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Spillover Effects of Fixed-Term Employment on the Subjective Well-Being of Partners

man signing contract

Fixed-term employment, i.e., jobs with a predetermined end date, has become a common feature of European labour markets over the past three decades. In Germany, for example, more than one-third of newly created jobs start with a fixed-term contract, underscoring their importance. Employment contracts may influence joint decisions of couples: Previous research shows, for instance, that fixed-term employment of one partner can postpone childbirth, decrease the likelihood of marriage, and the chance of homeownership, and that unemployment has a negative impact on partners' well-being. But what are the effects of fixed-term employment transitions on partners’ well-being?

In a recent study, Sonja Scheuring (ERC project SECCOPA, University of Bamberg), Jonas Voßemer (ERC project HEALFAM, Mannheim Centre for European Social Research, MZES), Anna Baranowska-Rataj (ERC project HEALFAM, Umeå University) and Giulia Tattarini (Berlin Social Science Center, WZB) investigated how employment transitions into and out of fixed-term contracts affect the well-being of partners in Germany. They also investigated whether there are gender differences in the effects and how these differences vary when partners were socialised in either East or West Germany, which differ in their gender role attitudes. The authors examined whether changes in the well-being of the directly affected individual can explain the spillover effects and whether changes in individual well-being can themselves be explained by differences in perceived job insecurity and financial worries when comparing fixed-term and permanent employment.

Based on panel data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (1995–2017), the results suggest that fixed-term reemployment, i.e. a transition from unemployment to fixed-term employment, increases the well-being of partners. These spillover effects are larger for women whose male partners take up fixed-term jobs, especially if they were socialized in West Germany. Contrary to what might be expected, the study shows that transitions from fixed-term to permanent employment do not significantly improve partners' well-being and there are no notable differences by gender and place of socialization.

The study suggests that the well-being of the directly affected individual is an important factor explaining the spillover effects on the partners’ well-being for transitions from unemployment to fixed-term employment, but not for transitions from fixed-term to permanent employment. Differences in perceived job insecurity and financial worries between fixed-term and permanent jobs are too small to result in significant well-being effects. Although fixed-term contracts have been referred to as a new source of inequality, the results show that in Germany they cause little difference in the well-being of individuals and their partners, suggesting that finding a job matters more for well-being than the type of contract.


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The SECCOPA (PI Michal Gebel) and the HEALFAM (PI Anna Baranowska-Rataj) project have received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreements for SECCOPA No. 758491 and for HEALFAM No. 802631).

Author(s) of the original publication
Sonja Scheuring