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Disorder in the Life Course: How Common and Does It Matter?

Many researchers conceptualize the major transitions in the life course as occurring in an orderly progression. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of the High School Class of 1972 and its follow-ups, we find considerable disorder in nonfamily events. By the time they had been out of high school eight years, over half of the men and women in the 1972 class had sequences of states that deviated from the 'normal,' e.g., they returned to school or moved to a category not usually included in life-course research, such as unemployment. To what extent does this disorder matter? We answer this question with respect to the transition to parenthood. A simple measure of disorder did not uniformly affect this transition. Rather, disorder has heterogeneous effects. Particular sequences of activities, some orderly, some not, affect when people first became parents. For example, the delaying effect of education is less powerful if that education has been interrupted by work or some other activity


Rindfuss, R. R., Swicegood, C. G., & Rosenfeld, R. A. (1987). Disorder in the Life Course: How Common and Does It Matter? American Sociological Review, 52(6), 785-801.