Family Life Courses, Gender, and Mid-Life Earnings

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There is a long-standing debate on whether extensive Nordic family policies have the intended equalizing effect on family and gender differences in economic outcomes. This article compares how the combination of family events across the life course is associated with annual and accumulated earnings at mid-life for men and women in an egalitarian Nordic welfare state. Based on Finnish register data (N = 12,951), we identify seven typical family life courses from ages 18 to 39 and link them to mid-life earnings using sequence and cluster analysis and regression methods. Earnings are highest for the most normative family life courses that combine stable marriage with two or more children for men and women. Mid-life earnings are lowest for unpartnered mothers and never-partnered childless men. Earnings gaps by family lives are small among women but sizeable among men. Gender disparities in earnings are remarkably high, particularly between men and women with normative family lives. These gaps between married mothers and married fathers remain invisible when looking only at motherhood penalties. Results further highlight a large group of (almost) never-partnered childless men with low earnings who went largely unnoticed in previous research.