The Sociological and Demographic Traditions in Life Course Research Aart C. Liefbroer
What is the key difference between the sociological and demographic traditions? • The Sociological Tradition: Important sociological questions in studying the life course • The Demographic Tradition: Important approaches in studying demographic life courses Outline
Life course is one of the most interdisciplinary fields in social science • Two types of foci • Domain specific, e.g. demography, health • Specific lens on all domains of the life course, e.g. psychology, sociology • What is specific to the sociological lens? • Sociology looks at life courses not as expression of an unfolding personality but as regularities ‘‘produced’’ by institutions and structural opportunities (Diewald & Mayer, 2009) Life course sociology or demography?
Life course is one of the most interdisciplinary fields in social science • Two types of foci • Domain specific, e.g. demography, health • Specific lens on all domains of the life course, e.g. psychology, sociology • What is specific to the demographic approach? • Focus on demographic events (birth, death, migration, household change) • Focus on methodological toolkit • Focus on macro-level outcomes Life course sociology or demography?
Most famous view is that of Glen Elder • Four key principles of life course research • Human agency • Timing of life (individual time) • Linked lives (social time) • Location in time and space (historical time) What is life course sociology?
What is life course sociology? Rules & Policies Life course as ‘lived’ Life course as ‘perceived’ Scripts & norms
Issue 1: How do institutional arrangements influence individual life courses? What is life course sociology? Rules & Policies Life course as ‘lived’ Life course as ‘perceived’ Scripts & norms
Issue 1: How do institutional arrangements influence individual life courses? What is life course sociology? + Rules & Policies Life course as ‘lived’ + Life course as ‘perceived’ Scripts & norms Institutionalization
Leisering (2003) on ‘Government and the Life Course’ • Three core fields (or sets of programs) of social policy • Education • Old-age pensions • Systems of ‘risk management’ – social assistance, social insurance [health, unemployment, accident], personal social services • Three modes of operation of the welfare state in shaping the life course • Structuration / differentiation • Integration • Normative modeling How do policies structure the life course?
Structuration / differentiation • Education and old age pensions differentiate the life course into three stages, thereby structuring the life course • Integration • Establishing connections between the different life stages • Policies act as ‘bridges’ over life’s discontinuities and ‘mend’ the life course • Normative modeling • Policies convey norms about appropriate behaviour, e.g. by putting a premium on ‘normal life courses’ How do policies structure the life course?
Issue 2: How do norms and scripts influence individual life courses? What is life course sociology? Rules & Policies Life course as ‘lived’ Life course as ‘perceived’ Scripts & norms
Shared expectations about appropriate ‘life course behaviour’, e.g. occurrence, timing, sequencing and combination of events • Two types of views, shared expectations as norms or as scripts • Norms: expectations backed up by sanctions if the norms are violated • Scripts: expectations internalized by individuals (sanctions are not necessary) How do norms and scripts influence the life course?
Issue 2: How do norms and scripts influence individual life courses? What is life course sociology? Rules & Policies Life course as ‘lived’ - - Life course as ‘perceived’ Scripts & norms Individualization
Two views: • Individualization as a loosening of normative constraints on individual behaviour. Norms and scripts loose their hold on individuals and they start deciding by themselves. Individual freedom in living one’s life is increased (Giddens, Beck) • Individualization as an internalization of normative constraints (Elias) or as a way of imbuing individuals with capacities and skills that are essential in modern societies with rapidly changing demands (Meyer) • Both views have different consequences • The first view emphasizes decreasing cultural and structural constraints • The second view emphasizes changing cultural and structural constraints What is individualization
Issue 3: How are lives as ‘lived’ and lives as ‘perceived’ related? What is life course sociology? Rules & Policies Life course as ‘lived’ Life course as ‘perceived’ Scripts & norms Life planning
The idea that individuals have to plan their own future. This implies that they can influence their own behaviour and that they (constantly) reinterpret their life experiences • This view is put forward by Giddens and Beck & Beck-Gernsheim. The latter even speak about homo optionis • This view has been criticized by researchers who emphasize that social background still is a very dominant force in shaping life courses • Research by Brannen & Nielsen and Brooks & Everett suggests: • In particular middle class young adults focus on life planning • Lower classes are not very likely to focus on life planning – they follow traditional scripts • Upper classes are not very likely to focus in life planning – their superior education (Oxbridge) makes it unnecessary to plan Life planning
Life planning may be influenced by one’s capacities to plan and one’s needs to plan • Research by Hellevik & Settersten shows: • Across European countries, young adults with more personal resources are more likely to plan than young adults with fewer personal resources • Young adults in countries with less favourable societal conditions are more likely to plan than young adults in countries with more favourable societal conditions Life planning
Issue 4: How do people deal with discrepancies between scripts and opportunities? What is life course sociology? Rules & Policies Life course as ‘lived’ Life course as ‘perceived’ Scripts & norms Culture / Structure discrepancies
Life course ‘culture’ (e.g. stress on life planning and freedom of choice) and life course ‘structure’ (e.g. the life course policies that are available) may not fit • This situation of a discrepancy between societal goals and societal means may lead to anomie (Merton) • Five ways to deal with this discrepancies • Conformism (both goals and means are accepted) • Innovation (goals are accepted but means not) • Ritualism (means are accepted but goals not) • Retreat (both goals and means are not accepted) • Rebellion (both goals and means are not accepted, but new ones are actively propagated) Culture/structure discrepancies
Issue 5: How do changes in life courses influence policies and scripts? What is life course sociology? Rules & Policies Life course as ‘lived’ Life course as ‘perceived’ Scripts & norms Duality of structure
Structure influences life course behaviours and perceptions • The notion of ‘agency’ implies that the opposite effect also occurs: if people start behaving differently, this will lead to changing rules and changing scripts • Life course research is ‘biased’ towards structure influencing behaviour, and little attention is paid to the opposite path of influence Duality of structure
The history of life course demography dates back at least to the 17th century……. • John Graunt’s life table What is life course demography?
The life table is based on the timing of individual events • But is meant to describe the evolution of a population • The same is true for another key demographic concept: the cohort • A cohort is a group of individuals who have experienced the same event at the same time (or time-period) • Social change partly results from the succession of cohorts in a population (Ryder) • Demographers use the Lexis-diagram to study whether variation in rates depend on age, period or cohort A focus on the macro-level
Demographers want to describe population changes, but also project these changes • What is going to happen with: births, deaths, migration, household formation? • To project, understanding the mechanisms behind demographic behaviours is crucial • This asks for the analysis of the determinants of micro-behaviour • From demography to demology? From macro to micro
Focus is on describing and understanding: • Timing of events (when do they happen?) • Sequence of events (in what order do they happen?) • Quantum of events (howoften do they happen?) • Twomain data sources • Register data • Survey data • Twomain approaches • Event-history analysis • Sequence analysis Micro-level approaches
Advantages: • Information on the complete population • Accurate information on vital events (no recall error) • Disadvantages • Information is nottargetedtosocial-scienceuse • Information on a limitednumber of variables Register data
Advantages: • Data on more relevant processes (e.g. cohabitation) • Information on a rich set of covariates • Disadvantages • Non-response bias • Recall error Survey data
Main goal is to examine which factors influence the timing of demographic events • Focus on causal analysis • Main challenge: Are ‘explanatory’ variables really exogenous or not? • Examples: • Relationship between educational attainment and childbearing • Relationship between marriage and childbearing • ‘Remedies’ • Use of time-varying covariates • Simultaneous modelling of multiple processes Event-history analysis
Main goal is to examine the patterning or sequencing of demographic events • Focus on descriptive analysis Sequence analysis
Examples of sequences from age 18 to 30: • 18 P 21 S 22 SC • 18 P 19 K 20 N 24 S 27 SC 29 S • 18 N 22 S 23 SC 25 SCP 29 SC Sequence analysis
Main goal is to examine the patterning or sequencing of demographic events • Focus on descriptive analysis • Challenges: • How to calculate the level of similarity between sequences • How to decide on the number of different patterns • How to link sequences to background characteristics Sequence analysis
The sociological tradition looks at the impact of social regularities on the life course (how do societies shape the life course?) • The demographic tradition looks at a specific set of phenomena (birth, death, migration, household shift) • The sociological tradition is strong in theories, the demographic tradition is strong in methods • Both traditions share a reliance on survey data Conclusions
Beck, U., & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002). Individualization. Institutionalized individualism and its social and political consequences. London: Sage. • Billari, F. C. & A. C. Liefbroer (2010) Towards a new pattern of transition to adulthood? Advances in Life Course Research, 15, 59-75. • Brannen, J., & Nilsen, A. (2002). Young people’s time perspectives: From youth to adulthood. Sociology, 36(3), 513-537. • Bras, H., Liefbroer, A.C., & Elzinga, C.H. (2010). Standardization of pathways to adulthood? An analysis of Dutch cohorts born between 1850 and 1900. Demography, 47 (4), 1013-1034. • Brien, M. J., L. A. Lillard & L. J. Waite (1999) Interrelated Family-Building Behaviors: Cohabitation, Marriage, and Nonmarital Conception. Demography, 36, 535-551Brooks, R., & Everett, G. (2008). The prevalence of “life planning”: evidence from UK graduates. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29(3), 325-337. • Buchmann, M. (1989). The script of life in modern society: Entry into adulthood in a changing world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. • Diewald, M., & Mayer, K. U. (2009). The sociology of the life course and life span psychology : Integrated paradigm or complementing pathways ? Advances in Life Course Research, 14, 5-14. • Elder, G.H. Jr. (1998). The life course as developmental theory. Child Development, 69 (1), 1-12. • Furlong, A., & Cartmel, F. (2007). Young people and social change: New perspectives (2nd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press. • Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity Press. • Heinz, W. R., Huinink, J., & Weymann, A. (Eds.). (2009). The life course reader. Individuals and societies across time. Frankfurt/Main: Campus Verlag. References
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