© 2019 by Nicole Hiekel

Current Research

Childhood family structure and complex partnership trajectories in adult life

Does family structure during childhood explain variation in adult's partnership patterns?  Together with Sergi Vidal (CED) I investigate whether childhood family structure predicts patterns of serial cohabitation in adult life. Using Pairfam data on roughly 3,000 West German women and men born in the early 1970s and who are around 40 years old at interview with detailed and yearly information on the parent's relationship status, parental separation, single parenthood and repartnering between birth and age 18, we will investigate whether the established timing effects of family structure on the key demographic events in the transition to adulthood (leaving home, union formation, marriage, childbearing) also translate in greater complexity of partnership trajectories until age 40.


The paper has been presented  at the 16th Meeting of the European Network for the Sociological and Demographic Study of Divorce, Tel Aviv, October 10. - 12., 2018) as well as at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America in Austin TX, United States (April 10-13, 2019).

The paper has been published in Social Science Research.

Do Individualized Marital Practices Increase the Risk of Marital Dissolution?

The emergence of individualized marriage has been put forward to explain the greater marital instability of contemporary marriages. In individualized marriages, spouses seek high levels of intimacy, have a great sense of personal autonomy and apply democratic principles when solving disagreement. Together with Michael Wagner (University of Cologne) I investigate whether individualized marital practices are associated with the risk of marital dissolution, and if so, how? Using the German Family Panel (2008-2016; N=3,030 individuals; 16,697 person-year observations) we examine whether these marital practices are associated with marital dissolution. Our findings show that higher levels of intimacy, autonomy and democracy decrease the risk of marital dissolution when entered individually in a model controlling for potential confounders. Examined jointly in one model, only higher levels of intimacy show a statistically significant negative association with marital dissolution. Moreover, particularly long-term marriages’ stability profits from greater intimacy. These findings call for more research on relationship dynamics within individualized marriages that may jeopardize their marital stability differently compared to traditional types of marriage.

The paper has been presented at the European Population Conference 2016 in Mainz Germany (31.8.-3.9.) as well as at the 14th Meeting of the European Divorce Network in Stockholm, Sweden (12.10-15.10.) as well as at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America in Chicago, IL, United States (27.-29.4.2017).

The paper is currently under review in European Sociological Review.

The long term cost of partnership and fertility trajectory: later life labour market income of women across Europe


I have the honour to co-supervise (together with Aart C. Liefbroer) the dissertation project of Joanne Sophie Muller (NIDI). I co-author a paper on later life earning inequality among women with different family trajectories. The increase of female employment was the most significant change in labour markets during the past century. However, a woman’s earnings remain closely related to her changing family role over the life course. Mothers’ wages lag behind those of childless women, even after controlling for work experience. This so called “motherhood penalty” is a well-established finding in many Western countries. Against this background, the present study will address the research question: what is the association between the family trajectory and later life labour market income among women? Also, we ask whether this association differs between countries. We contribute to the literature in three main ways. First, we take a holistic life course approach by combining multiple characteristics of the family trajectory. Previous research mainly focused on the effects of single events, for instance the mother’s age at first birth. However we expect that the interplay between fertility and partnership history is relevant. Therefore, we combine them into one typology using sequence analysis. Second, we focus on later life outcomes. Most studies regard short-term income effects. However, women’s decision to reduce their working hours not only lowers current income, but also compromises future earnings. Third, this study provides a cross-country perspective. Previous research suggests that motherhood effects on income are shaped by country-specific family policies and cultural attitudes. We contribute to the literature by assessing a large number of country contexts. To answer our research questions, we will use data from 22 countries in the Generations and Gender Surveys and SHARELIFE.

The paper will be published in Demography.