The Organisation of Time Over the Life Course
European Societies, Vol. 8, 2006
Posted: 16 Jan 2008
Over the last decades, the life course approach has developed into a major research paradigm. The notion of life course provides a common field of research and a heuristic conceptual device aiming at studying individuals trajectories over time. In its modern version, the life course approach can be said to represent a major innovation in our understanding of complex social phenomena, making time, context and process core theoretical dimensions of social behaviour. Most of the research using this approach has stressed the extent to which social structures and individual factors shape the life course of individuals and has focused on the developmental consequences of alternative life trajectories. One of the main features of the life course approach is therefore to recognize the crucial role time plays in our understanding of individual behaviour and structural changes in society. The second important dimension of the life course approach is its attempt to take a holistic view, in that the analysis no longer focuses on isolated specific events, phases or demographic groups as being discrete and fixed but considers the entire life as the basic framework for empirical analysis and policy evaluation. The link between individual trajectories on one hand and historical period, social structures, as well as human agency on the other is also at the core of the life course paradigm.
The notion of life course posits therefore that life trajectories are constituted by a palette of sequences of events that are both individually and socially constructed. The main objective of this cross-country comparative paper is to analyse to which extent the design of national welfare state regimes shape households' patterns of labour market integration over the life course. An analysis of the various national regulatory frameworks, with special focus on institutional opportunities and/or barriers to combine paid work with other social activities, is provided. Special attention is also given to companies' human resource and time management and whether human resource strategies encompass a life course perspective. By linking the specificity of the various regulatory and social protection systems to the country's current patterns of labour market integration the authors not only examine the impact of the overall institutional framework on time allocation over the life course but, also the extent to which the current working time options actually affect the sustainability of the social protection systems. Finally, in the conclusion, some policy implications are suggested with a special focus on the needs of finding new forms of time organisation and distribution of income over the life course. According to the authors these new forms of time management might contribute to a better work life balance for employees and might favour positive compromises between firms' productive efficiency and employees' needs for a larger control on their time structures over their life course.
Keywords: life course, working time, work life balance
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