Comparing Groups of Life-Course Sequences Using the Bayesian Information Criterion and the Likelihood-Ratio Test

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This paper asks how researchers can statistically assess differences in groups of life-course trajectories. The authors address a long-standing inadequacy of social sequence analysis by proposing an adaption of the Bayesian information criterion (BIC) and the likelihood-ratio test (LRT) for assessing differences in groups of sequence data. Unlike previous methods, this adaption provides a useful measure for degrees of difference, that is, the substantive significance, and the statistical significance of differences between predefined groups of life-course trajectories. The authors present a  simulation study and an empirical application on whether employment life-courses converged after reunification in the former East Germany and West Germany, using data for six birth-cohort groups ages 15 to 40 years from the German National Education Panel Study. The new methods allow the authors to show that convergence of employment life-courses around reunification was stronger for men than for women and that it was most pronounced in terms of the duration of employment states but weaker for their order and timing in the life-course. Convergence of East German and West German women’s employment lives set in earlier and reflects a secular trend toward a more gender-egalitarian division of labor in West Germany that is unrelated to reunification. The simulation study and the substantive application demonstrate the usefulness of the proposed BIC and LRT methods for assessing group differences in sequence data.