This volume examines how agency in the life course can be conceptualized and investigates the specific ways in which personal characteristics and contextual variables play a role in shaping individual lives. The contributors offer differing perspectives on agency, how its expression changes over a lifetime, and how it is constrained, channeled, or altered by cultural and social institutions.
Each chapter focuses on one aspect of individual agency that can have a cumulative influence on an individual's life. Following an overview of the subject by Lisa J. Crockett, Jochen Brandtstädter and Klaus Rothermund provide a life-span model of agency focused on "intentional self-development" and goal accommodation. Ellen Skinner and Kathleen Edge discuss the development of coping, a potential underpinning of agency. In a concluding essay, Michael J. Shanahan and Glen H. Elder Jr. examine agency within a life-course framework, showing that the impact of individual agency on people's lives depends on the opportunities and constraints present during a particular historical era.