Life domains

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Life domains are main fields of experience in which individual life course unfold. Family, education, work, health and leisure are often cited as a critical life domains.

In the life course literature, spillover effects occur when life domains influence each other. Decisions, events, and transitions in the work domain for instance may affect family configuration or health. We refer to crossover effects when the effects of life events and transitions go beyond, or cross, the life trajectory of the individual concerned and diffuse to related individuals such as members of his or her social network. For instance, temporary or permanent health problems of one member of the family may require various adaptation in the work and leisure activities of other family members.

The study of the determinants and consequences of life course transitions is challenging due to the several interdependencies across life domains and across related individuals. The Life Course Cube (Bernardi, Huinink and Settersten 2019) proposes a graphic representation of the complexity of the relationships that characterize the life of an individual. The axes of the cube represent three key dimensions: time, domains, and levels. The interconnection between those axes represent the individual behavior over time while interacting across levels (“micro”, “meso” and “macro”) and across life domains.

The interdependence across life domains means that decisions and events happened in one domain may have a strong influence into other life domains, creating spillover effects. For instance, the combined effect of family and working life on wellbeing (Comolli, Bernardi, and Voorpostel, 2020); the simultaneity of working and family life decisions across generations (Bolano and Bernardi, 2020); the link between working uncertainty and family formation decisions (Bolano and Vignoli, 2020); geographical mobility and professional and family careers (Semeraro, 2018); the difficulties of multiple goal pursuit (Freund, 2007). Spillover effects can also been seen as the resources generated or drained by one life domain that facilitate or hinder actions and well-being in another life domain (Bernardi, Bollmann, Potarca, and Rossier, 2017; Freund, Knecht, and Wiese, 2014). Negative spillovers may spread the consequences of hazards across life spheres (Pin and Spini, 2016; Widmer, Girardin, and Ludwig, 2017), whereas positive spillovers may trigger resilience or produce synergies (Ihle et al., 2016; Shane and Heckhausen, 2016). In the upcoming LIVES book, an entire section is dedicated to the interdependences across life domains.

The life course of an individual is characterized by interactions between levels (i.e., macro-meso-micro interaction) as well as within levels (e.g., across individuals). The interdependence across individuals indicates that changes in one person’s life patterns may lead to changes in other people’s lives as well, bringing to a dependence in the attitudes and behaviours of members of the same group or network (household, working place). These types of interactions are crossover effects. For example, studies have shown that fertility behaviour might spread across friends and generations (Bernardi, 2016). Studies have shown the mutual influences of couple’s member on fertility decisions (e.g., Hanappi et al. 2017; Testa and Bolano 2019), health (Lam and Bolano, 2018), migration and adaptaion (Ravasi, Salamin, and Davoine, 2015).

Resources and reserves are associated with vulnerability in specific life domains.

Authors: Laura Bernardi, Danilo Bolano


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Bolano, D., and Bernardi, L. (2020). Transition to Grandparenthood and Early Retirement: Interdependencies of Life Domains across Generations. Unpublished
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Comolli, C.L, Bernardi, L. and Voorpostel, M. (2020). Joint family and work trajectories and multidimensional wellbeing. Under review.
Freund, A. M., Knecht, M., & Wiese, B. S. (2014). Multidomain engagement and self-reported psychosomatic symptoms in middle-aged women and men. Gerontology, 60(3), 255–262.
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Hanappi, D., Ryser, V-A., Bernardi L., and Le Goff, J-M. (2017). Changes in Employment Uncertainty and the Fertility Intention–Realization Link: An Analysis Based on the Swiss Household Panel. European Journal of Population, 33(3):381-407 DOI: 10.1007/s10680-016-9408-y
Ihle, A., Grotz, C., Adam, S., Oris, M., Fagot, D., Gabriel, R., & Kliegel, M. (2016). The association of timing of retirement with cognitive performance in old age: The role of leisure activities after retirement. International Psychogeriatrics, 28(10), 1659–1669.
Lam, J., and Bolano, D. (2018). Social and productive activities and health among partnered older adults: A couple-level analysis. Social Science & Medicine, 229, 126-133.
Pin, S., & Spini, D. (2016). Impact of falling on social participation and social support trajectories in a middle-aged and elderly European sample. SSM - Population Health, 2, 382–389.
Ravasi, C., Salamin, X., and Davoine, E. (2015). Cross-cultural adjustment of skilled migrants in a multicultural and multilingual environment: An explorative study of foreign employees and their spouses in the Swiss context. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 26(10), 1335-1359
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Shane, J., & Heckhausen, J. (2016). Optimized Engagement Across Life Domains in Adult Development: Balancing Diversity and Interdomain Consequences. Research in Human Development, 13(4), 280–296.
Testa, M.R., and Bolano, D. (2019). Intentions and Childbearing in a cross-domain life course approach: the case of Australia. VID Working Papers, 01/2019
Widmer, E. D., Girardin, M., & Ludwig, C. (2017). Conflict Structures in Family Networks of Older Adults and Their Relationship With Health-Related Quality of Life. Journal of Family Issues, 39(6), 1573-1597.

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