Social structure and the person in a lived life: Agency and the life course


Hitlin, Steven; Brown, J.; Scott; Elder; Jr, Glen; & H (2008). Social structure and the person in a lived life: Agency and the life course. 2008 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


Theoretical debates over the nature of structure vs. agency curiously tend to omit the relevant social psychological models that might help resolve this false antimony. We build on the traditions of social structure and personality by introducing an agency focused derivation, the social structure and the person perspective (SStP), intended to allow for a conception of the social actor across domains. In addition to using the common notion of self efficacy, our model of perceived agency includes a measure of perceived optimism, a way to capture actors’ temporally embedded, subjective interpretation of their own life chances. This situates a measure of perceived agency within theoretical and life course treatments of the topic, and offers an empirical anchor for capturing important aspects of the person; second order, reflexive beliefs about one’s capacities (self efficacy) and the extent that it is worthwhile to apply them (optimism). Using a nationally representative dataset, we illustrate the longitudinal utility of this conceptualization across three domains during an important transition in the American life course: health, academic performance, and minor deviance.


Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2008 Add Health Users Conference


Hitlin, Steven
Brown, J.
Jr, Glen

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID