Diversity in Life Course Trajectories: Pathways of Choice or Vulnerability?

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Marieke VOORPOSTEL, FORS (Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences), Switzerland
This study aims to assess whether increasingly diverse family life courses are indeed pathways of choice, or whether they reflect pathways of cumulative disadvantage and vulnerability. Using data from Switzerland, this study will answer three questions:

  1. Is the increase in family transitions across the life course universal or is it concentrated in specific social groups?
  2. To what extent are diverse life course trajectories in the family domain related to outcomes such as health and wellbeing?
  3. Is this relationship the same for all socio-economic groups and for men and women?

The main hypothesis is that advantaged groups benefit from the myriad of options that have become available, whereas disadvantaged groups are more likely to experience the risks involved. As a result, individuals from a lower socio-economic background are expected to report more instability in the family life course, with more negative health and wellbeing outcomes compared to individuals from higher socio-economic backgrounds, reflecting increasing vulnerability. For higher socio-economic classes we expect to find a higher share of more standard life course trajectories and a weaker association between nonstandard family life course trajectories and wellbeing and health.

To test this hypothesis we use biographical data from the third sample of the Swiss Household Panel (collected in 2013, N=6090) complemented by panel data from 2013 to 2016). Using the biographical data, we assess the number, timing and sequencing of transitions in the family domain, such as transitions into and out of partner relationships, and transitions to parenthood. We then describe these life course characteristics in relation to socio-economic status to assess the extent to which they are equally distributed over social groups. Next, we relate these life course characteristics to measures of health and wellbeing and examine whether this relationship differs by socio-economic background and by gender.