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Coupled inequalities. Trends and welfare state differences in the role of partner’s socio-economic resources for employment careers Leen Vandecasteele

Understanding the way in which people’s labour market outcomes are influenced by other household members has become indispensable and very timely against the background of current demographic and social developments like the rise of female employment and the increasing trend of assortative mating. Previous research on the question how the partner’s socio-economic position affects employment has provided mixed results: some studies have indicated that women married to a higher status partner are less likely to be employed, while others have found that people’s occupational attainment and wages benefit from having a high status partner (e.g. Verbakel & de Graaf, 2008; Shafer, 2011). The contribution of this project is to better explain the reasons for heterogeneity in partner effects on labour market outcomes by examining differences across the life course, across welfare states and over generations.

In order to formulate testable hypotheses, theories of the welfare state are used, next to theories of social stratification and cumulative (dis)advantage as well as theories of the division of labour within families and social capital transmission. In a first instance, employing household panel data and longitudinal methods we will examine how the partner’s socio-economic position affects employment outcomes after different life events like childbirth, unemployment, divorce and how the partner’s work situation affects retirement timing.

Secondly, we examine how the socio-structural and institutional country context affects partner effects. Blossfeld and Drobnic (2001) have shown that the way in which the husband affects female employment differs between welfare states, but to date there is no research explicitly testing which country characteristics contribute to the cross-national differences. Therefore, we will conduct multilevel analyses of cross-national data whereby the moderating effect of macro level determinants like parental leave regulations, split or joint taxation, child care provision, female employment rate, occupational segregation, gender wage gap, poverty and income inequality is examined.

Thirdly, we will examine how the relationship between labour market outcomes and the partner’s socio-economic position has changed over time by following different birth cohorts in long-running longitudinal surveys. The research will be based on longitudinal analyses of high quality secondary surveys like the Swiss Household Panel, the British Household Panel Survey, the German Socio-Economic Panel and the European Statistics of Income and Living Conditions. Gender is a crucial element and a central dimension in the project. Several studies have found that men’s careers are less dependent on their partner than women’s careers.

We will develop gender-specific hypotheses and conduct all analyses for both gender groups in order to see whether we find institutional and context characteristics that explain these gender differences. This research is innovative by bridging the gap between family research and labour market research. It will contribute to cutting-edge questions brought about by current and ongoing societal trends such as increased female labour market participation, increases in assortative mating, increasing wage inequality and inequalities across households.


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