Changes in family dynamics due to increased union instability are gathering scholarly attention. Against this backdrop, we asked: How do family life courses evolve after the dissolution of a first union? And, how do these processes vary across socio-historical contexts?
We deployed sequence and cluster analysis on women’s combined relationship and fertility trajectories over 120 months after the dissolution of the first union using survey data from the Harmonized Histories datasets. Context-level variation was assessed by comparing a series of measures of heterogeneity in family life courses across separation cohorts (1970–2009) and countries (France, the Netherlands, Poland, the Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom).
We found substantial heterogeneity in family life courses that we inferred from a typology of trajectory pathways. We also found relevant dynamics across socio-historical contexts. Post-separation trajectories became more diverse (between-individual heterogeneity) and complex (within-individual heterogeneity) in recent periods among countries that we deem laggards in the diffusion of union dissolution, whereas path dependencies in post-separation family paths could be identified amongst the forerunners.
We conclude that increased union instability across different population groups generally contributes to the heterogenization of family life courses, but national contexts are also important in shaping family trajectories upon union dissolution.