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Journal Article

Individualization, opportunity and jeopardy in American women's work and family lives: a multi-state sequence analysis


Publication date

Dec 2013


Life course sociologists are increasingly concerned with how the general character of biographies is transformed over historical time – and with what this means for individual life chances. The individualization thesis, which contends that contemporary biographies are less predictable, less orderly and less collectively determined than were those lived before the middle of the 20th century, suggests that life courses have become both more internally dynamic and more diverse across individuals. Whether these changes reflect expanding opportunities or increasing jeopardy is a matter of some debate. We examine these questions using data on the employment, marital and parental histories, over the ages of 25–49, for five birth cohorts of American women (N = 7150). Our results show that biographical change has been characterized more by growing differences between women than by increasing complexity within individual women's lives. Whether the mounting diversity of work and family life paths reflects, on balance, expanding opportunities or increasing jeopardy depends very much on the social advantages and disadvantages women possessed as they entered their prime working and childrearing years.

Published in

Advances in Life Course Research

Volume and page numbers

18 , 296 -318





Social Change, Life Course Analysis, and Sociology


Open Access article


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