North American life course research has typically focused on micro/meso level contexts, and how these shape men’s and women’s lives. There has been less attention to societal laws and policies in analyses of gendered life courses. In contrast, Europeans have typically neglected gender and interdependence among lives, concentrating on analyses of how the state shapes trajectories. We argue that the consideration of demographic context and the role of laws and policies can help bridge the continental divide in life course approaches. In focusing on these two macro-level structural factors, it is unavoidable to acknowledge that families are critical mediators between society and individuals. We show that demographic shifts are creating new late life potential and new opportunities for intergenerational connections. Demographic change also increases differences between men’s and women’s networks and lives. We discuss so-called intergenerational policy regimes and show how they strengthen autonomy versus interdependence in families. Our review of legal changes reveals gender convergence in life structuring. Yet, we also observe strong contrasts between how men and women actually live their lives. Most likely, new understanding of this complex picture can be found in the intersection of macro-and micro perspectives. It is more important than ever that we bridge a “continental divide” between research communities, across countries and methodological camps.

gender, interdependence, laws, levels of analysis, demographic context
Department of Sociology

Hagestad, G.O, & Dykstra, P.A. (2015). Structuration of the life course: Some neglected aspects. In Handbook of the life course, second edition. Retrieved from