Macrosystem examples include the economic conditions of society, laws in society, taboos and customs of society, and cultural beliefs in the society in which a child lives.
The macrosystem is one of five levels of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory. The other five levels include:
- The Microsystem
- The Mesosystem
- The Exosystem
- The Macrosystem
- The Chronosystem
Each level explains factors that influence a child’s development, going from the most personalized (the microsystem) to the broadest (the chronosystem).
The macrosystem is one of the broadest levels of the ecological systems model and generally refers to the attitudes and ideologies of the society and culture in which a child is raised.
What is Bronfenbrenner’s Macrosystem?
The macrosystem is the fourth level in Bronfenbrenner’s 5-tiered model of child development called the ecological systems model.
The word ‘macro’ is derived from the Greek ‘makros’ meaning ‘long’. To take a macro view of something connotes taking a long view.
Thus, the macrosystem in Bronfenbrenners’s ecological perspective refers to the larger socio-cultural context in which a child grows up. Looking at a child’s macrosystem can help us understand ways in which a child’s personality has been shaped.
Different societies have different cultural norms and values that children learn. A child growing up in an Andean rural community in South America is shaped by a different macrosystem than another child growing up in suburban New York.
Nationality is one of the most fundamental markers of a person’s identity.
Wherever in the world we may travel to, we tend to compare the culture of the place with that of our own country. We talk of nations having distinct national cultures and national values that shape our social development.
For instance, having a “stiff upper lip” is a phrase used to describe the British, referring to a perceived national character of being taciturn and exercising self-restraint in the face of adversity (Capstick & Clegg, 2013).
Certain other behaviors and ways of expressing oneself may be considered “un-British”. The captain of the Titanic is reported to have famously shouted “Be British” at the passengers as the ship sank, exhorting them to show stoicism in the face of impending doom.
Recent historical research has suggested that this may have been one reason behind greater British casualties in the disaster (Marks, 2009).
Consequently, a child growing up in Britain is likely to be influenced by such national traits and values.
Similarly, a child born in Japan is likely to be influenced by a specific set of values endemic to Japanese society. These may differ widely from the values that shape another child born in Afghanistan, for example.
2. Political Systems
The political systems that we grow up in act as macrosystems, influencing the development of ourselves.
For instance, a child growing up in a socialist welfare state is likely to embrace the political values espoused by the people around them.
If the state promotes affirmative action policies, welfare and healthcare for all, tolerance, and pluralism, then these are likely to influence the child’s own attitude towards humans in general.
On the other hand, a child growing up in a militaristic society, such as that of ancient Sparta, would be shaped by a completely different macrosystem in which violence is the norm, and would consequently follow a different developmental trajectory.
3. Economic Conditions
Economic conditions prevailing in a society are also an important macrosystem that shape a child’s psycho-social development.
Consider, for instance, the economic conditions under early capitalism in industrial England of the 19th century. Not only did workers have to work long hours under exploitative conditions, leaving little time for parents to devote to their children, but children themselves were forced to work in factories at a large scale (Humphries, 2013).
Several classics of English literature, such as Oliver Twist depict the harsh conditions that children experienced during this era.
By contrast, consider the economic systems prevailing in most developed countries of the world today under which paid maternal and paternal leaves are provided by most employers and facilities such as daycare are available to working parents.
Robust healthcare systems are in place to take care of medical expenses, ensuring that parents can afford to allow children greater freedom to be involved physically with their environment.
In a society without universal healthcare and high medical expenses, parents are more concerned about meeting these expenses and would thus be more likely to stifle the child’s activities, in turn influencing the manner in which the child perceives his or her physical environment.
To take a more specific example, the Canadian Healthcare Act does not cover dental care.
It is likely then, that Canadian parents are more likely to control and restrict their children’s dietary habits than parents in a country where dental care is covered in a national healthcare system.
This in turn can impact the manner in which children view their relationship with food.
4. Legal Systems
The legal system of the society we grow up in is yet another macrosystem that shapes the development of ourselves.
Countries (or even provinces within countries) may have varying laws in place relating to children that may have a significant impact on how children are raised.
For instance, in New Zealand, corporal punishment to children (such as ‘smacking’ a child) in any form is prohibited by law.
By comparison, in nearby Indonesia, not only is corporal punishment not prohibited, it is also viewed favorably by a significant section of the population as being essential to the discipling of children (Kish & Newcombe, 2015).
Here are some other examples of legal systems that act as macrosystems:
- In the United States, children are required by law to attend school until they reach the age of 16-18.
- The Canadian provinces of Manitoba and New Brunswick have laws in place under which no child under the age of 12 can be left alone unattended by their parents.
- In Germany, children can drink in a bar when with their parents from the age of 14.
Such legislations influence the manner in which children understand the world around them, and in turn, are impacted by the world.
5. A Society’s Culture
Culture is a broad umbrella term that includes everything from customs, traditions, language, cuisine, and rituals. All of these cultural elements fit within the macosystem.
The culture can shape the psycho-social development of children in ways that are specific to the particular culture.
To take an example, in several conservative societies, it is considered unacceptable for women to work outside the household. Children growing up in such societies are likely to inherit specific notions of sharply defined gender roles.
On the other hand, some societies may be more acceptable of same-sex relationships, and by extension, the adoption of children by same-sex couples. In such societies, there would be several children who grow in families in which both the parents belong to the same gender.
Those children’s ideas around gender roles would differ drastically from that of those in the previous case.
As another example, joint families are the cultural norm in many societies. Children in such a society may grow up in households where grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all live under the same role.
The psycho-social development of such children is likely to be different from those who grow up in nuclear or single-parent households.
See Also: Examples of Culture
Children grow up in societies with a range of different taboos that will structure children’s beliefs and attitudes.
For example, in the United States, children are encouraged to question authority, while in Japan, a child questioning authority is a cultural taboo.
As another example, it’s usually considered taboo to speak about ‘adult’ topics around children in today’s age. In Victorian times, children may have been more exposed to taboo topics at a younger age.
See Also: Examples of Taboos
7. Welfare Policies
The welfare policies in any society will directly impact the conditions of a child’s development.
Welfare policies include whether a poor family is provided government assistant to feed their children, whether children get free healthcare, and whether childcare is made affordable to all families.
These policies can directly impact whether a child has both parents working or whether one parent will stay home. They may also impact a child’s general health and welfare.
Related Theory: Family Systems Theory
FAQ: What is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory?
Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system model is a comprehensive model of human development which proposes that the development of an individual is influenced not just by biological factors alone.
Instead, it is the product of the entire ecosystem of institutions, norms, interactions, and events that surround an individual.
Since each circle in Bronfenbrenner’s model is a superset of the ones that precede it, a macrosystem includes the effects of the exosystem, the mesosystem, and the microsystem, all of which lie within the macrosystem according to the 5-tiered ecological systems model.
The macrosystem In Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems model represents the influence of the larger cultural and social context in which children find themselves embedded, upon their psycho-social development.
Since each circle in Bronfenbrenner’s model contains within it other smaller circles, the macrosystem is made up of micro, meso, and exosystems. It is, however, not just sum total of these, but includes elements that lie beyond these, that shape the development of a child’s self.
Capstick, A. & Clegg, D. (2013) Behind the stiff upper lip: War narratives of older men with dementia Journal of War and Culture Studies 6(3), 239-254. https://doi.org/10.1179/1752627213Z.00000000021
Humphries, J. (2013). Childhood and child labour in the British industrial revolution. The Economic History Review, 66(2), 395–418. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42921562
Kish, A.M. & Newcombe, P.A. (2015) “Smacking never hurt me!”: Identifying myths surrounding the use of corporal punishment Personality and Individual Differences 87(12), 121-129.
Marks, K. (2009) More Britons than Americans died on Titanic ‘because they queued’ The Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/more-britons-than-americans-died-on-titanic-because-they-queued-1452299.html
Poulsen, A. (2018). The Role of corporal punishment of children in the perpetuation of intimate partner violence in Australia. Children Australia, 43(1), 32-41. doi:10.1017/cha.2018.6
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.