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Life Events and Life Satisfaction: Estimating Effects of Multiple Life Events in Combined Models

SOEPpapers 1204, 58 S.

Michael D. Krämer, Julia M. Rohrer, Richard E. Lucas, David Richter


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How do life events affect life satisfaction? Previous studies focused on a single event or separate analyses of several events. However, life events are often grouped non-randomly over the lifespan, occur in close succession, and are causally linked, raising the question of how to best analyze them jointly. Here, we used representative German data (SOEP; N = 40,121 individuals; n = 41,402 event occurrences) to contrast three fixed-effects model specifications: First, individual event models in which other events were ignored, which are thus prone to undercontrol bias; second, combined event models which controlled for all events, including subsequent ones, which may induce overcontrol bias; and third, our favored combined models that only controlled for preceding events. In this preferred model, the events of new partner, cohabitation, marriage, and childbirth had positive effects on life satisfaction, while separation, unemployment, and death of partner or child had negative effects. Model specification made little difference for employment- and bereavement-related events. However, for events related to romantic relationships and childbearing, small but consistent differences arose between models. Thus, when estimating effects of new partners, separation, cohabitation, marriage, and childbirth, care should be taken to include appropriate controls (and omit inappropriate ones) to minimize bias.

Keywords: life events, life satisfaction, event co-occurrence, romantic relationships, childbirth