, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 135–164 | Cite as

Family Trajectories Across Time and Space: Increasing Complexity in Family Life Courses in Europe?

  • Zachary Van WinkleEmail author


Family life courses are thought to have become more complex in Europe. This study uses SHARELIFE data from 14 European countries to analyze the family life courses of individuals born in 1924–1956 from ages 15 to 50. A new methodological approach, combining complexity metrics developed in sequence analysis with cross-classified multilevel modeling, is used to simultaneously quantify the proportions of variance attributable to birth cohort and country differences. This approach allows the direct comparison of changing levels of family trajectory differentiation across birth cohorts with cross-national variation, which provides a benchmark against which temporal change may be evaluated. The results demonstrate that family trajectories have indeed become more differentiated but that change over time is minor compared with substantial cross-national variation. Further, cross-national differences in family trajectory differentiation correspond with differences in dominant family life course patterns. With regard to debates surrounding the second demographic transition thesis and the comparative life course literature, the results indicate that the degree of change over time tends to be overstated relative to large cross-national differences.


Family Sequence analysis Multilevel modeling Comparative Life course 



I thank Anette Fasang, Markus Schrenker, Jan Van Bavel, Brienna Perelli-Harris, Marcel Raab, Elizebeth Thomson, the participants of the Social Policy and Inequality writing workshop at the WZB, the participants of the Colloquium for Quantitative Research at the Institute for Social Sciences of the Humboldt University Berlin, and the editors and reviewers of Demography for insightful and constructive comments at various stages of the manuscript.

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© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Institute for Social SciencesHumboldt University BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.WZB Berlin Social Science CenterBerlinGermany

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