments include the Great Depression, military service in WW II and subsequent wars, rural economic declines, and the concentration of urban poverty. A theoretical account of their effects on people's lives has evolved as the life course framework, defined by the principles of lifelong development, linked lives, human agency, the timing of life events, and historical time and place. Elder is continuing to contribute to life course theory in general, including a third version of his handbook chapter on the life course with CPC fellow Michael Shanahan (2015) and a chapter with Linda George at Duke University on cohorts and the life course for the second edition of the Handbook of the Life Course. Elder is also directing a longitudinal project that is focused on the lives and families of men and women who were born around 1900 and settled in Berkeley, California. They are the parents of the well-known Berkeley cohort of study members (born 1928-29) who were followed across the Depression and World War II to the middle years. The 1900 project is investigating the impact of the era's dramatic change in the lives, health and aging of this generation.

Elder is also the co-editor, with Ross D. Parke of "Children in Changing Worlds: Sociocultural and Temporal Perspectives", Cambridge University Press, 2019; and the co-author, with Richard A. Settersten and Lisa Pearce, of  “Living on the Edge: An American Generation’s Journey across the Twentieth Century”, The University of Chicago Press, 2021.

"With a vision shaped by “Children of the Great Depression,”  “Living on the Edge” became the capstone of my career," he says. "I started it after completing “Children" around 1972-73 and the intellectual excitement of discovering the potential of this data archive on members of the 1900 generation motivated my work, chapter by chapter up to 2021."

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