Political Economy and the Life Course in Advanced Societies (POLIS)

The central aim of the project was to study the relationships between social structural changes, institutional configurations of the political economy, and life course regimes. The main characteristics of life courses to be studied are success on the labor market and family formation. With respect to social structural changes, the focus was on crises of the labor markets since the 1970s and on the shift from an industrial to a service economy. Configurations of the political economy that were of interest include long-term welfare state regimes and short-term political reactions to social structural changes. The first stage of the POLIS project consisted of an international cooperation where general research questions were formulated, countries that could enter an international comparison were selected, and an inventory of the most important structural and political differences between these countries were made. The POLIS project then entered its second stage. Main tasks were

  1. to develop hypotheses on the associations between social structural change, political regimes, and individual life courses and
  2. to translate the general questions into more specific research questions.


Steffen Hillmert's dissertation project has been a comparison of the systems of education and training in the United Kingdom and West Germany and their consequences for individual life courses. The study showed that the two national systems of formal institutions represent particular modes of coordination between education and the labor market. Further pursuing this in empirical terms, the main stages have been to describe the period of transition, to analyze the multi-dimensional stability of entry positions in early careers, and to assess the effects of formal qualifications on the quality of first jobs. According to the empirical results, in Britain, coordination of labor market entry has been to a larger extent achieved by criteria of timing, the hierarchical grading of qualifications, and social status; in Germany, the latter but also substantive occupational skills have played a major role. The historical research helps to explain why this is so. Rapid institutional changes, especially in the United Kingdom during the 1990s, have led to a much higher degree of labor market liberalization. In turn, this has undermined collective efforts to establish common standards for vocational training. In general, the analyses provide evidence for institutional path dependencies and their links to individual life courses in the realm of education and training.

Publications and Presentations

Hillmert, S. (2001). Deregulierung des Arbeitsmarktes und relative Beschäftigungschancen: Das Beispiel Großbritannien. In P. A. Berger & D. Konietzka (Eds.), Die Erwerbsgesellschaft. Neue Ungleichheiten und Unsicherheiten (pp. 185-212). Opladen: Leske + Budrich.

Hillmert, S. (2004). From Old to New Structures: A Long-term Comparison of the Transition to Adulthood in West and East Germany. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Working Paper 8/2004).

Mayer, K. U., & Hillmert, S. (2003). New ways of life or old rigidities? Changes in social structures and life courses and their political impacts. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Working Paper 1/2003).

McGinnity, F., & Hillmert, S. (2002). Social classes at risk? Class-specific unemployment in British and German life courses since the 1970s. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Arbeitsbericht aus dem Projekt).

Rusconi, A. (in press). Leaving the parental home in West Germany and Italy: Opportunities and constraints. In European research network on transitions in youth. Antwerpen.

Hillmert, S. (2001). Ausbildungssysteme und Arbeitsmarkt. Lebensverläufe in Großbritannien und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland im Kohortenvergleich. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Hillmert, S. (2000). European life-course data. (POLIS CD).

Hillmert, S. (1999). The "complex" event of transition into the labour market: Comparing the UK and Germany over time. In D. Raffe, R. van der Velden, & P. Werquin (Eds.), Education, the labour market and transitions in youth. Cross-national perspectives (pp. 313-331). Edinburgh, UK.

Esping-Andersen, G., Mayer, K. U., & Myles, J. (1997). Political economies and the life course in advanced societies. European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre, Florence (Project proposal).

Mayer, K. U. (1997). Notes on a comparative political economy of life courses. In Comparative social research, Vol. 16 (pp. 203-226). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Project Team

Steffen Hillmert
Karl Ulrich Mayer
Antje Mertens
Alessandra Rusconi

Dissertation Project

Leaving Home in Germany and Italy (Alessandra Rusconi)