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Adding Well-Being to Ageing: Family Transitions as Determinants of Later-Life Socio-Emotional and Economic Well-Being


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This chapter focuses on adult family-related experiences and the manner in which they affect later-life socio-emotional and economic well-being (loneliness, employment, earnings). Particularly innovative is the investigation of these relationships in a cross-national perspective. Results from two studies conducted by the authors of this chapter within the CONOPP project show that deviations from family-related social customs differently impact socio-emotional and economic well-being outcomes as there is: (a) a non-normative family penalty for loneliness (individuals who never experience cohabitation/marriage or parenthood or postpone such events are the loneliest); and (b) a non-normative family bonus for women’s economic outcomes (single and/or childless women have the highest earnings). Moreover, analyses revealed that European countries differ considerably in the manner in which similar family-related experiences affect later-life well-being. For example, childlessness had a stronger negative impact on loneliness in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe and the observed heterogeneity could be explained by culturally-embedded family-related values and norms (childless individuals in countries placing stronger accent on ‘traditional’ family values are lonelier compared to childless individuals in less ‘traditionalistic’ nations). In terms of economic outcomes, results show that the lower the female labor force participation during child-rearing years, the more substantial the differences in later-life employment and income between women with different family life trajectories.
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A. C. Liefbroer, M. Zoutewelle-Terovan (eds.), Social Background and the
Demographic Life Course: Cross-National Comparisons,
Chapter 5
Adding Well-Being toAgeing: Family
Transitions asDeterminants ofLater-Life
Socio-Emotional andEconomic Well-Being
MioaraZoutewelle-Terovan andJoanneS.Muller
5.1 Introduction
Well-being in later life is a theme with tremendous weight in an ageing society and
concepts such as loneliness, employment and earnings have been dened as impor-
tant facets of well-being (Dykstra 2009; Kearns etal. 2015; Yanguas etal. 2018).
However, key determinants of these later-life well-being facets await to be unrav-
eled. One key domain with major consequences for the lives of individuals is the
family domain (Neugarten 1979). Still, to date, empirical evidence on the long-term
associations between family-life events and well-being in later life is sorely lacking.
This chapter provides a discussion of the concept of well-being in later-life, high-
lights prominent theoretical models explaining how mid-life family transitions
(union formation and parenthood) are linked to later-life well-being (loneliness,
employment and income), and presents recent cutting-edge results on the socio-
emotional and economic outcomes of adults in a cross-national perspective.
In spite of over a century of research conducted on the topic of well-being,
providing a widely agreed upon denition remains a challenge (Bowling etal. 2002)
because the concept is extremely complex (Salvador-Carulla etal. 2014). However,
it is widely accepted that mapping the concept is essential, and that this outlining
should provide a multi-dimensional and multi-faceted approach to later-life well-
being (Diener etal. 2009; Salvador-Carulla etal. 2014). To date, many elements of
this map still await to be conceptualized, decomposed and tested.
Whereas the medical eld focused on the role of disease, human functioning and
healthcare in depicting later-life well-being, the social sciences have concentrated
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan (*) · J. S. Muller
Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI), The Hague, The Netherlands
University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands
on the psychological, social, economic and cultural aspects of it. Within the social
sciences we have vast understanding of the psychological experiences of older
adults (e.g. anxiety, depression, happiness or life satisfaction), social participation,
integration and cohesion, and economic circumstances and opportunities (see for
example Cherchye etal. 2012; Crystal and Shea 1990; Keyes 1998; Ryff 1995;
Smeeding 1991). Still, much awaits to be unraveled with regard to determinants of
well-being. In this chapter we address the socio-emotional and economic dimen-
sions of well-being, as well as the cultural and welfare context affecting well-being,
by identifying determinants of later-life loneliness, employment and earnings across
multiple European nations.
The most common approach in investigating factors affecting later-life well-
being is to focus on aspects of the recent environment of older people and uncover
features and experiences linked to their well-being (short-term associations). To
date, we have valuable knowledge on how health and functional abilities, personal-
ity traits, social activities and social support, family circumstances (e.g. having a
partner) and socio-economic positioning are linked to well-being outcomes
(Bowling etal. 2002; Hansen and Slagsvold 2015; Hansen etal. 2009; Kearns etal.
2015; McMunn etal. 2006; Siegrist and Wahrendorf 2010; Sundstrom etal. 2009;
Yang and Victor 2011). Still, the life-course framework emphasizes that a full
understanding of later-life well-being requires a broader approach in which well-
being must be explained also in the context of experiences occurring earlier in life
(long-term associations). Family-related events are crucial in one’s life and may
trigger a set of events and circumstances affecting later-life socio-emotional and
economic outcomes. Based on the life-course perspective, this chapter provides a
theoretical discussion of mechanisms explaining the association between family-
life and later-life well-being outcomes (loneliness, employment and earnings), and
a collection of integrated results on the matter emerging from various studies
recently conducted by the authors of this chapter within the Context of Opportunities
(CONOPP) project.
A closer look at the social scientic empirical evidence on the psychological,
social, economic and cultural dimensions of well-being shows that the cultural
dimension is considerably underrepresented empirically. A proper investigation
across various societies has been often hindered by methodological aspects such as
the unavailability of data across multiple countries (in Europe, data for Southern
and Eastern-European countries is often unavailable) and/or limited observation
periods (inability to capture all adult family transitions and later-life outcomes
across countries). Our article aims to discuss important family-life predictors of
well-being across multiple European nations and explain the strength of relation-
ships based on existing cultural norms and values regarding family-life and the
available national socio-economic opportunities.
This chapter addresses various knowledge gaps in the uncharted area of long-
term associations between family life and well-being. First, it provides an integrated
discussion on the key tenets underlying the manner in which adult family transitions
(union formation, parenthood) can be linked to well-being in later-life. Second, it
accommodates recent cutting-edge results on the afore-mentioned socio-emotional
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan and J. S. Muller
and economic aspects of well-being by focusing on loneliness, employment and
earnings in later-life. Third, it assembles unique evidence on cultural aspects by
revealing the existence of cross-national variation in the family-life – well-being
nexus and explains such variation based on contextual family-related norms and
values or social and economic capital. The results presented in this chapter are part
of a bigger research project– the CONOPP Project – a pioneer in revealing the
complex links between various life experiences: childhood disadvantages (e.g.
divorced parents, low socio-economic status in the family of origin), educational
achievements, adult family and career pathways, and later-life well-being (visit site for an overview of all studies conducted within the project). The
analyses underlying these results are based on data from various surveys (see
following sections) on European or European related nations.
5.2 Family Transitions andWell-Being
inaLife-Course Perspective
The life-course framework argues that earlier life experiences may affect one’s life
in the long run (O’Flaherty etal. 2016; Wrosch and Heckhausen 1999). Family-
related transitions are key events, with crucial consequences for one’s life (Neugarten
1979). However, as most of the existing empirical research examined the link
between relatively recent family-related experiences and later-life well-being, to
date, we lack considerable knowledge on the long arm of family-related experiences
on well-being in later life. Specically, a signicant knowledge gap exists on how
family-related events (e.g. marriage, cohabitation, parenthood) in earlier adult
phases affect well-being outcomes in later life.
A key idea in the life-course perspective is that adult family events should be
investigated through their occurrence, timing, duration, quantum and ordering
(Liefbroer and Billari 2010; Settersten and Hagestad 1996). For the family domain,
the behavioral guidelines structuring one’s life course are provided by social norms
and values (Billari etal. 2011; Settersten 2003). Individuals are well aware of the
‘ideal’ social scenario for experiencing events such as romantic relationships and
parenthood (Billari etal. 2011; Liefbroer and Billari 2010; Liefbroer etal. 2015;
Settersten and Hagestad 1996) and can evaluate for themselves whether they are
‘on-track’ or ‘off-track’ with this ideal script (Neugarten etal. 1965). Deviations
from the ‘ideal’ time-line trigger an array of emotional, social and economic disad-
vantages perpetuating throughout life into the old age.
Several theoretical mechanisms explain how socio-emotional and economic
vulnerability in later life (loneliness, unemployment or low earnings) are the result
of transgressing norms in the family domain, with the norm noncompliance either
being a complete violation of the norm (non-transitions) or reecting (partial)
deviation(s) from the norm (off-time or unusual sequence of events). The social
support mechanism suggests that individuals not complying with social customs
5 Adding Well-Being to Ageing: Family Transitions as Determinants of Later-Life…
experience a lack of peer support (Wrosch and Freund 2001), which can have nega-
tive consequences for emotional well-being and career development. The stigma
mechanism evokes experiences of social sanctions and exclusion for individuals
who disobey norms (Thornton and Young-DeMarco 2001). The economic model
has various facets and offers several explanations for different types of norms non-
compliance. Individuals who violate timing norms by experiencing family transi-
tions early in life may compromise their later economic prospects by limiting their
education, employment and earnings opportunities (Alexander and Reilly 1981;
Moore and Waite 1977; Ross and Huber 1985). However, for women in particular,
the economic argument suggests that non-events such as the absence of children and
partner may actually boost one’s employment and individual earnings (Correll etal.
2007; Davies and Joshi 1994; Harkness and Waldfogel 2003; Killewald and Zhuo
2019; Roman 2017; Sigle-Rushton and Waldfogel 2007; Zhang 2009). A psycho-
logical perspective on family transitions discusses the emotional immaturity mecha-
nism explaining that early transitions to marriage and parenthood may capture the
individual emotionally unprepared (Marini 1984), with the negative affect resulting
from this immaturity accumulating throughout life affecting later-life well-being.
It is interesting to note that, with the exception of the stigma mechanism, the
theoretical models discussed above explain predominantly transgression of norms
in terms of occurrence and timing of events. Empirical research also predominantly
focused on these two aspects. Still, previous research rendered mixed results. With
regard to socio-emotional determinants of later-life well-being, some studies have
shown that non-transitions such as childlessness and singleness affect later-life
well-being (Byrne 2000; Dykstra 2006; Houseknecht 1977; Koropeckyj-Cox etal.
2007; Mullins et al. 1996). Yet, others found no differences in later-life socio-
emotional well-being between parents and non-parents (Dykstra and Keizer 2009;
Hansen etal. 2009; Koropeckyj-Cox 1998; Vikstrom etal. 2011). The few studies
investigating the timing of transitions focused mainly on parenthood and showed
that early transitions to parenthood have negative consequences for socio-emotional
well-being (Koropeckyj-Cox etal. 2007) and postponement of parenthood is associ-
ated with better well-being outcomes (Koropeckyj-Cox etal. 2007; Mirowsky and
Ross 2002). Yet, others found little evidence that social sanctioning occurs for those
who delay parenthood (Liefbroer and Billari 2010). With regard to later-life labor
market outcomes of women, prior studies have shown that outcomes differ by wom-
en’s age at rst childbirth, time intervals between births as well as partnership con-
text (Gough 2017; Killewald and Garcia-Manglano 2016; Miller 2011). It has been
empirically proven that women who delay having children tend to work more hours
and have higher earnings in the years following childbirth than women who have
children at a young age (Gough 2017; Miller 2011). Moreover, Gough (2017) found
that mid-range birth intervals (i.e., around two years between births) lead to the
smallest cumulative earnings penalties for women. Finally, empirical research sug-
gests that partnered women, especially after childbirth, tend to specialize in the
parenting role while their (male) partner tends to specialize in providing (Juhn and
Mccue 2017; Killewald and Garcia-Manglano 2016; Killewald and Gough 2013;
Langner 2015). This specialization strategy among couples was most certainly
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan and J. S. Muller
dominant in the Baby Boom cohorts, but is still prevalent among couples today after
However, rather than studying life events such as births and partnerships
separately, scholars such as (Elder etal. 2004) discussed the necessity of introducing
a holistic approach in studying life-course events. In their view, the occurrence,
timing, duration, quantum and ordering of events should be captured as an integrated
chain of events (holistically) rather than as independent elements dening one’s
pathway. This approach is particularly important in modern times given the increas-
ing diversity in family structure and family transitions such as increases in single-
ness, cohabitation, and divorce, childlessness or postponement of parenthood,
residential distancing between family members and decrease in multigenerational
households (Billari and Liefbroer 2010; Cherlin 2010; Dykstra 2009; Hantrais and
Letablier 1996; Sobotka 2004, 2010; Victor etal. 2002). Still, to date, the holistic
approach requires extensive theoretical and empirical attention. Advanced analyti-
cal techniques that enable a comprehensive investigation of complex life-pathways
in social sciences open great opportunities towards the development of new and
integrated ways of theorizing and researching the link between family trajectories
and well-being.
A nal aspect to be discussed here is the cultural perspective in linking family
pathways and later-life well-being (an aspect only limitedly addressed in the exist-
ing literature). First, as there is considerable variation across nations in age norms
and values regarding family life, we expect that the strength of the link between
family-related experiences and well-being depends on these culture-specic cus-
toms. Reher (2005) explained that societies recognized for their strong family val-
ues (e.g. Southern and Eastern European nations) are more traditional and
conservative in thinking and behavior than countries with weaker family values.
This suggests higher levels of social control in these traditionalist nations. For
example, Liefbroer etal. (2015) showed that disapproval of certain family choices
(namely voluntary childlessness) is strongest in Eastern European/former commu-
nist countries. In countries with such traditionalist family customs, disobeying the
norms may be associated with higher levels of social pressure, stigmatization, or
withdrawal of emotional, social and nancial support. In contrast, in individualistic
nations (e.g. Western European or Nordic countries) in which one’s family transi-
tions are less dependent on the social environment (Lesthaeghe 2010), deviations
from social customs may have fewer or no well-being consequences. Second, sub-
stantial cross-national variation in terms of welfare and economic development may
affect the relationship between family pathways and later-life well-being. In coun-
tries with lower levels of state support and economic security, engaging in family
roles represents an investment (Balestrino and Ciardi 2008). Transgressing family
norms in less economically developed contexts may have stronger negative conse-
quences for one’s emotional, social and economic well-being. Especially for
females, employment and earnings strongly depend on contextual factors that sup-
port opportunities to reconcile family and work (Abendroth etal. 2014; Budig etal.
2012; Hallden etal. 2016), progressive gender role attitudes and the level of formal-
ization of the care sector. Women’s labor market opportunities depend on cultural
5 Adding Well-Being to Ageing: Family Transitions as Determinants of Later-Life…
role norm expectations regarding parenting and marriage (Fortin 2005). Moreover,
societies differ to what extent care for young children is considered a public respon-
sibility, and hence supported by public services, or a mere family matter (Bettio and
Plantenga 2004; Esping-Andersen 1999; Saraceno and Keck 2010). While public
childcare provisions support women’s labor market participation, women in coun-
tries with extensive family provisions paradoxically on average work in lower earn-
ing occupations and hold fewer managerial positions (Mandel and Semyonov 2006).
5.3 Family-Related Events andLater-Life Loneliness
Several scholars dened loneliness as a key facet of well-being (see for example
Dykstra 2009; Kearns etal. 2015; Yanguas etal. 2018). Perlman and Peplau (1982)
explained loneliness as an incongruity between desired and actual quantity and
quality of social relationships. Despite the vast amount of loneliness research, to
date we know little on how non-normative family behaviors affect later-life loneli-
ness. The few studies focusing on these aspects revealed that feelings of loneliness
are lower among partnered or married individuals (De Jong Gierveld and Van
Tilburg 2006; Dykstra and Keizer 2009; Fokkema etal. 2012; Hansen and Slagsvold
2015; Sundstrom etal. 2009). Still, the majority of existing studies focused on part-
nerships (or the lack of) in later-life, and did not take into account partnership expe-
riences throughout the entire adult period (exception– Peters and Liefbroer 1997).
In contrast to union formation experiences, the transition to parenthood received
longer-term attention, however, existing results linking childlessness to later-life
loneliness are inconclusive. Some studies nd that childless individuals are lonelier
than parents in later-life (Koropeckyj-Cox etal. 2007; Mullins etal. 1996) whereas
others nd no differences in loneliness between parents and non-parents (Dykstra
and Keizer 2009; Hansen etal. 2009; Vikstrom et al. 2011). Empirical evidence
linking the timing of family transitions to later-life loneliness is to date sorely lack-
ing. However, studies focusing on perceived well-being showed that early transi-
tions to parenthood are linked to lower well-being (Koropeckyj-Cox etal. 2007),
whereas postponement of parenthood was associated with a better well-being for
fathers (Mirowsky and Ross 2002) and lower risk of loneliness for mothers
(Koropeckyj-Cox etal. 2007).
Within the CONOPP project, Zoutewelle-Terovan and Liefbroer (2018)
conducted a study that shed some light on the manner in which deviations from the
social norms regarding the occurrence and timing of family transitions (union for-
mation and parenthood) have long-term consequences for loneliness in later life.
The authors used data from the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) on 61,082
individuals aged 50years or older, in 12 European countries (Bulgaria, Belgium,
Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Germany, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania,
Russia, and Sweden). Next to the general aim of understanding how norms trans-
gression affects loneliness later in life, the authors also provided evidence on cross-
national variation in the relationships investigated, and explained differences in the
strength of effects through country-specic levels of familialism and economic
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan and J. S. Muller
security. To test the latter (the moderating role of familialism and economic secu-
rity), the authors used the classication of cultural values and beliefs developed by
Inglehart (Inglehart 1997, 2006; Inglehart and Baker 2000) based on the World
Values Survey. The most important results from this study are summarized in this
section. For further information on the methodology used see Zoutewelle-Terovan
and Liefbroer (2018).
Following a multi-step analysis approach, the authors rst estimated the effects of
non-transitions in the family domain (never partnering and never having children) on
later-life loneliness separately for each country. In the next step, variations in country-
specic OLS regression estimates were analyzed using random-effects meta-analyses
and these results are shown in Figs.5.1 and 5.2. Interesting to note that in all countries
investigated, those who never lived with a partner (in marriage or cohabitation) and
never had children were signicantly lonelier in later-life compared to the ones who
experienced such events. This outcome is also reected in the averaged effect across
countries (.53 for never partner and .50 for childlessness). The meta-analyses also
revealed substantial cross-national variation for never having a partner (I2=68.2%)
with strongest effect observed in Bulgaria and weakest in France and Romania.
Substantial between-country heterogeneity was also observed for childlessness
(I2=78.2%) with the strongest effect observed in Poland and weakest in Belgium.
Whereas for never partnering no clear geographical pattern was revealed, childless-
ness was associated with higher levels of loneliness in Eastern European countries
Fig. 5.1 Forest plot never partner (From Zoutewelle-Terovan and Liefbroer, 2018).
Note: nonsignicant country effects and condence intervals are represented by a dotted line
5 Adding Well-Being to Ageing: Family Transitions as Determinants of Later-Life…
(Poland, Romania and Georgia) and lower levels of loneliness in Western and Northern
European countries (Belgium, France, Sweden and Norway).
Zoutewelle-Terovan and Liefbroer (2018) also examined the effects of off-time
transitions (both too early and too late) on loneliness. To establish the group norm,
the authors calculated the average age at which an event (rst living with a partner
or rst-time childbearing) occurred within specic groups given the country of ori-
gin, birth cohort, level of education and gender. A family event was classied as
occurring early or late if it happened at least 2years before, respectively 2years
after the average of the group. Whereas early transitions are weakly linked to later-
life loneliness and little cross-national variation is observed, postponed transitions
revealed an interesting pattern (Figs.5.3 and 5.4). Opposite to our expectations,
averages across countries showed that postponed transitions are associated with
higher levels of loneliness (0.13 for late partnering and 0.15 for late parenthood).
Also, a moderate level of cross-national heterogeneity is observed for late partner-
ing (I2=48.7%) and late parenthood (I2=57.5%). Zooming in on the country level,
we observed that late partnering was signicantly associated with higher levels of
loneliness only in France, Germany, Norway and Lithuania and late parenthood was
signicantly associated with higher levels of loneliness only in Bulgaria, Romania,
Belgium, Poland, and Sweden.
In short, the previous results reveal that only non-occurrences and late transitions
are associated with higher levels of loneliness. Still, the effects of postponed transi-
tions are much smaller than the effects of non-transitions.
Fig. 5.2 Forest plot never children (From Zoutewelle-Terovan and Liefbroer, 2018).
Note: nonsignicant country effects and condence intervals are represented by a dotted line
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan and J. S. Muller
Fig. 5.3 Forest plot late partner (From Zoutewelle-Terovan and Liefbroer, 2018).
Note: nonsignicant country effects and condence intervals are represented by a dotted line
Fig. 5.4 Forest plot late parenthood (From Zoutewelle-Terovan and Liefbroer, 2018).
Note: nonsignicant country effects and condence intervals are represented by a dotted line
Another goal of the study of Zoutewelle-Terovan and Liefbroer (2018) was to
offer explanations for the cross-national variation based on cultural values. To do so
they focused on cross-national differences in traditionalism/secular-rational values
and survival/self-expression values measured through the World Values Survey. The
traditionalism/secular-rational macro-measures reect the manner in which a soci-
ety adheres to religious and traditional family values, whereas the survival/self-
expression measures reveal the level of economic and physical security, interpersonal
trust and tolerance. Random-effects meta-analyses were used to investigate the
moderating role of cultural values on the effects of never-events and late-events on
loneliness. The value dimensions were not able to explain variations in effect sizes
with one exception: childless individuals are lonelier in more traditional societies
(for details see Zoutewelle-Terovan and Liefbroer 2018). This moderation effect is
plotted in Fig.5.5. Specically, childless individuals are lonelier in countries scor-
ing high on traditionalism such as Poland or Georgia.
5.4 Women’s Family-Related Events andLater-Life Labor
Market Outcomes
The twentieth century marked a revolution in women’s labor market position with a
rapid, but uneven, increase in women’s employment and earnings across Western
societies (Esping-Andersen 2009; Goldin 2006). It is uneven, because women’s work
career and family life course remain closely intertwined. Prior studies showed a lag in
Fig. 5.5 Meta-regression never parent effects – traditionalism as moderator (From Zoutewelle-
Terovan and Liefbroer, 2018)
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan and J. S. Muller
mothers’ employment and earnings compared to non-mothers and to men (see for
example Correll et al. 2007; Harkness and Waldfogel 2003; Sigle-Rushton and
Waldfogel 2007). Furthermore, the younger women’s transition to motherhood, the
stronger the earnings ‘penalty’ (Abendroth et al. 2014; Gough and Noonan 2013;
Miller 2011). These studies focused on specic elements in the family-life course
however, rather than taking the entire partnership and fertility trajectory into account.
Within the CONOPP project, Muller etal. (2020) contributed to this literature by
studying women’s fertility and partnership trajectories simultaneously. They showed
that the consequences of women’s transition to motherhood– or of not making this
transition– can be better understood by taking into account the partnership context.
Furthermore, they showed the importance of a long-term perspective on the family-
life course. Existing studies mainly examine short-term effects of women’s family
events on their labor market position. Muller etal. (2020) revealed that family deci-
sions in early and mid-life continue to affect women’s economic position until the
end of their careers (age 50–60).
Muller etal. (2020) combined three major surveys: SHARELIFE, the Generations
and Gender Survey and the British Household Panel Survey. Their combined data-
set covers full fertility and partnership histories from 18,656 women aged 50–59,
from 22 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark,
Estonia, France, Georgia, East-Germany, West-Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy,
Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
and the United Kingdom). Their sample consists of women from the Baby Boom
Cohort– born between 1943 and 1963. They applied sequence analysis to the fam-
ily history data, which resulted in a typology of women’s family life courses.
Subsequently, Muller and colleagues used this typology to predict women’s later
life employment and earnings across countries. More information regarding the
methodological approach can be found in Muller etal. (2020).
Based on the fertility and partnership histories, Muller etal. (2020) derived a
family life course typology using sequence analysis. Figure5.6 shows the sequence
index plots of the family trajectory typology they found. They labeled each cluster
based on its characteristics. First, they identied two types of child with partner
trajectories, i.e., the most traditional or standard motherhood trajectories character-
ized by a lifelong partnership with one or more children. These trajectories only
differ in the timing of childbearing and the number of children. On the one hand,
“Child with partner, stretched” (CWP stretched) is characterized by many children
or a large time gap between births, whereas “Child with partner, early” (CWP early)
is characterized by early and rapid childbearing. Second, the other trajectories rep-
resent deviations from the traditional, most common partnered motherhood trajec-
tory. Women in the “Child with partner, delayed” (CWP delayed) cluster started
their partnership and childbearing relatively late. Two other clusters include child-
less women who spent most of their life (1) with a partner– “No child with partner”
(NCWP) or (2) without a partner– “No child, no partner” (NCNP). A nal cluster
was comprised of women who experienced a substantial spell of single mother-
hood– “Single mother”. The CWP clusters were most common. Namely, 69.6% of
women were in one of the three CWP clusters, while 12.3% were in one of the two
childless trajectories and 18.1% in the single mother cluster.
5 Adding Well-Being toAgeing: Family Transitions asDeterminants ofLater-Life...
In the next analytical step, Muller etal. (2020) used the family trajectory typology
to predict women’s later-life employment and earnings. Figure5.7 shows women’s
relative later-life earnings by family trajectory type (all countries pooled). The
authors nd that mothers with a traditional family trajectory– i.e., a lifelong partner
and early childbearing – have lowest later-life earnings. Furthermore, partnered
mothers who delayed motherhood earned more in later life than women with CWP
early or CWP stretched trajectories. Thus, for partnered mothers, a longer period
spent with dependent children is associated with lower earnings in later life.
Next, Muller etal. (2020) nd that childless women, and especially childless
women without a partner, had highest later life earnings. Single mothers did earn
signicantly more than women with a partnered motherhood trajectory. The authors
concluded that there is evidence for a gradient in women’s later-life earnings based
on intertwined partnership and fertility histories, rather than a gap between mothers
and non-mothers.
Figures 5.8 and 5.9 show respectively the predicted later-life employment rate
and the predicted later-life earnings for women by family trajectory type, across the
levels of female labor force participation in the sample of countries. Muller etal.
(2020) nd that in countries with low levels of female labor force participation dur-
ing childrearing years differences in employment and earnings (at ages 50–59)
between women with different family-life trajectories were considerable, but they
are relatively small in countries with high levels of female labor force
Fig. 5.6 Sequence index plots of women’s family trajectories – ages 18 and 50 – across 22
European countries (From Muller etal., 2020). Note: n=18,656
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan and J. S. Muller
Fig. 5.7 Relative earnings of women employed at age 50–59 by type of family trajectory (From
Muller etal., 2020).
Notes: Child with partner, stretched=1; Coefcients are exponentiated (based on information in
Table5in the original paper mentioned above); Traditional trajectories have a solid ll and devia-
tions from traditional pathways are striped
Fig. 5.8 Relative odds ratio to be employed– women aged 50–59– by type of family trajectory
and level of female labor force participation in 1980 (From Muller etal., 2020).
Notes: Child with partner, stretched = 1; Coefcients are exponentiated (based on regression
Table4in the original paper); Traditional trajectories have a solid ll and deviations from tradi-
tional pathways have no ll
5 Adding Well-Being to Ageing: Family Transitions as Determinants of Later-Life…
5.5 Discussion
This chapter focused on family-life experiences as determinants of socio-emotional
and economic well-being in later life (loneliness, employment, earnings). Next to
providing an integrated discussion of several theoretical models explaining associa-
tions of interest and a short review of existing empirical knowledge, we reported
recent results from two studies developed by the authors of this chapter within the
CONOPP project. The presented results are supported by state-of-the-art methodol-
ogy involving unique combinations of data sources (e.g. to include a wide variety of
European nations; to integrate macro-level indicators), advanced techniques of data
analysis (e.g. meta-analytical approaches, sequence analysis) and a comprehensive
depiction of cross-national variation and moderating cultural effects. Overall, the
results indicate that similar family-related experiences in adulthood differently
impact socio-emotional and economic well-being outcomes in later life. Our results
show that undergoing more traditional family events links to lower levels of loneli-
ness, whereas a more traditional life course relates to lower earnings and employ-
ment for women in later life. We also found considerable cross-national variation in
Fig. 5.9 Relative earnings of women employed at age 50–59 by type of family trajectory and level
of female labor force participation in 1980 (From Muller etal., 2020).
Notes: Child with partner, stretched=1; Coefcients are exponentiated (based on Table5in the
original paper mentioned above); Traditional trajectories have a solid ll and deviations from tra-
ditional pathways have no ll
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan and J. S. Muller
the manner in which the family history affects socio-emotional and economic well-
being, and focused on explaining this variation through family-related cultural
aspects and well-fare state regime. Below, we provide a more nuanced discussion on
all these ndings, their implications for theory, policy and practice, and offer several
directions for future research.
When analyzing later-life loneliness we showed evidence on how transgressing
group norms in terms of family-related experiences is associated with higher levels
of loneliness. We call this the non-normative family penalty. The contribution of the
above-mentioned study is that it provided unique insights on family-related penal-
ties from three different angles. First, it contrasted the two most important roles in
the family domain namely partnering (in cohabitation and marriage) and parent-
hood, and revealed that the penalties for non-partnering and childlessness for later-
life loneliness are independent but still quite similar in size. Second, it investigated
penalty degrees based on the extent of deviation from group-dened norms and
uncovered that complete violations of family norms (never experiencing cohabita-
tion/marriage or parenthood) have a stronger negative impact on later-life loneliness
than other deviations from the norm (experiencing the same family transitions ‘off-
time’). Finally, it investigated within-event differences in penalties based on the
timing of deviations from group norms and showed that early transitions have no
consequences for later-life loneliness, however, postponement of events (both living
with a partner and parenthood) was associated with higher levels of loneliness.
As the emotional, social and economic theoretical models generally discuss
penalties reected in lower levels of well-being for norm non-compliance (with the
exception of economic model for postponed transitions), the results presented in
this chapter ask for a more nuanced approach of these theories. First, the occurrence
of events seems to have a much bigger impact on later-life loneliness than the timing
of events (effects were strongest for people who never experienced family-
transitions). In other words, the strength of family penalty for loneliness should be
explained also in terms of degrees of norm non-compliance. Second, whereas early
or late transitions are both seen as deviations from the norm, they have different
impacts on later-life loneliness. Specically, feelings of loneliness in later-life do
not differ much between ‘early birds’ and ‘on-time’ transiters. However, it is the
postponement of family-related events that triggers negative consequences for lone-
liness. Given that based on the economic perspective we would expect that postpon-
ers should be less lonely in later-life and ‘early birds’ lonelier, we conclude that the
presented results offer no support for the economic argument. Rather, the negative
loneliness outcomes seem to be more the result of socio-emotional penalties people
may encounter as they postpone or skip family-related events. Still, further research
on (dis)advantages to non-occurrences and postponement is necessary in order to
properly establish whether the negative consequences are the result of stigmatiza-
tion or of reductions in social contacts and/or support.
Differences across countries in the effects of family-related experiences on
loneliness have also been investigated. Considerable variation across European
nations has been found for both occurrence and postponement effects. We argued
5 Adding Well-Being to Ageing: Family Transitions as Determinants of Later-Life…
that cross- national variation can be explained through culture-specic characteristics
(level of traditionalism in terms of family formation; economic development and
welfare). Interestingly, the survival/self-expression macro-measure (used as a proxy
for economic development) did not explain any cross-national variation. However,
the degree of traditionalism explained cross-national differences in the effects of
childlessness on loneliness (but was unable to explain variation in the effects of
non- partnering or postponement of events on loneliness). Such results emphasize
the higher value of parenthood in one’s life-course.
On the other hand, when analyzing economic outcomes for women in later-life,
we found a non-normative family bonus. While women with the most traditional
family life course of life-long partnership and multiple children have the lowest
earnings in later life, women who deviated from this ‘standard’ life course on aver-
age earned more at the end of their careers. Especially women who lived mostly
without a partner and without children have high earnings in later life. Contrary to
the motherhood penalty suggested by prior studies (see for example Harkness and
Waldfogel 2003; Sigle-Rushton and Waldfogel 2007) we found no evidence for a
strict divide in terms of employment or earnings between mothers and nonmothers.
Rather, we see a gradient in women’s later-life earnings based on their mid-life fam-
ily trajectories. Still, no such gradient is found for employment.
Furthermore, by comparing these long-term links across 22 European countries,
we showed that the association between women’s family life course and later-life
labor market outcomes was smaller in countries with higher female labor force par-
ticipation during women’s childrearing years. The authors argue that in societies
which support the reconciliation of work and family, and hence show higher levels
of female labor market participation during women’s mid-life, women’s labor mar-
ket outcomes converge until the end of women’s careers.
With an ageing population, we witness a worldwide interest in the improvement
of later-life well-being. This places considerable pressure on public health profes-
sionals and policy makers to increase the quality of life on one side and diminish
public costs on the other side. To date, many available interventions address later-
life well-being through programs concentrating on older persons. Projects such as
hot lines for emotional support, volunteers visiting older individuals, community-
based activities engaging the elderly, nancial support for difculties in making
ends meet have clearly proven their benets. Still, the protecting capacity of these
interventions remains limited. In order to properly address later-life difculties and
boost well-being levels, we must additionally implement adequate prevention and
effective intervention strategies addressing earlier life-stages of these individuals.
Our results offer valuable insights for shareholders, organizations and policy-
making bodies. For example, such knowledge can be used for an early identica-
tion of people at risk in order to provide opportunities for improving social and
economic circumstances earlier in life, with great preventive capacity for adverse
well- being outcomes later in life (e.g. improving opportunities to properly com-
bine education, family and work domains in early and mid-adulthood; supporting
M. Zoutewelle-Terovan and J. S. Muller
family life based on its size and composition in order to increase quality of social
support networks as well as career development opportunities). Moreover, as lone-
liness and economic adversity in later life are further linked to various physical and
mental health outcomes such as cognitive decline, depression, dementia, decrease
in physical activity, stroke and hypertension, poor sleep, obesity or alcohol abuse
and even mortality (Adena and Myck 2014; Akerlind and Hornquist 1992;
Akerstedt et al. 1994; Cacioppo et al. 2006, 2014; Chen 2019; Friedman et al.
2005; Gow etal. 2007; Hawkley etal. 2009; Lauder etal. 2006; Tilvis etal. 2011;
Wilson etal. 2007), we argue that a more efcient prevention approach targeting
socio-emotional and economic well-being may render considerable reductions in
public (health) expenditures. To conclude, improving the well-being of individuals
is benecial for both individuals and the society at large, and long-term prevention
should gain a more central role in prevention and intervention programs targeting
Whereas the two CONOPP studies extensively discussed in this chapter provide
valuable knowledge on the long-term associations between family-related events
and several later-life well-being outcomes, more research is required to fully
explain the complexity of these relationships. First, future research should enrich
the life- course perspective by moving beyond the effects of occurrence and timing
of family- related experiences and addressing family roles also in terms of duration,
quantum and sequencing. Within this framework, the role of other family-related
transitions (e.g. separation/divorce, widowhood) should be established as well.
Second, as modern family-life is rather complex in terms of types of transitions
and structure (Billari and Liefbroer 2010; Cherlin 2010; Sobotka 2010), it is desir-
able for forthcoming research to holistically approach this complexity. The
embracement of advanced analytical techniques enabling a comprehensive investi-
gation of complex life-pathways in social sciences (e.g. sequence analysis) opens
great opportunities for the development of new and integrated ways of theorizing
and researching the long-term link between family trajectories and later-life well-
being. Third, a natural progression within the holistic approach is to focus on
cross-domain trajectories (e.g. intertwines between family and work pathways).
Such procedures may shed light on the underlying mechanisms explaining the rela-
tionship between adult transitions and later-life well-being. Fourth, future empiri-
cal endeavors should be able to provide a clearer hierarchy of long-term and
short-term determinants of well-being. Finally, as cross-national diversity in the
effects of family transitions on later-life well-being is not random, studies must be
carried out to reveal the impact of other cultural values, circumstances and oppor-
tunities (which we did not consider) in order to explain cross-national variation
(e.g. better national measures for economic well-being, more rened regional mea-
sures reecting family norms).
Acknowledgements The research leading to these results has received funding from the European
Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/
ERC Grant Agreement n. 324178.
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