Lifecourse, Age, and Inequality

As our lives unfold, we typically experience quite dramatic fluctuations in our income streams and wealth, with such fluctuations patterned in partly predictable ways. Although we expect childhood and young adulthood to be a period of investment (i.e., schooling) and low earnings, the ideal-typical lifecourse has these investments paying off in later adulthood in the form of employment, higher earnings, and wealth accumulation. The objective of scholars of the lifecourse is to determine how actual lifecourses play out, how the risks of poverty may be exacerbated by particular life events (e.g., divorce), and how employers may take age and other lifecourse markers (e.g., marriage, parenthood) into account in hiring, firing, and promoting workers.

Age distribution of poverty

Are the aged more or less likely than the middle-aged to be poor? Have older people become much less vulnerable to poverty because of Social Security? Is retirement increasingly being postponed for lack of adequate savings? Are children especially at risk for poverty? Is this risk of childhood poverty more pronounced in the United States (relative to other advanced industrial countries)?

Lifecourse transitions

What types of lifecourse events make us especially vulnerable to financial insecurity and poverty? Dropping out? Divorce? Retirement? Are careers becoming less predictable and more volatile as technologies change rapidly, investments in training depreciate quickly, and firms fluidly relocate production to new countries? Are these new vulnerabilities adequately addressed by unemployment insurance and related social programs?


How much age discrimination is there? Is it intensifying? Will it ultimately weaken as rich and powerful baby boomers convert it into a high-profile form of discrimination? Is there much discrimination against mothers or married women? Is this form of discrimination increasing or decreasing?

"When the rich wage war it is the poor who die." - Jean-Paul Sartre

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