Work and family over the life-course. A typology of French long-lasting couples using optimal matching


  • Ariane Pailhé Ined
  • Nicolas Robette Université Verailles-St-Quentin and Ined
  • Anne Solaz Ined



Work, family, couples, gender, life course, sequence analysis, optimal matching


Decisions regarding the division of labour are part of a dynamic process of negotiation between partners and thus develop throughout the life cycle, in relation to family events such as successive childbirths.This article investigates the degree of interaction between work and family of both partners in the long run over the life course. Using an innovative methodology, optimal matching analysis, and data from the French Family and Employers Survey (2004-05), it defines a typology of work-family strategies for about 950 long-lasting couples observed from 3 years before couple formation to 18 years later, and identifies related key life-course stages. Finally, it analyses the factors leading to the various trajectories, and assesses whether preferences or opportunities and constraints greatly influence couples’ profiles.  Results bring to light a wide variety of work-family patterns, where the number of children and the woman’s employment trajectory are the key determinants of these couple profiles. In spite of the trend towards equal opportunities, only women adapt their work patterns, except in the most “work-oriented couples”. They use several strategies, by adjusting sequence and timing of births. In line with the standard human capital approach, partners’ initial relative endowments influence couples’ histories. A more traditional division of work is observed among less educated men and women, while women with greater human capital are more likely to remain employed through the transition to parenthood, whatever their partner’s level of education.

Author Biographies

Ariane Pailhé, Ined

Nicolas Robette, Université Verailles-St-Quentin and Ined

Anne Solaz, Ined