Ságvári, B., Messing, V. (2021) Social perceptions and their changes about life course and timing of key life events in Europe. Clovek y Spolocnost 24 (4) 25-38.
People usually think about age as anobjective data indicated in their official documents. However, there is asubjective side to it: the age we associate to an individual’s life-cycle –youth, middle age, and old age – depends on the social-economic context we livein. At the same time an individuals’ perceptions about age become elements ofdemographic trends, as individual decisions about major life events areinfluenced by perceptions about the ideal age of these event, i.e., which ageis ideal to move from the parental home, start a relationship, give birth tothe first child or retire from work. These very personal decisions are greatlyinfluenced by the expectations or even norms posed by the broader society and thenarrower community we live in. Social norms associated with age may also changein accordance with more general developments in medical science, expansion ofeducation or policy areas related, for example, to childcare services orretirement. In our paper we examine perceptions about the life-cycle and timingof life and their respective changes in a European comparison. The analysiswill use data from the Timing of Life questionnaire module of the EuropeanSocial Survey (ESS) and compare data from Round 4 in 2006 and Round 9 in 2018.Our analysis triangulates the perception of the timing of life, demographiccharacteristics of societies and the policy context. Our analysis found thatperceptions about ages associated to the lifecycle and major life events haveshifted: in all respects people tend to associate a later age to these. Themost prominent changes happened in societies of Central East Europe with regardto ages associated with the ideal and latest age of childbearing. There is aslow but explicit convergence of perceptions about age in post-communistcountries in Eastern Europe with more long-time democracies in Western Europe.The changes are fuelled primarily by young people’s significantly differentperceptions compared with the middle-aged and elderly. The trend of later agesseen as an ideal for key life events especially that of childbearing, is animportant driver of further in the aging of European societies.