The chronosystem is the outermost level in Bronfenbrenner’s 5-tiered model of child development called the ecological systems model.
Each level in the model is represented by a circle, with the entire model taking the appearance of a series of 5 concentric circles moving outwards, with the child at its center.
The radial distance of the circle from the center is proportional to the degree of immediate influence the system/level has on the development of the individual.
What is the Chronosystem?
Chronos in Greek means time, and the chronosystem incorporates the effect of time on the development of the individual.
This means that the chronosystem is the set of all those factors, events, and circumstances occurring over the lifetime of an individual that affect his/her psycho-social development.
A chronosystem comprises both normative life transitions (such as graduating from school, marriage, birth of a child), as well as non-normative life transitions (such as an accident, winning a lottery, a parental divorce).
Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory is a comprehensive model of human development which proposes that the development of an individual is the result of not just biological factors, as was believed to be the case till well into the second half of the 20th century.
Rather, it is the result of the entire ecosystem of institutions, norms, interactions, and events that surround an individual.
Examples of Chronosystems
1. Parental Divorce
A divorce can have a debilitating effect on the development of a child.
For instance, Bohman et. al. (2017) have studied how parental separation in childhood acts as a risk factor for clinical depression in adulthood.
In a multi-year study, the researchers tracked the subjects’ mental health over a period of 15 years and found that children who witnessed divorce between their parents were at a far greater risk of developing ailments such as depression and bi-polar disorder in adulthood, with the ailments sometimes taking as long as 15 years to manifest.
2. Birth of a Sibling
The birth of a sibling can have a complex and lasting impact on the psychological development of a child.
Where on the one hand, the arrival of a sibling means that parental love and attention is now divided among children, it can also mean joy and companionship.
Depending on the balance of forces in this relationship between a first born and their sibling, this transition to siblinghood can have a transformative impact on their future psycho-social development.
The first-born child, the parents, and the new-born sibling together constitute the chronosystem in such an example. (Volling, 2012)
3. Wars and Calamities
Catastrophic events such as wars and calamities have a lasting impact on the development of an individual.
As an example, children who were born in Europe during the first half of the 20th century would likely have experienced the hardships associated with the two world wars.
For most Europeans of the middle and lower classes, even when not trapped in direct military confrontation, this was a time of scarcity and rationing.
As a result, many European children of this era grew up with certain values such as frugality ingrained in them (White, 2021).
Similarly in the United States, the corresponding generation of children grew up facing the hardships of the Great Depression and conscription into the wars that America fought abroad.
This led to a certain specific set of values being inscribed onto the psyches of this generation when they grew up to be adults – frugality, thrift, stoicism, & being taciturn. This led to this generation coming to to be known later on as the “silent generation”, a term coined by TIME magazine in 1951 (Stoiz, 2002).
At the same time, children born and brought in Africa and Asia during the same era would have had experiences of growing up under colonialism which would have had lasting effects on their psycho-social development.
For instance, Utsey et al (2015) studied the consequences of internalized colonialism on young adults in Ghana and found that multiple generations of Ghanian children had grown up with feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression that stemmed from the colonial perception of their bodies ( dark skin color, flat noses, curly hair) as being inferior.
4. Epochal Changes
Epochal changes are once-in-a-generation changes that bring important, lasting shifts in the way we live in and perceive the world around us.
For instance, the civil rights and feminist movements of the early 20th century were important epochal changes that changed the common perception of gender rights and racial equality for all time to come.
Similarly, the end of the Second World War brought an epochal shift in political conceptions of empire that led to decolonization, as well as a generalized reduction in full-scale armed conflict.
It also brought prosperity to several parts of the world, resulting in the “baby boomer” generation, or a population explosion across the globe. Growing up in times of relative peace, security, and abundance, children of the baby boomer generation grew up with sets of values that differed greatly from the generations that preceded them.
Migration to a new country is a life-changing event that can have a transforming effect on a child’s psycho-social development.
The act of emigrating involves uprooting the child from the cultural and social setting they were born into, and shifting them to a new, often alien society.
In several societies, emigration becomes a fact of life owing to economic, social, and political factors.
As a result, entire generations of children experience emigration as a necessary rite of passage.
For instance, Spencer (2019) has noted how post-war American policies in Micronesia that facilitated migration of Micronesians to the US acted as a chronosystem that impacted the lives of Micronesian children.
6. Technological Advancement
Throughout human history, technology has advanced with time, in turn inducing revolutionary transformations in human social, political, and economic systems.
Each technological revolution has a lasting impact on the psycho-social development of the children of the age.
As an example, children born in the internet age have a fundamentally different way of perceiving the world.
For one, the concept of distance, time, and the self all get transformed as young internet users communicate in real time across geographical barriers creating different online avatars.
Technology is also capable of positively impacting the lives of children who live through the particular technological era.
Kwak & Jain (2016), for example, have demonstrated how the internet and ecommerce have played a role in alleviating poverty in third world countries, and consequently, transforming the formative experiences of children in these regions.
In Bronfenbrenner’s ecological perspective of development, each circle is a superset of the circles that it contains.
Since the chronosystem is the outermost system or circle, it contains all other systems within it. This means that a chronosystem is the result of the interaction of the various macrosystems over a period of time, while the macrosystems themselves are composed of various exosystems, mesosystems, and microsystems.
The distinctive features of the chronosystem are its scope and span – being spread out over a period of time in human life.
The various events that mark out the course of human lives – some predictable and expected (normative) and others unpredictable and unexpected (non-normative) come together to shape human psycho-social development.
Bohman, H., Låftman, S. B., Päären, A., & Jonsson, U. (2017). Parental separation in childhood as a risk factor for depression in adulthood: a community-based study of adolescents screened for depression and followed up after 15 years. BMC psychiatry, 17(1), 117. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-017-1252-z
Kwak, D. & Jain, H. (September, 2016) The Role of Web and E-Commerce in Poverty Reduction: A Framework Based on Ecological Systems Theory Conference: Workshop on E-Business DOI :10.1007/978-3-319-45408-5_12
Spencer, M. (2019) Child Development in Micronesia and the US Micronesian Migration Diaspora: Through the Lens of Bronfenbrenner’s Theoretical Structures Pacific Asia Inquiry 10(1), 11-33.
Stoiz, A. (2002) The Silent Generation: A memoir of the Depression babies, the parents of the BabyboomersAuthorHouse.
Utsey, S.O., Abrams, J.A.,Opare-Henaku,A., Bolden, M.A. , & Williams, O. (2015) Assessing the psychological consequences of internalized colonialism on the psychological well-being of young adults in Ghana Journal of Black Psychology 41(3),195–220
Volling B. L. (2012). Family transitions following the birth of a sibling: an empirical review of changes in the firstborn’s adjustment. Psychological bulletin, 138(3), 497–528. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026921
White, J. (2021) The frugal life and why we should educate for it. London Review of Education, 19 (1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.14324/LRE.19.1.13
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]