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Fertile frontiers: new approaches to interdisciplinary life course research

03 April 2012

Inaugural lecture: Ms. prof. M.C. Mills, 16.15 uur, Aula, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Title: Fertile frontiers: new approaches to interdisciplinary life course research

Leeropdracht: Sociologie, i.h.b. sociologie van de levensloop (Sociology of the life course)

Faculty: Behavioural and Social Sciences

Since the 1970s, there have been considerable changes in family formation behaviour, which refers to partnership (dating, cohabitation, marriage) and fertility (timing and number of children) behaviour. These changes have considerable individual and long-term societal consequences. A first trend is that women now have their first child at around 29 years, which has led to an unprecedented growth in involuntary childlessness and higher medical costs. A second trend is the growing propensity of people to meet and communicate online and the surge in internet dating. Mating is a fundamental building block of society, with individuals often strongly engaging in assortative mating, or choosing a mate with often similar traits such as education or ethnicity. This is turn reproduces or strengthens social inequalities in societies. This inaugural address first outlines the urgency to study these research problems, followed by an overview of our current knowledge. The lecture then outlines Mills’ future research agenda of ‘fertile frontiers’ in family formation research. Previous demographic and sociological research has largely neglected the underlying biological and genetic predispositions that drive our behaviour. The first frontier is to transcend the simplistic ‘nature’ versus ‘nuture’ debate to examine the complex interaction between the social environment and our genetic makeup in the study of reproductive and partnering behaviour. We will adopt a twin-design to examine the heritability of behavior, but also bridge socio-demographic and genetic research by carrying out the first genome-wide-association-search (GWAS) of reproductive choice and partnership behaviour. This will allow us to pursue not only the existence of an underlying genetic architecture of behavior, but also the identification of the relevant genes. A second frontier is in the area of assortative mating. Previous research has largely relied on self-reported or registered accounts from survey or register data. This research line will use novel online internet dating data from 11 European countries will examine multiple assortative mating traits such as social (education, ethnicity), biological (attractiveness, height, weight), and lifestyle (tobacco, alcohol, physical activity). We will then extend this to examine and model the actual search process and longer-term relationship outcomes and couple concordance in behaviour over time. Melinda Mills (Red Deer, Canada) was appointed Professor Sociology of the Life Course on December 1, 2008.

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.00 a.m.
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