Divergent patterns of de-standardisation - education and the family life course in seven European countries

Okka Zimmermann, Technische Universität Braunschweig and Universität Göttingen
Dirk Konietzka, TU Braunschweig

A major shift of life course patterns occurred in Europe throughout the second half of the 20th century. The post-war period of economic growth and mass prosperity fostered highly standardised life courses, characterised by continuous employment patterns (among men), nuclear family patterns with early and stable marriages, accompanied by medium levels of fertility. Research has proven, that living arrangements have pluralised and become more heterogeneous since the 1970s, while life courses de-standardised. Value change, individualisation and increasing economic insecurity are assumed to have stimulated these changes. We add to the discussion of the causes of de-standardisation by investigating which social strata are driving the process. We examine differences in de-standardisation of family formation between higher and lower educated strata in seven European countries with distinct socio-political systems and economic development. We use representative data from the Generations and Gender Surveys (GGS) for Norway, France, Italy, Russia, Estonia, Hungary and from the National Educational Panel Survey (NEPS) for Germany (n = 70228 respondents). We compare cohort-specific patterns of family formation between the respondents’ 15th and 35th birthday using sequence analysis, which allows examining complex life course patterns. The empirical results show for all countries except Germany that a) ’traditional’ sequences of family formation are diminishing and b) life courses of the lower educated have become more de-standardised than those of the higher educated strata. This is due to the fact that a new standard of family formation emerges only among the higher educated in Western Europe, while the incidence of the traditional path of family formation is decreasing slower among higher than lower educated Eastern Europeans. Overall, our results suggest that de-standardisation is to a lesser extend fostered by value changes, but much more by social deprivation and failure to establish stable and socially accepted family trajectories among lower social strata.

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Presented in Poster Session 2