Urie Bronfenbrenner was born in Moscow in 1917. He and his family emigrated to the United States when he was six years old. He earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell in 1938 with a double major in psychology and music. Bronfenbrenner next enrolled in graduate studies in developmental psychology, finishing an M.A. degree at Harvard University followed by a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1942.
The day after he graduated in 1942, Bronfenbrenner was inducted into the Army. He spent his army career serving as a psychologist in a range of assignments in the United States Air Corps and the Office of Strategic Services. After completing his officer training, he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Following his discharge from the Army, Bronfenbrenner served a two-year period as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. Finally, he joined the Cornell University faculty in 1948, where he remained for the rest of his professional life.