Society and Identity
Social Structures of the Life Course:
Fertility, Membership and Care in Late Life
Fertility and ageing are studied in compositional demography by locating people in the several group memberships in which they participate, and tracing the sequence of their major life course events and decisions as shaped by the alternative networks and resources these memberships provide. This enables variations in reproduction to be linked to late life outcomes, as mediated by the differing opportunities and constraints of changing sets of memberships. People’s problem solving, in short, is not reduced to an individualist rational choice framework, nor to ostensibly over-riding norms of a whole community. Obviously the demographic, economic and other characteristics of the several memberships each have to be identified. The approach is illustrated by data collected in a multi-site, longitudinal study of three Indonesian communities. A year’s ethnography provided the basis for randomised local surveys of health and economy, the procedure being followed up at a five year interval. A second stage of the project is currently under way, providing preliminary data at the twenty year interval. Combining qualitative and quantitative data has enabled identification of three main sets of sub-populations (family and kin networks, generations, socio-economic strata), which local ecology and history have shaped in differing ways. Changing relationships, both between sub-populations making up a community social structure, and as differing between communities, are considered. The paper will present contrasting individual and family life courses, illustrating a comparative model of vulnerability and other life outcomes.