Critical Comparison of Special Theses on Life Course on the Basis of the Articles by Kholi

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction.

2. “Institutionalization of the Life Course: Looking back to look ahead” by Martin Kohli (2007)

3. “Life Courses and Life Chances in a Comparative Perspective” by Karl Ulrich Mayer (2004) ..

4. Basic assumptions and main arguments

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

For over 20 years now the concept of the institutionalized life course is being developed and now it became a broadly accepted and practiced theory amongst sociologists1.

The development of the theoretical background for the life course research can be located already in the first half of the 20th century, with important studies of this period performed by Znaniecki, F and Thomas, W.I. (1918) who designed the model of the “Life Cycle” or “Life History” and the “Model of Generation” by Karl Mannheim (1928)2. Erikson/Clausen followed in the 1940s with the theory of “Human Development” along with Eisenstadt/Parsons with their “Model of Age Differentiation”3. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s the latter model was subdivided into the concept of “Age Stratification” by Riley, the concept of “Biography” by Bertaux, the concept of “Life Course” by Elder and the concept of “Cohort” by Ryder/Easterlin4. In the 1980s the “Life Course” concept was developed into “The Tripartite Life Course in the Work Society” by Kohli and the “(Welfare) State” which is divided itself into “General” by Mayer/Müller and “Differentitation”. The differential life course means that life course patterns can be different, meaning that country-specific patterns of life courses are differentiated according to gender, social class and interaction.

This paper will try to provide a critical comparison of the special theses on the life course on the basis of the article “Institutialization of the Life Course: Looking back to look ahead” by Kholi (2007) and “Life Courses and Life Chances in a Comparative Perspective” by Mayer (2004).

I will first summarize both articles and then present Kohli´s and Mayer´s assumptions and main arguments in both articles. I will analyze if there are differences between the assumptions of both authors and which arguments could complement one another, meaning which arguments from both articles facilitate each other. I will then critically compare the results with each other and finally try to provide a perspective for the future and a possible conclusion.

2. “Institutionalization of the Life Course: Looking back to look ahead” by Martin Kohli (2007)

In 1980, Martin Kohli, a swiss sociologist, introduced his thesis of the institutionalization of the life course which he reflects in the mentioned article together with the insights into the theory of the life course research.

Questioning the institutionalized life course

The studies of life course, which mostly concentrate on individual (or group-specific) life courses describe and explain the transition of individuals from one life stage to the next and the change which happens between different statuses, and this way the life course is seen as an institutional pattern5.

The model of institutionalization of the life course was developed in the mid-1980s and with some changes it can be summarized in five propositions, suggesting that the concept of life course can help solve problems which developed through the change of the economy system6:

1.Temporalization– life time became one of the core structural features of the life course and certain life events are not bound to a specific age but to a certain period of time;
2.Chronologization– certain life events correlate with a chronological age in a so called chronologically standardized “normative life course”;
3.Individualization– when individuals are set free from bonds of family, origin, locality or status, meaning that the individuals have free choice, e.g. to choose an occupation they want, although they should be occupied at a certain time;
4. Tripartition of the life course – structuring the life course around thenew system of workwith regard to the shape of the life course, meaning the division of the life course into periods of preparation, activity and retirement, whereas occupational periods determine other periods of life;
5. Dual dimensions – 1.sequences of positionsor life events (certain life events are followed by others), 2.biographical perspectives and actionswhich take the future of an individual into account (subjectivity).7

The concept of life course has some measure of life time security and predictability and thus it allows an individual to apply a self-evident orientation and planning in life8.

One of the factors which make the institutionalized life instable is the tension between the standardized life-course program and the claims for individualization and biographization, which are increasingly institutionalized as a legitimate and even normatively required way of life9.

Dimensions of change

Historical Patterns

Since the 1960s there has been a development, away from the “Fordist” model of the life course (economic growth, low unemployment, expansion of the welfare state) which can be explained with three different models10:

1.Post-Fordism(orpostmodernityorreflexiveorsecond modernity): the change of the structure of the life course characterized by a new historical break;
2. Uniqueness of the 1960s: regression to long-term historical normalcy;
3. Modernization: basic characteristics remain valid since the 1960s but with modern changes in many fields with continuous structural conditions.11

Life course unity and life course regimes

Despite supranational trends, e.g. globalization, there are specific welfare regimes which influence the life course of the population of the given regimes and differences between national societies can influence the life course of the individuals (or groups)12. Those differences can be divided into four types: the “liberal market state” of the Anglo-Saxon world, the “continental conservative welfare state”, the “Scandinavian social democratic welfare state” and the “Southern European welfare state”13.

Heterogeneity and Social Differentiation

The past decades have shown “increasing differentiation and heterogeneity across the population” (Mayer, 2001, p. 95) and age and generation became a huge factor for the support of social inequality through the institutionalization of the life course14. Whereas during the “Fordist” regime women were dependent on men, the family structure consisted of a male breadwinner and a housewife, in the Post-Fordist time the women´s life trajectories come closer to the tripartite life-course regime15. Post-Fordist policies lead to an increasing relevance of social classes, thus lower classes and women have a higher risk of experiencing discontinuities16.

(De-)standardization and Age Grading

Whereas in the 1960s the male normal work biography consisted of continuous full-time employment it changed over time into discontinuous careers, with part-time work and non-work periods, but the extent of partnership commitment (joint household) remains constant17. There is an intergenerational distribution of full employment and generations that are fully employed decrease, and it has been proved that globalization influences careers and also other factors, as education, training systems and employment relations influence job mobility patterns18.

Long-term career trajectories and the overall tripartite structure of the life course are still relevant for men, although female life courses converge with some differences on this structure19. Although age norms are still in place, they have become commonly shared and less constraining, but age boundaries are still shaping the behavior of employers and employees20. On the level of individualization there are indicators of real pluralization of options21.

The future agenda: life course cleavages in an aging society

The life course approach has brought a fresh and interesting insight into the domains of social sciences, but the institutionalization of life course has turned age and generation into a major dimension of social inequality as age or being old is socially stratified22. However, if the life course and its age boundaries were to be deinstitutionalized and dissolved age and generational conflicts would not vanish, but rather be sharpened23.


1KOHLI, M 2007:53

2MAYER, K.U. 2004:5

3MAYER, K.U. 2004:6

4MAYER, K.U. 2004:30

5KOHLI, M. 2007:254

6KOHLI, M. 2007:255f

7KOHLI, M. 2007:255f

8KOHLI, M. 2007:256

9KOHLI, M. 2007:256f

10KOHLI, M. 2007:257f

11KOHLI, M. 2007:258f

12KOHLI, M. 2007:260

13KOHLI, M 2007:261

14KOHLI, M 2007:261

15KOHLI, M 2007:262

16KOHLI, M. 2007:262

17KOHLI, M 2007:263

18KOHLI, M 2007:264

19KOHLI, M 2007:265

20KOHLI, M 2007:265f

21KOHLI, M. 2007:266

22KOHLI, M 2007:267f.

23KOHLI, M 2007:268

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Critical Comparison of Special Theses on Life Course on the Basis of the Articles by Kholi
University of Hildesheim
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ISBN (Book)
Critical Comparison of Special Theses on the Life Course on the basis of the articles “Institutialization of the Life Course: Looking back to look ahead” by Kholi (2007) and “Life Courses and Life Chances in a Comparative Perspective” by Mayer (2004)
articles, basis, comparison, course, critical, kholi, life, special, theses
Quote paper
Yevgeniya Marmer (Author), 2013, Critical Comparison of Special Theses on Life Course on the Basis of the Articles by Kholi, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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