The Complexity of Employment & Family Life Courses across 20th Century Europe: An Update

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It is a common perception in public debate that lives have become more unstable over the past decades. The authors put this to a broad empirical test using data from 30 European countries to ask, whether family life and employment have indeed become more unstable over time, or if differences across countries remain greater.

The researchers were able to analyse the life histories of almost 30,000 people born between 1916 and 1966 – the data included information gathered annually over a 35 year period so it was possible to look at how often participants’ family or employment status had changed.

Findings show that family lives have only become more complex in the Nordic countries, but there has indeed been a moderate increase in employment instability among the youngest generations across most countries.

However, increasing employment instability may not have happened for the same reasons in all countries, the researchers say. In some, global economic developments may have been a key driver while in others, women’s increased participation in the labour market may have been more important.

Family policies which incentivised women to stay at home while their husbands worked seemed to lead to more stable families in Southern and Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
More cross-national comparative studies are needed to disentangle the combined effects of institutional factors on family and work lives and their stability over time, the researchers say.