- LAST REVIEWED: 15 June 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0037
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 June 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0037
Social ecology provides a framework for understanding how individuals and their social environments mutually affect each other across the lifespan. Drawing from the ideas of Kurt Lewin’s A Dynamic Theory of Personality: Selected Papers (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1935), which conceptualized this relationship as an equation that yielded behavior, Urie Bronfenbrenner’s The Ecology of Human Development (Bronfenbrenner 1979, cited under History) extended the social ecological perspective to account for the complexity of individuals developing within embedded systems. Bronfenbrenner specified micro-, meso-, exo-, and macro- subsystems, which constitute the settings and life space within which an individual develops. In this model, each of the subsystems influences the individual and the other subsystems. Moreover, Bronfenbrenner viewed the individual as moving through time and being influenced by his or her developmental and life course experiences (ontogenic development). McLeroy, et al. 1988 (cited under History), which appeared in Health Education Quarterly as “An Ecological Perspective on Health Promotion Programs,” further defined the social ecological model for health promotion to depict interrelated systems at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, community, and policy levels, illustrated as concentric circles. The authors subsequently add other levels of analysis, including the physical environment and culture. The social ecological model provides a framework for understanding the factors that produce and maintain health and health-related issues, allowing identification of promising points of intervention and understanding how social problems are produced and sustained within and across the various subsystems. However, the model has also yielded a growing acknowledgment of the complexity of these systems, highlighting the need for more sophisticated intervention and research methods. Social ecological concepts are now widely used within the field of public health and are included in: (1) core competencies for public health developed by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health that serve as the basis for the public health certification examination; (2) a framework for several of the leading volumes on theory and practice in the field; (3) curricular frameworks for a number of the schools and programs for public health; and (4) other, related frameworks, such as the model proposed for the National Institutes of Health population disparities centers.
Much of the research at the foundation of current thinking in social ecology stems from human development, and ecological, community, and health psychology. The works in this section provide a glimpse of the conceptual underpinnings of the social ecological perspective in public health. Bronfenbrenner 1979 extends previous ideas about the interrelation between individuals and their environments, applying an ecological framework to human development. Here, the author lays out the embedded systems in which human behaviors occur: the micro-, meso-, exo-, and macro-systems, and the 2005 volume extends Bronfenbrenner’s ecological framework to include a greater emphasis on systems thinking and systems ideas. The history of the social ecological perspective in public health stems from synthesis of ideas from other disciplines including the author’s early works on human development. McLeroy, et al. 1988 is often cited as one of the initial articles specifically applying an ecological model to public health and health promotion. Winett, et al. 1989 provides an ecological perspective on health psychology and public health with a particular focus on several problem areas, including adolescent pregnancy, dietary change, mental health, and others. Moos 1979 focuses increased attention on the role of the physical environment, environmental psychology, and the influences on human behavior of the natural and constructed environment. Susser and Susser 1996 describes the application of a social ecological perspective to the discipline of epidemiology, likening the multiple levels to nested Chinese boxes. Bronfenbrenner 2005 extends the author’s social ecological model to a bioecological theory of human development and explicates its fit with systems theory.
Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1979. The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
A thorough explication of the rationale for the systems model in human development with an emphasis on the connection between person and setting (environment). Although historical, when presented, Bronfenbrenner’s theoretical perspective was new in its application. Provides easily understood examples for each theoretical step.
Bronfenbrenner, Urie, ed. 2005. Making human beings human: Biological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Several chapters in this volume discuss the conceptual foundations of social ecology, its application in human development, and its fit with systems theory. Suitable for undergraduate and graduate students.
McLeroy, Kenneth, Daniel Bibeau, Allan Steckler, and Karen Glanz. 1988. An ecological perspective on health promotion programs. Health Education and Behavior 15.4: 351–377.
Directs attention to specific circumstances in public health that created demand for a new framework that addresses the complex factors that produce health beyond solely individual behavior. Available online for purchase or by subscription. Also see Theoretical Development.
Moos, R. H. 1979. Social-ecological perspectives on health. In Health psychology—A handbook: Theories, applications, and challenges of a psychological approach to the health care system. Edited by George C. Stone, Frances Cohen, and Nancy E. Adler, 523–547. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Provides insight to emergency of ecological thinking in psychology and its early application to health issues.
Susser, Mervyn, and Ezra Susser. 1996. Choosing a future for epidemiology: II. From black box to Chinese boxes and eco-epidemiology. American Journal of Public Health 86.5: 674–677.
A brief discussion historical paradigms and paradigm shifts in epidemiology, highlighting the need to attend to social processes that influence this distribution of disease. Provides a rationale for an ecological perspective as a systematic rather than universalistic paradigm. Presents a concise table of eras in epidemiology with their preventive and analytic approaches.
Winett, Richard A., Abby C. King, and David G. Altman. 1989. Health psychology and public health: An integrative approach. New York: Pergamon.
This volume provides a rapprochement of health psychology and public health through an ecological perspective and applies an ecological perspective to HIV, community health promotion, mental health, teen pregnancy, diet, health in the workplace, environmental health, and aging. Well written and a valuable resource for the application of social ecological concepts.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Access to Health Care
- Action Research
- Active Aging
- Active Living
- Adolescent Risk-Taking Behavior in the United States
- Advocacy, Public Health
- Agricultural Safety and Public Health
- Air Quality: Health Effects
- Air Quality: Indoor Health Effects
- Alcohol Availability and Violence
- Alternative Research Designs
- Ambient Air Quality Standards and Guidelines
- American Perspectives on Chronic Disease and Control
- Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)
- Asthma in Children
- Attachment as a Health Determinant
- Behavior Change Theory in Health Education and Promotion
- Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance
- Bicycling and Cycling Safety
- Birth and Death Registration
- Birth Cohort Studies
- Board of Health
- Built Environment and Health, The
- Business and Corporate Practices
- Cancer Communication Strategies in North America
- Cancer Prevention
- Cancer Screening
- Capacity Building
- Capacity Building for NCDs in LMICs
- Capacity-Building for Applied Public Health in LMIC: A US ...
- Cardiovascular Health and Disease
- Child Maltreatment
- Children, Air Pollution and
- Children, Injury Risk-Taking Behaviors in
- Children, Obesity in
- Citizen Advisory Boards
- Climate Change and Human Health
- Climate Change: Institutional Response
- Clinical Preventive Medicine
- Community Air Pollution
- Community Development
- Community Gardens
- Community Health Assessment
- Community Partnerships and Coalitions
- Community-Based Participatory Research
- Complexity and Systems Theory
- Definition of Health
- Dental Public Health
- Design and Health
- Dietary Guidelines
- Ecological Approaches
- Enabling Factors
- Environmental Laws
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Ethics of Public Health
- Evidence-Based Public Health Practice
- Family Planning Services and Birth Control
- Food Safety
- Food Security and Food Banks
- Food Systems
- Frail Elderly
- Functional Literacy
- Genomics, Public Health
- Geographic Information Systems
- Geography and Health
- Global Health
- Global Health Diplomacy
- Global Health Promotion
- Guide to Community Preventive Services, The
- Health Administration
- Health Communication
- Health Disparities
- Health Education
- Health Impact Assessment
- Health in All Policies
- Health in All Policies in European Countries
- Health Literacy
- Health Literacy and Non-Communicable Diseases
- Health Measurement Scales
- Health Planning
- Health Promoting Hospitals
- Health Promotion
- Health Promotion Workforce Capacity
- Healthy People Initiative
- Hepatitis C
- High Risk Prevention Strategies
- Human Rights, Health and
- Immigrant Populations
- Immunization and Pneumococcal Infection
- Indigenous Peoples, Public Health and
- Indigenous Populations of North America, Australasia, and ...
- Indoor Air Quality Guidelines
- Internet Applications in Promoting Health Behavior
- Intersectoral Strategies in Low - Middle Income Countries ...
- Justice, Social
- Knowledge Translation and Exchange
- Knowledge Utilization and Exchange
- Law of Public Health in the United States
- Media Advocacy
- Mental Health
- Mental Health Promotion
- Migrant Health
- Motor Vehicle Injury Prevention
- Multi-Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis
- National Association of Local Boards of Health
- National Public Health Institutions
- Needs Assessment
- Obesity Prevention
- Occupational Cancers
- Occupational Safety and Health
- Ottawa Charter
- Parenting and Work
- Parenting Skills and Capacity
- Participatory Action Research
- Patient Decision Making
- Pesticide Exposure and Pesticide Health Effects
- Physical Activity and Exercise
- Physical Activity Promotion
- Polio Eradication in Pakistan
- Population Aging
- Population Determinants of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages
- Population Health Objectives and Targets
- Precautionary Principle
- Prenatal Health
- Program Evaluation in American Health Education
- Program Planning and Evaluation
- Public Health, History of
- Public Health Surveillance
- Public-Private Partnerships in Public Health Research and ...
- Public-Private Partnerships to Prevent and Manage Obesity ...
- Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment
- Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies
- Randomized Controlled Trials
- Real World Evaluation Strategies
- Reducing Obesity-Related Health Disparities in Hispanic an...
- Rural Health in the United States
- Safety, Patient
- Sex Education in HIV/AIDS Prevention
- Skin Cancer Prevention
- Smoking Cessation
- Social Determinants of Health
- Social Epidemiology
- Social Marketing
- Statistics in Public Health
- Systems in the United States, Public Health
- Systems Theory in Public Health
- Traditional, Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative M...
- Translation of Science to Practice and Policy
- Traumatic Stress and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Tuberculosis among Adults and the Determinants of Health
- Unintentional Injury Prevention
- Urban Health
- Vaccine Hesitancy
- Violence Prevention
- Water Quality
- Water Quality and Water-Related Disease
- Weight Management in US Occupational Settings
- Worksite Health Promotion