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Today's Russians Live Less Predictable Lives

Life scenarios in Russia have changed substantially over the past 50 years; individual biographies are now more diverse, while different life stages, such as going to school, starting a family, getting a job, and retirement, are no longer linear and do not always follow a pre-set sequence. Perhaps the most unpredictable are the life courses of people born in the mid-1970s whose entry into young adulthood coincided with the beginning of market reforms in Russia. Alla Tyndik and Ekaterina Mitrofanova have studied Russians' life courses over the past 85 years

In the first half of the twentieth century, the lives of Russians were more predictable, with a similar sequence of life events reproduced from generation to generation. In contrast, the lives of those whose arrival into young adulthood fell in the 1990s have been much more varied, taking new twist and turns in response to the socioeconomic, political, and demographic changes of the time. New forms of employment emerged, such as project-based temporary jobs, freelancing, and remote work. Family life also changed, with cohabitation or being single by choice becoming socially acceptable alternatives. People married and had children at a later age and divorced more often than before, and some chose to remain childfree.

Given the diversity of newly acceptable lifestyles, it is hardly surprising that the biographies of different generations of Russians follow different patterns, as noted by Alla Tyndik, Research Fellow at the Center for Studies of Income and Living Standards, and Ekaterina Mitrofanova, Postgraduate Student at the HSE's Institute of Demography, in their paper 'Social and Economic Behaviours from the Perspective of the Life Course Concept' published in VTSIOM's Monitoring Journal No 3 (121), 2014.

Their analysis is based on data from the ‘Individual, Family, and Society’ survey conducted in 2013 by the RANEPA Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting. The sample included 9,557 respondents from across Russia, born between 1930 and 1989. The researchers also used data from the survey 'Education and Employment' conducted by the Independent Institute for Social Policy in 2005; the number of observed employment trajectories in the latter study was 5,457.

Getting Employed: Later in Life and Less Often

The emergence of new types of employment (remote, temporary, etc.) and new occupations has introduced variety into the Russian employment behaviour. The authors studied various social and economic behaviours within the life-course concept that allowed them to focus on key turning points and on the stereotypes people follow in building their lives (see E. Mitrofanova, The Life Course Concept and Methods of Analyzing Life Events).

The average age for entering the labor market has increased from generation to generation – from 18.8 for those born in the 1930s, 20.3 for those born in the 1940s and 1950s, to 21 for the generation born between 1960 and 1989 – mainly due to the fact that people tend to spend more time than before on education and training.

There is a gender aspect, too: before the age of 20, men and women have an almost equal chance of entering the labour market (Figure 1, right panel). But once they complete their education, the chances of entering a career are lower for women, as this stage in life is often associated with starting a family and having their first child. Some women – about 4% in this study – may never start a career outside home and focus instead on child-rearing and homemaking.

Graph 1. Cumulative hazard function of entering the labour market after the age of 14, by generation and gender

 

Source: Tyndik and Mitrofanova's paper.

The 1930s generation was more likely to get a job before the age of 24 (Figure 1, left panel), but then their chances of entering the labour market decreased.

Another interesting trend is that Russians born in the 1970s had the lowest chances of getting employed during the entire period of observation.

In contrast, the youngest respondents in the sample (born between 1980 and 1989) have minimal chances of getting their first job early, but by the age of thirty they overtake the previous generations born between 1960 and 1979 in the labour market.

According to Tyndik and Mitrofanova, such fluctuations may be due to changes in the labour market and also to external factors; depending on the country's changing economic and political context, getting a job may be easier or more difficult, particularly for novices.

Next, the authors tracked the life courses of different generations based on the sequences of changes in social status, mainly associated with being either employed or unemployed.

Life Courses Particularly Diverse in the 1970s Generation

This part of the study covered the period between 1990 and 1999 and focused on various sequences of social statuses that individuals went through during this time, such as getting an education, going on parental leave, being a homemaker, being unemployed, serving in the military, being retired, and being employed. There was not a single sequence in the study to include all of these statuses.

Indeed, most sequences were fairly short, with nearly half (46%) consisting of just one status (2,511 cases from the ‘Education and Employment’ study sample), one third (32%) consisting of two statuses (1,741 observations), 16% (846 cases) consisting of three statuses, and just 1% (43 cases) consisting of five statuses.

As would be expected, most sequences are similar, and 'being employed' is the most common status.

That said, Tyndik and Mitrofanova identified a fair number of non-typical life courses – one fifth, i.e. 1,103 of the 5,457 cases in the ‘Education and Employment’ study sample.

Respondents born between 1973 and 1975 had the most diverse sequences of life statuses (Figure 2); finishing school in early 1990s, they were young adults during the country's socioeconomic transformation and had a greater variety of lifestyle options to choose from.

Graph 2. Average number of unique elements in a sequence, by the birth year

 

Source: Tyndik and Mitrofanova's paper.

Unemployment Hit Those Born in the Late 1960s

Tyndik and Mitrofanova also looked at how the respondents' life courses were affected by unemployment and found it to affect all generations, but particularly those born in 1969 (Figure 3), of whom some 10% were unemployed for up to one year (the red part of the column) and another 4% were unemployed for up to two years (the green part of the column). Some 7% were unemployed for more than two years (the rest of the column, combined). Russians born in 1975 and in 1978 come second and third, respectively, in terms of being affected by unemployment – perhaps due to the greater diversity of their life courses.

Graph 3. Proportion of sequences including 'unemployment', by the length of unemployment episodes and by the birth year, %

 

Source: Tyndik and Mitrofanova's paper.

Getting an education – being employed – having a child – being employed was found to be the most common sequence.

Figure 4 shows 20 most frequently observed sequences of life episodes; the statuses, such as being employed, being retired, serving in the army, being unemployed, being a homemaker, being on a parental leave, and getting an education, are marked on the Y-axis. The life courses are shown as straight or angled lines connecting different statuses along the X-axis.

The most common multi-element sequence found by the researchers was 'education – employment – parental leave – employment'. Also common was the sequence 'military service – employment', but the sequence 'military service – education' was never encountered, even though the sequence 'education – military service – employment' was observed in some cases.

Graph 4. Chart with parallel coordinates, 20 most common sequences

 

Source: Tyndik and Mitrofanova's paper.

Finally, parental leave is usually followed by employment; becoming a homemaker is a rare occurrence not included in the graph.

In conclusion, Russian life courses, including career paths, have changed substantially in response to new economic realities and changing social norms.

 

Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, September 12, 2014