Interdependencies across life course dimensions

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(linking resources across levels, contexts, over time)
The notions of interdependencies and time are central in most social sciences theories from their very beginning (Abbott, 1997). From the 1930 onwards, Norbert Elias systematized this perspective by developing the notions of configurations and processes to evidence that all human activities where both relational and potentially changing over (historical) time in a systemic way (Elias, 1997). In the mid-seventies, comparing empirical longitudinal data on two birth cohorts of individuals born ten years before or at the beginning of the 1929 Great depression, Glen Elder (1999) was able to further disentangle the age-cohort-period nexus (e.g. Ryder, 1965) and proposed the generalized five principles of the life course, namely lifelong development, agency, time and place, timing and linked lives (Glen H Elder et al., 2003). The notion of lifelong development is akin to that of process (or trajectory) and suppose that individual lives do not follow a deterministic logic and are always subject to reorientation. Such change may be the consequence of the individuals’ agency, i.e. the choices they make when considering competing options. It may also respond to the specific conditions of living in a certain time and place (e.g., legal and social norms, economic growth) which favor or hamper specific type of integration. Sometimes the same event may have contrasted output depending on the timing of its occurrence (as for instance an early pregnancy or lost of one’s parent). Finally, the most enduring factor influencing the unfolding of life trajectories is the fact that lives are linked to one another (as it is the case of a woman reducing her commitment into pay work when becoming a mother). This complex set of structuring factors has been recently further integrated into the notion of life course cube (Bernardi et al., 2019), which dimensions are 1. life domains (e.g., family, occupation, place of residence, health status), 2. Systemic levels, a) micro, e.g. couple and friends relationships, b) meso, e.g. intergenerational and / or workplace relationships), c) macro, e.g. welfare state. 3. Time, that may be age, historical change, and/or the succession of life events and transitions (finishing school, entering the labor market, starting union, parenthood, unemployment, retirement, …). Each point of the cube is defined by the specific characteristic of its three dimensions and can be adequately conceptualized. The life course of an individual is then defined as the result of the interaction among these dimensions.

Levy, Gauthier and Widmer (2013) show how the interdependence of individual occupational trajectories contribute to their gendering. Those of women are pluralized due to their higher social sensitivity to contextual influences such as childbirth, level of education and birth cohort and characterized by withdrawals from the labor market of variable intensity and duration. In contrast, occupational trajectories of most men are stable and full time. This reveals how individual lives are differently linked to one another according to parental status, historical time, labor market conditions and welfare state regulations.
Interdependences might exist at the same time between related individuals (family members for instance) over time and across life domains (work and family life). For instance, retirement related decisions of older adults and the fertility decisions of their adult children might be interrelated (Bolano and Bernardi 2021). Parents’ early retirement decisions might be driven by the need to care for a grandchild; conversely, children’s transition to parenthood may be triggered by the availability of flexible, reliable and affordable childcare by retired parents. Systemic levels interact in shaping the life course of individual. Sieber et al. (2020) found that according to the welfare regimes (macro), the association between individuals (micro) socioeconomic trajectories and health later on in life changes. For instance, education is a well know protective factor against health decline among older adults. A higher level of education is usually associated with better health later on in life. Sieber and colleagues found that this association does not hold in Scandinavian welfare regimes suggesting that a more generous and redistributive welfare regime like the Scandinavian one is able to overcome educational inequality in health.

Authors: Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Danilo Bolano


Abbott, A. (1997). Of time and space: The contemporary relevance of the Chicago School. Social Forces, 1149 1182.
Bernardi, L., Huinink, J., & Settersten Jr, R. A. (2019). The life course cube: A tool for studying lives. Advances in Life Course Research, 41, 100258.
Bolano, D. & Bernardi L. (2021). Transition to Grandparenthood and Early Retirement: Interdependences of Life Domains Across Generations. PAA Annual Meeting 2021
Elder, G.H. (1999). Children of the Great Depression. Westview Press.
Elder, Glen H, Johnson, M. K., & Crosnoe, R. (2003). The emergence and development of life course theory. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the life course (p. 3 19). Kluwer.
Elias, N. (1997). The civilizing process: The history of manners and State formation and civilization. Blackwell.
Levy, R., Gauthier, J.-A., & Widmer, E. D. (2013). Trajectories between the family and paid work. In R. Levy & E. D. Widmer (Eds.), Gendered life courses between standardization and individualization. A European approach applied to Switzerland (p. 71 92). LIT.
Sieber, S., Cheval, B., Orsholits, D., van der Linden, B. W., Guessous, I., Gabriel, R., ... & Cullati, S. (2020). Do welfare regimes moderate cumulative dis/advantages over the life course? Cross-national evidence from longitudinal SHARE data. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 75(6), 1312-1325.
Ryder, N. (1965). The cohort as a concept in the study of social change. American Sociological Review, 30(6), 843 861.

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