Katja Möhring, Andreas P. Weiland
Couples’ Life Courses and Women’s Income in Later Life: A Multichannel Sequence Analysis of Linked Lives in Germany

European Sociological Review, 2022: 38, Heft 3, S. 371–388
ISSN: 0266-7215 (print), 1468-2672 (online)

We examine how the life courses of couples in East and West Germany are linked to women’s income in later life using multichannel sequence analysis. By applying a couple perspective, we overcome the individualistic approach in most previous research analysing women’s old-age income. Detailed monthly information on spouses’ employment and earnings trajectories from age 20 to 50 for the birth cohorts 1925–1965 (N = 2020) stems from SHARE-RV, a data linkage of the administrative records of the German public pension insurance with the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). We identify seven clusters of couples’ life courses and link them to women’s absolute individual and relative household income in later life using a cohort comparison to identify trends over time. While in older cohorts, women in male-breadwinner type clusters achieve the lowest, and those in dual-earner type couples have the highest incomes, this relationship does no longer prevail in younger cohorts. Here, we identify a polarization in dual-earner and male-breadwinner type clusters. The former increasingly diverge into successful female-breadwinner constellations and those with both partners in marginalized careers. The latter polarize between persistent male-breadwinner constellations and those in which women increase their labor market engagement.