Chapter 15: Structure, diversity and inequality in life courses

This chapter consists of the conceptual preliminary work regarding the concept of life course regimes and an overview over methodical approaches to the analysis of life courses.

The concept of life course regimes develops a conceptual frame for the systematic analysis of life courses in historical and international comparison. In a historical analysis of German life course regimes, K. U. Mayer defines the essential dimensions of such a comparative study. He speaks of ‘destandardisation’ of life courses during the transition from a late industrial Fordist pattern to a post-Fordist one. Here, the shaping of life stages plays as much a role as political institutions, incomes or subjective components. For example, the Fordist model of the male-breadwinner with a growing tertiary education sector, early marriage and child birth is being replaced by a post-Fordist model with interrupted, prolonged and life-long training periods, late marriage and pluralisation of lifestyles.

This concept provides the theoretical starting point for an empirical examination: At first, we address the question of whether the West German life course regime and the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism can be analytically described – within the frame of social reporting – by means of empirical macro indicators. Moreover, it has to be examined to what extent these assumptions apply to East Germany too, or whether an individual East German model of life course regime is needed.

To adequately analyse life courses (as a whole) at the micro level, is too complex a task and ultimately unsatisfactory. During the second report’s conceptual phase, therefore, Karin Kurz proposed the following approach:

  • At first, the boundary phases of life courses shall be investigated, i.e. the age of initiation into employment and the age of withdrawal from it. This is because the great changes at the individual and household level do not occur during the main employment phase between 35 and 55 years, but rather in the years before and after.
  • Not singular events or sequences shape life courses, but rather simultaneities in different areas of life, Therefore, the interaction of transitions and events in different areas of life shall be investigated for both phases.

Accordingly, life course are divided into three phases which are dealt with in the following chapters of this division:

  • the phase of the young adult up to 35 years while entering a career and starting a family,
  • the main employment period and
  • the phase of age transition beyond 55 years

The simultaneity of events in different phases is taken into account by applying different analysis designs and methods, which will be discussed more precisely in the corresponding chapters: in the phase of the young adult longitudinal section analyses (sequence analyses, optimal matching), in the main employment phase multivariate event analyses and, finally, in the phase of age transition indices regarding life course description.


Results (German)
Bartelheimer, Peter (2010): Prekarität als Risiko im Lebensverlauf. WSI-Herbstforum. PDF

Responsibility for this chapter

Tanja Schmidt, Schmidt Sozialforschung