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.

Individualized relationship practices and union dissolution. Differences between marriage and cohabitation

Emotional disclosure, self-determination and egalitarianism are considered central benefits of individualized relationships. Yet, the body of research linking relationship practices and union stability is sparse. Michael Wagner (University of Cologne) and I  study the extent do relationship practices in the spheres of intimacy, autonomy and democracy affect the risk of union dissolution, comparing marriage and cohabitation. Using longitudinal data from nine waves of the German Pairfam survey, we predict union dissolution of n=3,650 cohabiting and married women and men. Cohabiters report higher levels of individualized relationship practices compared to the married. Intimacy is the key dimension predicting union stability. Individuals thus exhibit relatively low resilience towards decline in emotional gratification in their couple relationships. Autonomy and democracy are not empirically relevant to predict union stability beyond the extent to which they were connected to levels of intimacy. Differences between cohabitation and marriage were marginal with spouses’ benefits from higher levels of intimacy for union stability being larger compared to cohabiting individuals. Our study contributes to the analytical clarification of the consequences of the changing meaning of intimate relationships in individualized societies, and ultimately, to cultural explanations for increased relationship instability.

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 has been recently published 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 has been recently published in Demography.