Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 January 2022
This chapter is intended to shed light on the heuristic value of a life-course perspective for analysing welfare policy changes and their impact on individuals and their social protection, integration and citizenship. The concept of the life course helps us link a macrosociological analysis of this institution to a microsociology of the biographical trajectories of individuals. In this respect, it is a fundamental conceptual tool for analysing and understanding rearrangements in the changing relation between labour markets and welfare policies.
This chapter's starting point is the assumption that every societal model interconnects three spheres: the labour market, the welfare state and a life-course regime. Castel (1995) has shown that industrial wageearning societies have relied on a strong connection between the dependent economic status of wage-earners and an extensive system of protection against risks. My aim is to show that a third dimension has to be added to this key pair in industrial society. This third dimension is the life course and the way it has been socially organised. Studies have shown how the advent of industrial society was closely tied to the tripartate social organisation of the life course, which was gradually institutionalised as the status of wage-earner developed along with a welfare state based on social rights and citizenship (Riley et al, 1972; Kohli, 1987; Guillemard and van Gunsteren, 1991; Guillemard, 2000). The convulsions now occurring with the advent of a new, knowledge-based society affect these three major dimensions of work, welfare and life course organisation.
After recalling the key role welfare states have had in organising the tripartite life course in industrial society (education during youth, work during adulthood and retirement during old age), this chapter will examine how, given changes in the world of work, this tight correlation between the spheres of employment, welfare and the life course is now coming undone. Changes in the workplace, as fordism is declining and an information society is emerging, are desynchronising the ages of life. A new, more flexible life course in a knowledge-based society is offering individuals a variety of career possibilities but, too, chaotic, unforeseeable biographical trajectories with, as a consequence, new uncovered risks, as we shall see. Our rigid welfare institutions are increasingly unable to satisfy the needs for security that are thus arising.