Gaps and gradients: Family life courses, gender, and mid-life earnings

Marika Jalovaara & Anette Fasang

Abstract

How are long-term family life courses associated with mid-life earnings for men and women? Based on Finnish register data on earnings and family life courses from ages 18–39 (N=12,951) we identify seven typical family life courses, and link them to mid-life earnings with sequence and cluster analysis and regression methods. In addition to previous research on earnings gaps by parenthood or marriage, our findings support a negative earnings gradient from more to less ‘traditional’ normative family life courses for both men and women. In the egalitarian welfare state of Finland, the most ‘traditional’ family life courses of stable marriage with two or more children go along with the highest earnings. Mid-life earnings are progressively lower following family lives that deviate from this normative model with partnered or unpartnered childlessness or cohabiting parenthood. We find the lowest earnings for unpartnered mothers and never-partnered childless men. Findings draw attention to a large group of never-partnered childless men with low earnings who often go unnoticed in previous research. Their earnings disadvantage is not associated with family instability but on the contrary with the combined absence of any family events.

Keywords: family, life course, gender, stratification, income inequality

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