Exosystem examples include a parent’s workplace, mass media, school policy, social support systems, family friends, and local government policy settings.
We can define the exosystem as any setting in which a child is not directly involved yet still which still influences them. For example, a child is not involved in setting school policy on school uniforms, and yet the policy will directly impact what the child wears.
The exosystem is the third level in Urie Bronfenbrenner’s 5-tiered model of child development called the ecological systems theory.
“Exos” in Greek means outside or external. The exosystem thus comprises institutions and influences that are external to the individual, and yet exert a decisive influence on his/her psycho-social development.
Unlike a microsystem, the institutions that make up the exosystem are not necessarily ones with which an individual has a close, personal or intimate relationship.
At the same time, while the ecosystem is external to the child’s immediate environment, it is not so far removed from the child that it should be conceived of as a distant or abstract influence.
Changes within an exosystem (such as your father joining a golf club) may directly impact you (he may spend less time with you).
1. A Parent’s Occupation
The occupation of a child’s parent, or the changes in the parents’ occupation, are factors not directly related to the child and yet they have a major influence in shaping their selves.
For instance, if one of the parents has a job that requires frequent moving between cities, such as being in the Armed Forces, the child might be required to frequently adjust to new surroundings.
This can have multifaceted consequences on a child’s development.
Studies have shown that frequent family shifts negatively affect a child’s academic performance and that this negative impact continues throughout the academic year (Adam,2004).
This may in turn affect the child’s self-esteem leading to negative interference with his/her social relations with their peers.
Thus, the exosystem of parental occupation influences the family-school-peer group mesosystem which in turn affects the individual.
2. Mass Media
The mass media exosystem acts in subtle yet pervasive ways to shape the lives of children.
Children passively pick up ways of behaving from images they see or hear being conveyed through mass media channels such as TV, cinema, or music.
As an example, the negative depictions of LGBTQ characters in popular culture until the late 90s created an exosystem that has been linked by researchers to instances of increased bullying among school children (Hong & Garbarino, 2012).
For instance, Silence of the Lambs (1991), widely considered one of the greatest and most influential Hollywood films of all time, was criticized for depicting its primary antagonist, Buffalo Bill, as another one “in a long line of homophobic representations”(Phillips, 1998).
The film, according to critics, made no attempt to understand the trans or LGBTQ community and very crassly pathologized the community (Griffin, 2019).
Similarly, as late as 2000, other popular and critically acclaimed films such as Boys Don’t Cry tended to depict LGBTQ characters as living closeted, tragic, and doomed lives.
Such influences from the exosystem can easily shape the minds and behavior of children, resulting in consequences such as bullying in the classroom or the playground.
3. Teacher Training Institutes
The kind of training teachers have had in turn impacts the kind of education that children under their care receive.
As an example, consider two schools – one in which the teachers have had quality education and been trained in the proper teaching methodologies, and another one in which the education and training of the teachers only meets the bare minimum criteria.
It is evident that there would be a great difference in the quality of education imparted to the students in the two cases.
Thus, the exosystem of teacher training reaches down and influences the microsystem of the school.
4. Specialized Policy Framework
Specific government policies can impact certain mesosystems that have an influence on child development.
For instance, in the United States, the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 encouraged low-income mothers on welfare to seek employment.
This in turn required that the mothers trust their children to childcare institutions while they worked.
This change in policy fundamentally altered the environment for a generation of low-income children born to single mothers, who were now being brought up increasingly in childcare facilities rather than at home (Marshall, 2004).
On the other hand, several single mothers who were unable or unwilling to find employment were forced to return to abusive partners or live with friends. Some were also forced to be constantly on the move for food and shelter, impacting the developmental environment of their children (DeParle, 2012).
Thus, a change in the policy exosystem had a profound impact on the family-child care mesosystem, and the family microsystem and eventually, the individual.
5. Special Interest Organizations
Special interest organizations are often the result of microsystem level events whose impact percolates up several layers to act as an exosystem.
Take for instance an organization such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The organization was formed in 1980 after a mother in California lost her 13- year old daughter to an accident involving a car being driven by a drunk driver.
The organization quickly gained a large following as it was joined and supported by numerous mothers who had been through similar tragedies.
This led to sustained and successful advocacy towards stricter drunk driving rules as well as providing support to those affected by incidents of drunk driving.
The overall result was a reduction in incidents of children and teenagers being victims of drunk driving, and thus a safer environment for children (Newman & Newman, 2020).
In this way the organization acts as an exosystem impacting the lives of children even though it is not in direct contact with them.
We see in this case the classic two-way interaction between the systems as hypothesized by Bronfenbrenner.
The individual and the family microsystem influence the exosystem by creating an advocacy organization and influencing policy.
This exosystem in turn reaches down and influences the microsystem and the individual by delivering favorable outcomes as a result of policy changes.
6. Local Government
The local government in a child’s community has a significant impact on a child, even though the child has no contact with it.
An example is the local policy on public transit. If the local transit policy enables free transport for children and parents, then the child will have a lot more of their local area opened-up for them to explore, which can progress their development.
Similarly, the local government’s policy on greenspaces can impact a child’s experience. If they open up more greenspaces for children to access, then the child will have more access to play spaces which can help with their physical development.
7. Parents’ Friends
While a child may never interact with the friends of their parents, they are nonetheless impacted by them.
For example, mothers who get together in a mother’s group may discuss parenting strategies. The strategies discussed amongst those friends will, in turn, impact how the mother parents her own children.
What is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory?
Each level in the ecological systems model is represented by a circle, with the entire model taking the appearance of a series of 5 concentric circles moving outwards, having the child at its center.
The levels are:
- The Microsystem (see examples)
- The Mesosystem (see examples)
- The Exosystem
- The Macrosystem (see examples)
- The Chronosystem (see examples)
The closer a circle or level is to the child, the greater is the degree of immediate influence it has on the development of the individual.
Further, Bronfenbremmer’s ecological perspective proposed that the interaction between the individual and his/her ecology is a two-way process, with the individual both being shaped and in turn shaping the environment around him/her.
Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system model is a comprehensive model of human development which proposes that the development of an individual is the result of not just biological factors alone but rather the result of the entire ecosystem of institutions, norms, interactions, and events that surround an individual.
Furthermore, Bronfenbrenner demonstrated that this ecosystem includes not just elements that are in direct contact with the individual ( represented by the microsystem and mesosystem in Bronfenbrenner’s model) but also elements that are external to the individual’s immediate environment. The exosystem represents all such elements that though not intimately connected to the individual, exert a determining influence on their psycho-social development.
Adam, E. K. (2004). Beyond quality: Parental and residential stability and children’s adjustment.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 210-213. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.0963-7214.2004.00310.x
DeParle, J. (2012) Welfare limits left poor adrift as recession hit New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/us/welfare-limits-left-poor-adrift-as-recession-hit.html
Griffin, A. (2019) Before we knew better: Silence of the Lambs is a win for women—but fails LGBTQ culture Quartz https://qz.com/quartzy/1566136/silence-of-the-lambs-is-a-win-for-women-but-fails-lgbtq-culture/
Hong, J.S., & Garbarino, J. (2012) Risk and protective factors for homophobic bullying in schools: An Application of the Social–Ecological Framework. Educational Psychology Review 24, 271–285. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-012-9194-y
Marshall, N.L. (2004) The quality of early child care and children’s development. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(4), 165-168. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.0963-7214.2004.00299.x.
Newman, B.M. & Newman, P.R. (2020) Ecological theories In B.M. Newman & P.R. Newman (Eds.) Theories of Adolescent Development, (pp. 313-335) Elsevier.
Phillips, K. R. (1998). Unmasking Buffalo Bill: Interpretive controversy and “The Silence of the Lambs.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 28(3), 33–47. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3886379
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]