EQUALLIVES: Inequality, early adult life courses and economic outcomes at mid-life in comparative context

About the project

The aim is to understand the dynamics of inequality across the life-course by analysing how education, labour market and family choices interact to structure accumulated advantage and disadvantage over the life course. Using panel data from five EU countries for over 20 years and cutting-edge statistical methods, including multichannel sequence analysis, we take a comparative approach to exploring how cross-country economic and institutional differences affect inequality outcomes and life courses. Early adulthood is a crucial period of transition where people face multiple choices – about education, jobs, partnerships and childbearing – determining future life. The project focuses on key turning points, examine their interrelation and explore the cumulative impact on individual and group inequalities. The team focuses on transitions during early adulthood, into education, jobs and family formation.


The first stage of the project has focussed on data harmonisation and methodological issues to ensure our comparative analysis is robust. Initial papers have examined how work and family trajectories vary across countries, and at differences in the impact of these differing lifecourse trajectories on outcomes for those in their early 40s. The first project papers are under review, and several others are in the pipeline. Some papers are country specific while others are comparative. The team has also extended the country focus to include the United States, and several countries in the MENA region (Egypt and Israel). This allows the team to draw more general conclusions about how structural, normative and policy contexts shape early adult life courses and ensuing inequality that are also informative for the dynamics in Europe. Findings have been presented at conferences and workshops.

First results

By comparing life course trajectories the team illustrates that the UK stands out as having a particularly large share of young people following a disadvantaged trajectory as they age. The team links these to outcomes at midlife. A first set of research findings on these outcomes examine data for the US, Germany and the UK to assess how work family trajectories and/or family background affects wealth accumulation by midlife. The conclusions from these studies shed light on changes in lifecourse trajectories – for example showing of the US that they are becoming less stable as insecure work has grown, even for the better educated – and that these trajectories continue to be associated with disadvantage in terms of wealth accumulation. For the UK, the role of family background in influencing the chance of home ownership, and housing wealth is assessed, with different processes shown to be at work for influencing these outcomes.

The team also illustrates that parental wealth affects children’s savings habits and behaviours and this has an important impact on later life housing wealth. Other studies look at interactions between gender and ethnicity to assess the impact of children on wages, and show that clear differences exist, suggesting a more nuanced approach to understanding the motherhood pay gap is needed; and that job characteristics before children are born have an important and differential influence the likelihood of women returning to work after having children. Comparative analyses particularly highlight that gender inequality in experiencing different work-family life courses and their link to earnings and wealth in mid-life vary greatly across countries depending on family policies and structural features of labor markets.

Project links

Research team

Prof. S. Harkness
University of Essex

Prof. J.P. Erola
University of Turku

Prof. A.E. Fasang
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Dr T. Leopold
University of Amsterdam

Prof. M.M. Jaeger
University of Copenhagen