The life-phase as a socio-demographic variable for international comparisons
Sociology VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands
Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, Jürgen H.P.
Center for Survey Design & Methodology GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences Mannheim, Germany
International comparisons often strive to compare persons in similar situations across countries. In those comparisons, a person's age is frequently used to determine the situation a person is in. While information on a person's age is readily available, it only allows for limited conclusions on the situation a person is in. This is because age is a proxy-variable, which means that the researcher needs to specify what he or she assumes age to stand for. What age stands for, however, differs between and within countries. Women, for example, often retire earlier than men do, and the French, as another example, tend to retire earlier than Danes do. To improve our understanding of the situation a person is in, we suggest replacing age with a different socio-demographic variable: the life-phase.
A life-phase is a longer-lasting situation most persons encounter within their lifes. In the beginning of the 21st century, persons in western societies are generally assumed to pass four distinct life-phases within their lifes: (1) youth, which is the time of education and socialization, (2) middle-age, which is the time of paid work and raising children, (3) young old, which is the time retirees spend in good health, and (4) old old, which are the last years of life spent in poor health. While there is general consensus about the concept of the life-phases, their operationalization is disputed. The reason are gender- and country-differences in what a suitable operationalization should look like. Examples for such differences are the more prominent role of raising children within women's lifes than within men's, and the existence of a long-term care insurance in Austria and Germany, which puts informal care in a different context in those countries.
In our presentation, we suggest a gender- and country-sensitive operationalization of life-phases. Furthermore, we apply the suggested operationalization on international survey data. The results allow for quickly gaining an impression of a person's life situation and of the commonness of life-situations within a population.