Re-assessing the Importance of life-course norms in western, individualized societies: The example of the Netherlands

Aart C. Liefbroer, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI)
Francesco C. Billari, Università Bocconi

The existence and importance of life-course norms is heavily debated, but little empirical evidence on the issue exists. This paper reviews the debate and provides empirical data on age, sequencing and combination norms and on accompanying sanctions using data from a representative survey among Dutch adults (N=2000). The results show that Dutch adults discern clear age-norms regarding entry into a union and regarding the timing of childbearing. Clear norms also exist with regard to divorce. With regard to other events, there is less consensus on the existence of social norms. Many respondents also think several types of sanctions are attached to transgression of life-course norms. In addition, age, religiousness and level of education influence the perception of norms. There is also some evidence on the rise of new social norms. It might well be that, with the spread of new family life behaviors, these new behaviors themselves will become normative.

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Presented in Session 10: Age norms