Classifications of Life-Span Development

The period between infancy and adulthood can be viewed in discrete chunks because age plays a significant role in the early stages of life. For instance, there is a sharp difference between a two-year-old child and an eight-year-old kid. However, lifespan development from adulthood to death should not be viewed as a discontinuous process. The proposed classification suggests that starting from young adulthood, individuals develop continuously, and the period should not be divided into discrete timeframes. A single term “adulthood” should be used to refer to any age after 20. Experiences after this age differ significantly, and, therefore, it is not practical to divide this stage into separate periods. The formal definition of this new classification is a continuous process of development that spans from the end of adolescence to the termination of life.

It has been established that childhood trauma is likely to lead to long-term health-related consequences. Burke (2014) claims that the influence of childhood events persists because brain development does not change when individuals grow older. In other words, once stress patterns are established in the brain during childhood, it is unlikely that changes will occur as the person progresses through adulthood. This observation suggests that maturity is not discrete, but instead is a continuous process. For instance, Wilson & Widom (2011) present evidence claiming that childhood neglect and abuse lead to risky sexual behavior that may increase the likelihood of being infected by HIV in middle adulthood. Their middle age definition is constrained by an approximate age of 41 (Wilson & Widom, 2011). It is not to suggest, however, that individuals aged 50 and older do not engage themselves in such behavior. Therefore, focusing on 40-year-olds and neglecting older individuals while addressing the issue would be a pitfall.

Adulthood is often viewed as a discontinuous process by scholars. Zastrow et al.’s (2019) framework of lifespan development views adulthood as a set of three distinct periods – young, middle, and late adulthood. The proposed classification removes the need to distinguish between these stages and instead suggests that a unified perspective is used. Health outcomes described in the work of Temcheff et al. (2011) are unlikely to disappear when a person transitions into the next adulthood timeframe. In summary, the proposed lifespan classification is different from Zastrow et al.’s (2019) model in two ways. First, it provides a continuous perspective on human development during adulthood, as opposed to the discrete approach employed by Zastrow et al. (2019). Second, it recognizes the inefficacy of dividing adulthood into separate time frames due to culture’s influence on perception. For instance, Zastrow et al. (2019) believe that maturity starts from the age of 18, but this number may be inaccurate in other cultures.

By differentiating between different adulthood stages in an attempt to address specific issues that are common for a given age period, social workers often overlook other vital concerns. For instance, some research may suggest that childhood abuse causes depression during young adulthood. However, it is not to imply that older adults are not a part of the vulnerable group. Social workers need to be aware of the fact that individuals develop continuously during their adulthood, and issues such as depression will evolve as time passes. When a specific concern is addressed, all adults should be a part of the target population.


Burke, N. (2014). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime [Video]. TED. Web.

Temcheff, C. E., Serbin, L. A., Martin-Storey, A., Stack, D. M., Ledingham, J., & Schwartzman, A. E. (2011). Predicting adult physical health outcomes from childhood aggression, social withdrawal, and likeability: A 30-Year prospective longitudinal study. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 18(1), 5–12.

Wilson, H. W., & Widom, C. S. (2011). Pathways from childhood abuse and neglect to HIV-risk sexual behavior in middle adulthood. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 79(2), 236–246.

Zastrow, C. H., Kirst-Ashman, K. K. & Hessenauer, S. L. (2019). Understanding human behavior and the social environment (11th ed.). Cengage Learning.

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PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Classifications of Life-Span Development." September 23, 2023.

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PsychologyWriting. "Classifications of Life-Span Development." September 23, 2023.