Area #2

Intergenerational Consequences of Joblessness

Why is joblessness disproportionally reproduced in some families and not in others? What conditions shape disparities in the transmission of family joblessness?


These questions have been at the heart of Irma’s recent work, which has aimed to examine the ‘ingredients’ – mechanisms, channels, factors – that drive joblessness from parent to child in Australia and across Europe and the United States.


Irma is a leading expert in research on the intergenerational effects of parental joblessness. Her work on the intergenerational effects of joblessness draws on the assumption that children deciding on whether to participate in the labour market are largely influenced by (1) the labour market dynamics of their parents and siblings, (2) the family’s practices, experiences and interaction with the tax transfer system as well as (3) the cultural values and norms about work that surround their families (i.e., family systems). These aspects, alone or in combination, differ largely across regions, change as a consequence of joblessness, and influence children’s work and welfare dynamics in highly distinct ways when they reach adulthood. Testing this “power of the family” hypothesis within a country-comparative perspective has been the key focus of her studies for which she has used various longitudinal panel data sets covering Australia, the U.K., the U.S., and Germany. In one of her projects in collaboration with the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics she linked longitudinal panel data (with information about parents’ employment histories and their views about work) with administrative register data (with information about children’s education) to track educational outcomes of children whose parents lost employment during the economic recession of the 1980s.

Theoretically, Irma's work on intergenerational processes has expanded intergenerational theories by theorising about the role of mother's employment for children's wellbeing and outcomes. Her studies have been extensive, including mothers and fathers, sons and daughters into the analyses, further extending the empirical scope of an area that has been largely dominated by research on father-son relationships.


Irma’s work has been published in various leading journals in the field. Her recent co-authored publication at European Sociological Review (2019) using Dutch longitudinal and administrative records has mapped and examined the process underlying the transmission of disadvantage across generations in the Netherlands. The study was one of the first that showed that negative effects attached to parental unemployment are primarily transmitted to children through the changing views of wives and mothers towards the importance of work. In households where mothers were discouraged and reduced their views about the importance of work, children obtained lower educational degrees than in households where this was not the case.

Recent publications in this area are related to her 4-year funded Discovery grant from the Australian Research Concil (with M. Wooden) on the intergenerational transmission of joblessness in Australia. Recent publications at the Social Science Research, Research in Social Stratification and Journal of Family Issues, show that parental joblessness scars children's futures. It also shows that children's university education and father's engagement in household work are two key factors that mitigate the negative effects of parental joblessness.

You can download Irma's CV here and follow her work on intergenerational effects of joblessness here.


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