Family life courses, gender, and mid-life earnings

Marika Jalovaara & Anette Eva Fasang


Research documents high diversity of family life courses in developed societies. Less is known about the association between divers family life courses and economic resources. Based on life course and instability theories, we ask, which typical long-term family pathways occur, and how are they associated with mid-life earnings for men and women? The analysis uses rich register data to follow family life courses from ages 18–39 (N=12,951). With sequence and cluster analysis, we identify seven typical family pathways, and link them to mid-life earnings using regression models. We contribute to the literature first, by complementing research on earnings gaps for marriage and parenthood with a longitudinal process perspective on family life courses. Second, we inform the comparative debate on family dynamics and economic resources focusing on gender differences in the relatively egalitarian Nordic welfare state of Finland. Results show a stronger association between family pathways and mid-life earnings for men than for women that is less accounted for by selection into family pathways. Our findings draw attention to a large group of never-partnered childless men with low earnings who often go unnoticed in family research. Their substantial earnings disadvantage is not associated with high family instability but the combined absence of any family events. Overall results highlight that the association between family instability and mid-life earnings depends on the content of family instability in gender-specific ways.

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