Life course events and the reproduction of social stratification

Steffen Hillmert, University of Tuebingen

Questions of inter-generational social mobility are central to the sociological analysis of social inequality, as social mobility and immobility can be regarded to be indicators of the persistence of social advantage and disadvantage within a society. An alternative approach to study social inequality starts from a life-course perspective and focuses on intra-generational developments and the timing of life events. However, macro-sociological research on the historical development of social stratification has so far paid comparatively little attention to aspects of time. This paper proposes an analysis of historical developments in inter-generational social mobility and reproduction using life-course related information. It discusses how (micro-level) information about social differences in life course patterns can be used for a description of macro-social change. Central to this are demographic aspects like how parental unions are formed, how many children and when they are born as well as these children’s relative chances of education and attaining social status. On the basis of this information, the paper discusses in greater detail how these differences and trends translate into timing and speed of the social reproduction of social collectivities. The West German society during the mid- and late 20th century serves as an exemplary case. The data sources for the empirical analyses consist of aggregate data from official statistics as well as individual-level life-course data. These results are combined and used to analyze the forms and the speed of the reproduction of social collectivities.

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Presented in Session 53: Family Formation Processes