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Symposium on the Family supports natural caregivers, the poor relations in social policy

The third Symposium on the Family took place in Geneva on 5 June 2018 at the University of Geneva. Held by the organisation 'Avenir Familles' ('Future for Families') with the support of the Family Observatory and the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, the full day of lectures and workshops examined the problems and expectations of family caregivers. Without them the Swiss health service would find it impossible to function. Nevertheless, carers struggle to access institutional support and recognition.

Around one in ten Swiss adults spends time caring for a sick or elderly relative every week. Without this help, the community would be 3.5 billion francs worse off. Furthermore, with an ageing population, the need for carers will only increase. For example, we expect to see cases of Alzheimer's disease double over the next twenty years and health care professionals are already in short supply, meaning that institutions need to recruit abroad.

Faced with this ticking time bomb, the Symposium on the Family brought together some fifty participants on 5 June at Uni Mail, to examine the complex, and sometimes strained, family dynamics surrounding natural caregivers, in addition to considering the need to move their problems up the political agenda.

An increasingly important role

"Relatives providing care and nursing will be required to occupy an increasingly important role looking after the most vulnerable people. These days they are an essential part of our social cohesion," said State Council member Mauro Poggia in his opening speech. Nevertheless, the magistrate also recognised the difficulties of providing solid institutional support to family caregivers at federal and cantonal level.

For example, “the possibility of introducing paid or unpaid leave for extended absence for care work or other forms of support required in looking after a sick relative” as mentioned in a 2014 Swiss government action plan is still under consideration. In the Canton of Geneva, the 2017-2019 Support Programme for Carers also holds out the hope “of assessing the feasibility of a direct monetary benefit.”

In the meantime, the canton set up a telephone helpline Proch'Info (058 317 7000) and an informative website, and committed to examining how it could “expand the offer of respite services” (, website in French only).

Because it is a reality that natural caregivers bear an extremely significant social and familial burden without even expecting any sort of payment, and need to take a break every now and then. This became obvious from the different presentations and discussions that took place on 5 June.

Exhaustion and confinement

Séphanie Pin, currently a unit manager at the Institute for Social and Preventative Medicine of the Lausanne University Hospital, presented the results of the AGEneva Care study conducted in 2015 by IMAD (Institution Genevoise de Maintien à Domicile [Geneva Institution for Home Care]) in association with NCCR LIVES. Involving almost 300 natural caregivers, most of whom were caring for elderly people in their family, the research showed that two-thirds of those surveyed suffer from exhaustion and that half of them have nobody else they can rely on.

Representing 37% of the family caregivers in the study, spouses in particular suffer from a sense of confinement. Adult children, who made up over half of the interviewees and were overwhelmingly female, work 25 hours a week on average, providing a wide and sometimes burdensome range of services. Furthermore, 59% of them also hold down a job.

While all the family caregivers in the Geneva study said they had a good relationship with the person they care for, we can, however, observe a significant drop in life satisfaction as the number of hours spent caring for their relative increases. The problems most often mentioned by the great majority of caregivers were not having anyone to relieve them and not being able to take a break. In contrast, fewer than 15% of the carers interviewed said they experienced financial difficulties.

A complementary three-part investigation by the University of Geneva's Family Observatory also presented at the Symposium gave a more detailed picture.

Practical and interpersonal family help

On the quantitative side, Olga Ganjour and Eric Widmer analysed the VLV survey database, focussing in particular on 700 pensioners in Geneva. They compared family help provided by family caregivers to official assistance provided by institutional or private organisations.

They note that families are especially involved in interpersonal help, such as providing a presence or taking the elderly person out for a walk. But quite a large minority of natural caregivers also carry out other tasks, such as doing shopping, maintaining the house and garden, cooking or managing administrative tasks.

This practical help creates far more tension in the family than purely interpersonal help. Myriam Girardin confirmed this observation in the qualitative part of the investigation. According to the researcher, "spousal care is relatively straightforward, but when children are involved, it becomes more complicated, because they have other work, family and social commitments."

Tension within the family

Her interviews with caregivers from the next generation down from the person being cared for show that tension is often present between the relative providing nursing and other members of their family, such as their spouse, siblings, or even their own children, because of conflicting priorities.

"We don't do much together any more," said one carer talking about her 12-year old daughter. "By the evening I'm so exhausted (...) she feels I don't love her or listen to her enough and I don't have the patience to be with her as a mother should."

This exhaustion leads to a number of family caregivers isolating themselves socially or putting their own health at risk. Eventually, some carers break down and need emergency paid help from official services. This was the view of professional care workers interviewed prior to the Symposium by Marie-Eve Zufferey-Bersier, a scientific collaborator at the Observatory and mainstay of the Avenir Familles association, who presented their perspective.

A status for family caregivers

In the afternoon workshops it was possible to analyse in greater detail the distribution of roles between families and institutions, carers' need for support, their awareness of the existing network and their access to these services, and finally the issue of status for family caregivers, which many of them demand.

According to participants at the Symposium of the Family, this status would give them better access to rights such as training and information, as well as material and human resources for respite time.

In summarising the discussions in her workshop, Claudine Burton-Jeangros, professor in health sociology at the University of Geneva, emphasised that "Autonomy is such a strong societal norm that it often stops family caregivers, and those they care for, recognising their own needs. We are yet to have a public debate on what we can legitimately expect from each person," she added.

The inter-generational relationship challenge

The Family Observatory's research shows that Swiss society cannot expect natural caregivers to do everything. As Professor Eric Widmer observed, "The family is not a given or automatically present and doubtless will be less so in the future. It is a personal construct that develops throughout the life course. If family caregivers are the solution for the future, we need to get a move on and think properly about how to support families going through this process. It's an enormous challenge from the point of view of inter-generational relationships."

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In France, social mobility fades away at the gates of the top universities ("Grandes Écoles")

Whereas the influence of social origins on career paths progressively recedes up until the end of the fourth year of university study, it remains a prevailing factor for graduates of the most selective higher education institutions. Writing in the prestigious European Sociological Review, Julie Falcon and Pierre Bataille use new data analyses to empirically call into question the reputation for meritocracy enjoyed by the French “factories of the elite”.

Following the completion of their doctorates within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES at the University of Lausanne, two young researchers examined the social mobility of graduates from the various elite French university programmes. By isolating the types and levels of study undertaken, genders and cohorts, and comparing graduates' initial socio-economic status with that subsequently attained during their working lives, the researchers found that the ability sometimes attributed to the Grandes Écoles to eradicate class differences by “formatting” students in a uniform manner is actually largely over-estimated.

Today, young people from higher social classes are still five times more likely than their working-class counterparts to graduate from a Grande École. However, students from less well-off backgrounds – especially women – who have managed to enter this type of prestigious educational institution struggle to exploit the value of their qualifications on the labour market as well as their better-off peers. This finding contradicts previous assertions from scientists that as individuals rise up the hierarchy of graduate degrees, there is a corresponding linear decline in the influence of their social backgrounds.

The data were sourced from the Enquête Emploi (Employment Survey) conducted by INSEE (French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies), which had never before been used in research of this type. Now a scientific collaborator at the Swiss Federal Office of Statistics, Julie Falcon worked with this set of data during post-doctoral research she carried out at Stanford University. She says she realised that this data had “enormous potential to allow us to analyse social mobility, because of its sample size, the historical aspect, and the level of detail in the information available, particularly for the Grandes Écoles category.”

For this study, Falcon worked alongside Pierre Bataille, currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, who wrote his thesis on the life courses of graduates from the École Normale Supérieure de Saint-Cloud. He says that “the debate on the Grandes Écoles in France only ever focuses on inequalities at entry and never on inequalities after graduation, as if access to this type of study were a guaranteed pass to those tiny pockets that have total dominance over the social space.”

He adds that conversely, “three-year university degrees get a bad press, because they are regarded as not professionally rigorous enough to guarantee their graduates a rewarding future career. We are showing that in reality, contrary to received wisdom, we have found greater social mobility among graduates of three-year degree courses compared to those who studied at a Grande École.”

Equalising force of university study

The data gathered by INSEE's Employment Survey encompass more than 750,000 people born between 1918 and 1984, and do confirm the strong equalising force of university study: Julie Falcon and Pierre Bataille noted that for every generation, social background on entry to university had the least impact on future working lives after three and four-year degree courses. This is especially true for women, who saw their access to higher education grow spectacularly during the 20th century. But among female graduates of a Grande École, those from working or middle-class backgrounds found the glass ceiling distinctly more difficult to break.

In the current context marked by the increased complexity of the conditions for access to the university and the debates about the “ParcourSup” scheme, the results show that the non-selective nature of most of France’s undergraduate studies has been to this day one of the most important factors of social mobility for a large part of the generations that benefitted from school democratization.

In France, the majority of research studies on social mobility had hitherto been based on data from INSEE's Formation et Qualification Professionnelle (Training and Occupational Skills) study, dating back to 2003. This new research demonstrates that since then, the social origins of male and female students who studied on elitist university courses have maintained their grip on graduate employment prospects, including for the most recent cohorts. This led the two researchers to conclude that “educational merit remains better rewarded on the labour market among the better off.”

>> Falcon, J. & Bataille, P. (2018). Equalization or reproduction? Long-term trends in the intergenerational transmission of advantages in higher education in France. European Sociological Review, Vol. 34, Issue 3

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Equality ends when couples become parents

In an article for the series Social Change in Switzerland, René Levy summarises three studies which enable us to understand why becoming a parent has a very different impact on men's and women's lives. Noting a stark difference between couples' values of equality and their practices, he demonstrates that this difference has structural reasons that could be changed.

In Switzerland, becoming a mother still has an impact on a woman's professional life. René Levy uses three empirical studies, carried out over the last 15 years, to explain this. They shed light on continuing large gender inequality.

First observation: women change their relationship with work when their first child is born. For most couples, parentality leads to part-time family and professional occupations on the mother’s side, whereas a large majority of men have a standard full-time professional life, regardless of their family situation.

Second observation: while most couples claim to have egalitarian values during the first pregnancy, only a minority stay coherent with this ideal when it comes to the distribution of domestic tasks a few months after the birth. Reality shows that becoming parents leads to a sharp return to traditional practices, independent of original intentions.

These two observations shed light on the third observation: When comparing Switzerland to other European countries, and comparing about one hundred Swiss "micro-regions", it becomes clear that the existence of parental leave and access to childcare is crucial. This determines the scope couples have for applying their ideal of an egalitarian balance between work and family.

René Levy concludes that the failure to adopt egalitarian measures has long term effects: not only does this have an impact on a woman's financial situation in retirement, it also influences children's gender identities, maintaining the reproductive cycle of gender inequality.

>> René Levy (2018). Devenir parents ré-active les inégalités de genre : une analyse des parcours de vie des hommes et des femmes en Suisse // Der Übergang in die Elternschaft reaktiviert die Ungleichheiten zwischen den Geschlechtern: eine Analyse der Lebensläufe von Männern und Frauen in der Schweiz. Social Change in Switzerland No 14. Retrieved from

Contact: René Levy, +41 21 903 11 32,

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.

At the open days of the University of Lausanne, the NCCR LIVES will play with intersectionality

At the open days of the University of Lausanne, the NCCR LIVES will play with intersectionality

The 2018 edition of the "Mystères de l'UNIL" will take place from May 31 to June 3 on the Campus. The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will welcome visitors in a labyrinth, where they will play cards like Alice in Wonderland in a manga comic style to think about the cumulative aspects of gender, age, origin and social status.

Please read this news in French, as the event will not be in English.

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How does young people's social network influence their professional aspirations?

Under the leadership of Prof. Eric Widmer, a LIVES team has won the competition to conduct the Swiss Confederation's young adult survey (ch-x) in 2020-21. The first tests of the computerised questionnaire will take place from June 2018. The researchers aim to establish a national mapping of the social capital of young adults born at the beginning of the millennium, in relation to their physical health and their plans for the future.

Every two years, a new team of scientists is appointed to lead a survey of all Swiss young men who are called up for army conscription at the age of 19. The questionnaire is also submitted to 3,000 young women and foreign nationals of the same age, across the whole country, which helps to produce a comprehensive picture of this group. Each of these ch-x surveys deals with a different topic and is allocated following an open selection procedure.

The 2020-21 survey is a project proposed by Eric Widmer, Professor of Sociology at the University of Geneva and Co-Director of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, in collaboration with Eva Nada, Marlène Sapin and Gil Viry, who won the competition. With the help of Eva Nada and Myriam Girardin, who are involved in setting up the project, the links between the social capital of those surveyed and their training and job choices will be scrutinised. The School of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Geneva (HETS) will conduct the qualitative part of the project.

Where do young people see themselves in ten years? And how does their personal network influence these aspirations? Between June and September 2018, the questionnaire aiming to collect the data needed for the project will be tested on digital tablets by around a hundred conscripts. The entire survey must then be validated by the Scientific Committee and the members of the ch-x Commission.

When the real collection of data takes place on all survey subjects in 2020-21, the researchers will be able to use a unique set of materials to build up a mapping of the social networks of young people in Switzerland by incorporating gender, social origin and geographical location.

Bonding or bridging networks

The research is particularly interested in comparing the effect of "bonding" networks, which are made up of people with strong connections to each other, and "bridging" networks, where the individual is surrounded by people who rarely interact with each other, if at all. A network that combines "bonding" and "bridging" aspects generally corresponds to a higher social capital, by mixing the solidarity of the group that creates the "bonding" type with the diversity of contacts and the autonomy that the "bridging" type offers.

Thus, an initial question is to discover which social factors are associated with this social capital. "The size of the ch-x sample allows us to specifically assess how the original social environment, the family structure, but also the place of residence and geographical mobility, generate very specific interpersonal integrations for young adults, which in turn generate different resources," outlines Eric Widmer.

Participants will be asked about the people - a maximum of fifteen - who have played a significant part in their life over the previous twelve months, whether they are family members, friends, school or professional acquaintances, or those who take part in the clubs, groups or associations of which they are a member. It will be specified that this role may be positive, where they provide support, advice and encouragement, but it may also be negative, when these people discourage them, prevent them from taking action, or annoy them.

Ambivalence and conflict

The network can actually be a source of conflict, explains Eric Widmer: "We are working on the hypothesis that people showing a strong ambivalence towards those closest to them will have less ambitious professional aspirations due to the stress that this generates, which has a direct effect on mental health. But causality can also be the opposite, and weak aspirations could cause conflict."

A set of questions validated by previous research will deal with mental health, so that relationships between networks, mental states and professional aspirations can be analysed statistically. The team points out that the link between social capital, mental health, education and integration has not yet given rise to in-depth studies in Switzerland.

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Young adults in Switzerland: tertiary education makes a difference

What happened fifteen years later to the young people who left compulsory schooling in 2000? A study by Thomas Meyer published in the series Social Change in Switzerland shows that at the age of 30 the vast majority of them is working and earning nearly 6000 Swiss francs per month. This article highlights the protective effect of higher education diplomas. However, inequalities between men and women still persist.

On the basis of data from the TREE longitudinal study (Transitions from Education to Employment), Thomas Meyer shows that transitions between school and labour have become longer since the beginning of the 21st century. These transitions are marked, for many young people in Switzerland, by important discontinuities, reorientations and gap years.

Almost half the examined cohort left the education system with a vocational training (apprenticeship) certificate; 40% obtained a tertiary diploma (university, university of applied sciences or higher vocational education) – twice as much as in the preceding generation; and 10% have remained without any kind of post-compulsory education.

The situation on the labour market at age 30 is generally good: the rate of occupational activity is high, unemployment is low, and the median monthly income reaches close to 6000 Swiss francs. While young people without post-compulsory are more significantly affected by precarious employment conditions compared to those who gained vocational training, both groups differ little in terms of unemployment rate and average salary.

In contrast, the holders of a tertiary degree earn on average 1000 Swiss francs more than those without higher education. Thus, while young people regardless of their level of qualification are very well integrated into the Swiss job market, workforce demand is particularly high – and so the wages – for those who achieved higher education.

Thomas Meyer underlines the extent to which gender, in combination with the family situation, continues to influence employment among people in their thirties. Whereas almost all young fathers work full-time, one in five young mothers leaves the job market and three out of four mothers work part-time. Last but not least, in terms of income wages, differences between men and women amount to 800 Swiss francs per month.

>> Thomas Meyer (2018). Von der Schule ins Erwachsenenleben: Ausbildungs- und Erwerbsverläufe in der Schweiz / De l’école à l’âge adulte: parcours de formation et d’emploi en Suisse. Social Change in Switzerland No 13. Retrieved from

Contact : Thomas Meyer, +41 31 631 38 23,

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.

"Refugee Routes":  an evening of discussion about Syria in partnership with the SRC

"Refugee Routes": an evening of discussion about Syria in partnership with the SRC

On April 26, 2018 the NCCR LIVES will stand alongside the Swiss Refugee Council (SRC) for an event offering several presentations about the situation of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, in order to better understand the context in their country and the procedures that they face in Switzerland. This formula will be repeated later on to address other migration contexts from countries like Eritrea, Afghanistan, etc.

This event will take place in French. Please look at the French version of this news for more information.

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Improving mental health through building and strengthening social group membership

“Groups 4 Health” is an evidenced-based, short-term psychological intervention developed by an Australian team of clinical and social psychologists. Stressing social connectedness as a means to improve mental health and general well-being, a one-day workshop organised on July 12, 2018, by the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES in partnership with the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, Lausanne, will make this intervention available to a Swiss public.

Social interventions come in many forms — they can involve support groups, activity or interest groups, sporting groups, and various community groups. Yet these are only successful in enhancing health to the extent that groups are meaningful to, and valued by, those taking part. This is what Groups 4 Health can do.

During a workshop ahead of the forthcoming International Conference on Social Identity and Health (ICSIH4) an Australian team, including Catherine and Alex Haslam, Tegan Cruwys and Sarah Bentley from the University of Queensland, will offer a one-day training session introducing participants in the theory and practice of the Groups 4 Health programme.

The programme is aimed at improving mental health by providing people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to increase their social connectedness, and in particular, their group-based social identifications. A wealth of evidence from medical, epidemiological, psychological and social literatures suggests that social connectedness is a strong predictor of mental health, physical health, cognitive health and general well-being outcomes.

At the end of this workshop you should have a good grounding in the theory and practice of Groups 4 Health. While addressing the theoretical underpinnings, the workshop will primarily focus on the content of the programme and its delivery. It will also explore ways it can be adapted to different populations and contexts.


Attendees who register for the workshop will receive the Groups 4 Health programme manual and workbook (included in the cost of the workshop) that we ask you read in advance in preparation for the workshop. We also ask that you bring your laptop with you so that you can trial an online tool — Social Identity Mapping — as part of the training.

09:30-10:00  Registration and coffee
10:00-10:30  Introduction to programme theory and background
10:30-12.00  Programme delivery (Schooling and Scoping modules)          
12.00-13:00  Lunch break
13:00-14:30  Programme delivery (Sourcing, Scaffolding and Sustaining modules)
14:30-15:00  Groups 4 Health programme evaluation and adaptations  


Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (IUMSP), salle Delachaux, Le Biopôle, secteur Vennes-A (SV-A), Corniche 10, 1010 Lausanne


Workshop registration fee is 100 CHF (including meals, welcome coffee, and programme manual and workbook). Members of the NCCR LIVES and the IUMSP may attend free of charge.

Registration is open through this link.
LIVES members and IUMSP employees, please use code G4HW2K18 to register free of charge.

For general inquiries, please contact Dr. Pascal Maeder (, Head of knowledge transfer at the NCCR LIVES.

Further information on Groups 4 Health

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Extending the working lives of seniors: a challenge in terms of equality and occupational health

A European research project began in January 2018 to study the consequences of prolonging the working lives of men and women. Headed up by Nicky Le Feuvre from the University of Lausanne (UNIL) and using methods developed within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, the DAISIE project compares the situation of older people in employment in various countries, including Switzerland, with a focus on three sectors of activity: transport, health and finance. Social and gender inequalities will be at the core of the analyses.

Announced in the summer of 2017, three projects involving Swiss researchers were selected following a call from the NORFACE network (New Opportunities for Research Funding Agency Cooperation in Europe) launched to support research programmes investigating the accumulation of inequalities over the life course. A total of 170 teams responded to the call and 13 projects were selected for funding. Two of the winning projects have links with the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES - Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). One of them, Dynamics of Accumulated Inequalities for Seniors in Employment (DAISIE), will receive 1.5 million francs over three years.

The DAISIE project, headed up by Nicky Le Feuvre, Professor in the Sociology of Work at the UNIL and head of the Gender & Occupations (IP206) project at the NCCR LIVES, aims to study the social issues relating to ageing at work. In most European countries, the increase in life expectancy and the difficulties in funding pensions provide incentives, to a greater or lesser degree, for older workers to extend their working lives.

Knowing under what conditions it is possible or desirable to prolong the working life of individuals is therefore a burning issue, since the employment of older people has consequences which can cascade down into other areas of life, including health. Apart from the issues relating to employment, retirement funding and human resources management, this topic shows the importance of inter-generational interactions for senior citizens, whether with their own adult children and their grandchildren or with their own elderly parents.

One of the hypotheses of the DAISIE project is that the impetus to prolong the working life affects almost all the members of the “sandwich generation” aged 50 years and over in Europe today. However, the consequences of this incentive appear to differ among senior citizens, and in particular represent a potential source of vulnerability for those people whose career paths have been the least continuous and the least well paid, including a significant proportion of poorly qualified women also involved in care activities.

Five contrasting national contexts

To verify these hypotheses, Nicky Le Feuvre was assisted by colleagues working in five European countries: Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and the Czech Republic1. The first three have liberally-inspired social protection systems along with rather conservative gender roles. Here, the care of dependent people, beginning with young children, is mainly based on the market economy and/or on families. Sweden, by contrast, is known for the range of its public services in support of the work-life balance and for the high level of attention paid to gender equality. Finally, under Soviet influence the Czech Republic experienced a specific culture of women's work, which is now giving way to polarisation in the trajectories of mothers, linked to the partial dismantling of public services.

The first part of the DAISIE project will consist of an analysis of the career paths of senior citizens of both sexes in these five very contrasting societal contexts. In Switzerland, for example, the team expects to see a great deal of involvement by older people in the care of their grandchildren, “a structural prerequisite for allowing younger women to remain in employment,” notes Nicky Le Feuvre.

“If the idea is that grandparents must now devote more years to their professional activities, especially because that helps to maintain the financial viability of pension funds, it would then be necessary to examine the consequences of this change, particularly for the work-family relationship, over several successive generations,” comments the researcher.

Tensions caused by seniors continuing to work

Previous research conducted by Nicky Le Feuvre and her colleagues at UNIL have already highlighted the scale of the problem: “What we saw in the context of the PNR 60 (“Equality Between Men and Women”) was that some women worked part-time while their children were young - or until adolescence - and then, either because they divorced, or because they began to calculate the level of their future pensions, found themselves having to increase their level of work towards the end of their careers, particularly to complement the second pillar of their retirement incomes. Such practices run counter to the idea of a planned transition by older people towards a gradual reduction in their working hours in the final stages of their careers.”

She adds: “For individuals who have jobs that are more physical or stressful and demanding, the need to work more while getting older carries significant health risks, which are often concealed for fear of appearing to perform poorly in the eyes of the employer, in order to keep their jobs. Sometimes this is combined with the responsibility of looking after very elderly parents who have become dependent, or with the need to financially support adult children who are experiencing ’life course accidents’ (unemployment, divorce, illness), which also makes it more difficult to take things a little easier towards the end of their career.”

The contribution of the NCCR LIVES

In order to observe the trajectories of older people in the five countries, the project adopted a mixed methods study design, combining sequence analysis and retrospective biographical interviews using a “life calendar”, which are two specialities of the NCCR LIVES.

The quantitative part will use data from the longitudinal survey SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe), in collaboration with Dr. Jacques-Antoine Gauthier of the UNIL and Prof. Boris Wernli from FORS.

For the qualitative part, the respondents will come from three professional sectors that are also very different: transport, a rather masculine environment which can be physically demanding and involves shift work or irregular hours; healthcare, a sector with characteristics similar to transport from the point of view of arduous working conditions, but instead mostly occupied by women; and finance, a more mixed and less physical domain of activity, but currently undergoing significant restructuring and technological change.

Examining equality and ageing in unison

“Previous research has shown that companies tend to externalise the effects of ageing at work; they encourage older workers who are tired or sick to reduce their working hours or retire earlier”, comments Nicky Le Feuvre. “However, such HR management practices are hardly compatible with the new incentives keeping older people in employment.”

Nicky Le Feuvre also mentions that “policies on ageing at work, where they exist, are rarely linked to policies on equality. The two can even be thought of as contradictory. On one hand, companies facilitate the transition to part-time work for mothers with young children, while on the other these ‘missing years’ of savings contributions will weigh heavily on the conditions which women will have to face towards the end of their working careers. Not many companies think about work equality and ageing at work in unison.”

Throughout the course of the research, the partners of the DAISIE project will maintain close links with socio-economic stakeholders involved with ageing at work, organising meetings with employers, unions, associations and policy makers in each of the countries studied. One of the objectives is to come up with useful recommendations for the development of age management policies which take into account the essential factors of gender, age and social status in an integrated way. In research, this is what is referred to as an inter-sectional approach to inequalities.


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Activate the most vulnerable? The case of the Disability Insurance reveals many paradoxes

The three most recent reforms of DI in Switzerland have sought to stem rising costs by requiring insured persons to make greater efforts to rejoin the labour market. Emilie Rosenstein has examined this development from both a quantitative and a qualitative perspective, and highlights the ambivalence of the changes made: her thesis identifies several asymmetries between the stated objectives and the results obtained, as well as between the standards promoted and the actual effects they have on people with disabilities.

“Only those who use their freedom remain free and (...) the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members.” This excerpt from the preamble of the Swiss Constitution completes Emilie Rosenstein's doctoral thesis on the contradictions of an important part of social policy in Switzerland, which, despite advocating integration of beneficiaries, actually leads to forms of exclusion.

This thesis in sociology, which was defended at the University of Geneva on 12 February 2018 and prepared under the supervision of Prof. Jean-Michel Bonvin, analyses the recent developments in Disability Insurance (DI) on the basis of two theoretical frameworks: from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s perspective on capabilities, which examines social regimes from the point of view of individuals' ability to make choices that they have reason to value; and the life course approach developed within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, which perceives vulnerability as a lack of resources affecting several life domains, on various levels and over time.

Emilie Rosenstein's research uses both quantitative and qualitative methods and combines a wealth of data to assess the consequences of the successive DI reforms which took place in 2004, 2008 and 2012. One of the main objectives of these changes was to reduce the number of annuitants, particularly among young people suffering from mental disabilities, a category that has seen a significant increase since the 1990s.

In an attempt to achieve their goal, these reforms have followed three specific guidelines: stricter assessment of the right to benefit, earlier intervention by DI (primarily as a result of disabilities being detected earlier) and additional measures for vocational rehabilitation and labour market inclusion.

Contrasting results

Emilie Rosenstein's observations lead to contrasting results: while the number of people in receipt of the benefit has fallen sharply at national level, the proportion of the youngest beneficiaries - aged from 18 to 34 - has not decreased; around one in every two beneficiaries are in receipt of disability annuities due to mental illness.

Sequence analyses, conducted by the researcher in partnership with Prof. Felix Bühlmann from the University of Lausanne using representative samples of people in receipt of DI in the canton of Vaud, provide an insight into the trajectories of insured persons over time and across the successive system reforms.

There has been a considerable increase in the number of claims being rejected by the DI and a clearly perceptible acceleration in the processing of cases. Conversely, the provision of vocational rehabilitation measures is on the increase, although it remains marginal.

Stricter criteria and requirements

According to Emilie Rosenstein, “the decline in numbers is due to the eligibility criteria being tightened, rather than more people exiting DI, including as a result of rehabilitative measures.”

Her thesis identifies several paradoxes brought about by the successive reforms. She questions the very concept of activation in relation to people affected by health problems, who are often asked to come up with a reintegration project when they are sometimes in a state of great vulnerability.

Not the least of the contradictions here is the fact that in order to reduce expenses, the DI urges insured persons to make their declarations as soon as possible, taking the view that early intervention will prevent annuities having to be paid over the medium and long term. However, this pressure has a dissuasive effect on beneficiaries, either because they are unaware of the range of benefits provided by DI, or because their health is too unstable for them to take decisions at that stage, or because they are still in denial about their disability.

These discrepancies in timing between the DI and its insured persons are an obstacle to professional retraining. “The activation paradigm therefore appears to be profoundly paradoxical, because it increases the risk of non take-up while at the same time trying to reduce it,” the researcher notes with concern.

Risk of inauthenticity

Emilie Rosenstein believes therefore that there is a risk of “inauthenticity” in the reintegration projects, and therefore of failure if the needs and expectations of the beneficiaries are not sufficiently taken into account. “The use of the project as an insertion tool is therefore indicative of a potentially selective approach, or even one that promotes exclusion,” comments the researcher.

She is also critical of the “significant asymmetry between the individual responsibility of insured persons regarding their reintegration projects and the limited professional opportunities available.” From a capabilities perspective, Emilie Rosenstein calls for greater attention to be paid by the labour market and wider society to the “conversion factors” necessary to reduce inequalities between able-bodied people and those with disabilities, and promote real access, not just a formal right, to professional reintegration.

Feelings of ineligibility

A series of interviews with beneficiaries supports the thesis, enabling the researcher to focus on the feelings of ineligibility or shame experienced by DI users. These accounts confirm the hypothesis that a section of the insured persons engage in a kind of auto-selection and risk missing out on the benefits of DI, either because they do not understand their rights or because they refuse to be seen as disabled, or they are afraid of being stigmatised as opportunists taking advantage of the system.

Before the public defence of her thesis, Emilie Rosenstein took several opportunities to present her research to professionals in the field. Her thesis panel was particularly appreciative of her efforts to communicate with the stakeholders involved and advised her to publish her empirical results in ambitious scientific journals.

At a time when the seventh review of DI is already under way, her new title of doctor now confers on her all the legitimacy necessary to speak out for those who are not generally heard and to whom we would do well to listen more, as is shown in her work.

>> Emilie Rosenstein (2018). Activer les publics vulnérables ? Le cas de l'Assurance-invalidité. Under the supervision of Jean-Michel Bonvin. University of Geneva

New address for the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability

New address for the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability

As from March 2018, the CIGEV in Geneva will leave its current position at the Route des Acacias and move into new offices at the first and second floors of the Boulevard du Pont d'Arve 28, just opposite the Uni Mail building across the street. This new location will allow the Geneva teams of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, which were split into two separate places, to be reunited under the same roof, together with the Cognitive Aging Lab (CAL) ant the psycholinguistcs of the University of Geneva.

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Poverty in childhood has long-term effects on health, especially among women

An interdisciplinary research project shows that some inequalities may be irreversible. Based at the University of Geneva and funded by the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, the team examined several aspects of health in people over 50 across Europe. It found that men are better able to compensate for a difficult start in life than women. The researchers advocate much earlier interventions in terms of education and prevention.

People who are materially and socially disadvantaged at the very beginning of their life course are more likely to have fragile health in later life, according to the "LIFETRAIL" project, conducted since the end of 2016 within the NCCR LIVES by Stéphane Cullati and several colleagues from the University of Geneva.

With an article by Boris Cheval et al. soon to be published in the journal Age and Ageing 1 following another that recently appeared in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2, now is a good time to take stock of all this interdisciplinary research involving sociologists, psychologists, epidemiologists and physicians, and on which several papers are currently being submitted or published, mostly showing marked divergence between the sexes.

Rich longitudinal data

All are based on data from SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe) and cover nearly 25,000 people aged 50 to 96, interviewed six times between 2004 and 2016 in 14 European countries.

Seven health indicators are examined: self-reported health, i.e. how respondents subjectively assess their own health; muscular strength, checked by means of a portable dynamometer; respiratory capacity, measured by a peak flow meter that measures how quickly respondents are able to blow out air; the quality of sleep; cognitive disorders; depression, assessed by means of a questionnaire repeatedly validated by research; and finally the level of frailty, which is calculated by taking into account the body mass index and the degree of autonomy in several everyday actions.

To determine the socio-economic situation in childhood (at age 10), the analysis is based on four variables: occupation of the main breadwinner (often the father), number of books available in the household, quality of the housing (whether or not there was running water, toilets and central heating), and number of people per room in the home.

Importance of social mobility

According to all these criteria, unfavourable socio-economic conditions in childhood are associated – to varying degrees – with poorer health in middle and old age, except for those men who have managed to climb the social ladder.

This upwards social mobility, which is so beneficial for men, can be observed by comparing the initial socio-economic status with that achieved in adulthood, in terms of education, type of occupation and current economic situation. Those who have completed university education, had careers of responsibility and who easily manage to make ends meet are clearly privileged from the point of view of health, even where they suffered from poverty in childhood. This is less commonly the case for women in the cohorts studied.

Reduced muscular strength

Boris Cheval's article on muscular strength found a significant link between childhood poverty and physical weakness at an advanced age. Even taking into account health practices in adulthood (sports, tobacco, alcohol, nutrition), the impact of childhood remains preponderant, especially for women.

"It would seem that women who have never worked have not been able to acquire certain behavioural skills," says Stéphane Cullati, for whom the paradox of women's longer life expectancy is nothing but an illusion: "Just because people are kept alive longer doesn't mean they are necessarily healthy."

The researcher expects to see gender differences wane in the future, thanks to better access to education and the world of work for new generations of women, while warning against the 'double sentence' of those who combine low-skilled professional work with domestic chores.

Earlier action required

The work of the LIFETRAIL project has clear implications for public policy. "For physical activity, for example, we see that a high level of education cancels out the effect of unfavourable socio-economic circumstances in childhood," says Boris Cheval. "But for peak flow or muscular strength, on the other hand, the effect remains marked in women, regardless of their socio-economic trajectory into adulthood. We should therefore act much earlier!"

Part of the research project, led by Stefan Sieber, compares the self-reported health of respondents across different types of welfare systems and concludes that childhood poverty remains strongly associated with poor health conditions later in life, regardless of the social regimes throughout Europe. So the challenge is tremendous.

Now that the link between socio-economic conditions in childhood and health in later life has been established, the team will be taking a closer look at the timing of certain events, such as material losses, periods marked by hunger or parental death, in order to better understand what the most critical phases are in a child's development that can lead to long-term health problems. Researchers are testing this model on the probability of starting smoking again. Who are the most vulnerable candidates, those most at risk of relapse? The SHARE data still hold many possibilities, which are still waiting to be explored by this dynamic team.

  • 1. Cheval, B. et al. (2018). Association of Early- and Adult-Life Socioeconomic Circumstances with Muscle Strength in Older Age. Age and Ageing. DOI 10.1093/ageing/afy003
  • 2. Cheval, B. et al. (2017). Effect of Early- and Adult-Life Socioeconomic Circumstances on Physical Inactivity. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. DOI 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001472
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The 2018 edition of the LIVES Best Paper Award for Early Scholars worth 2000 € is launched

The award will be delivered during the next conference of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (SLLS), which will take place at the University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy) from 9 to 11 July 2018. In addition to the prize, the author will be invited to present the awarded paper during the conference and have his/her travel expenses, conference and hotel fees covered.

In order to stimulate advances in the areas of vulnerability and life course studies, the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES encourages scholars at the beginning of their career to apply for the LIVES Best Paper Award for Early Scholars.

Participation Criteria

  • The paper must be empirical (qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-method) and make an important contribution to the domain of vulnerability and life course research. The study would preferably be longitudinal and/or interdisciplinary.
  • The paper must have been published (including online first) in English in a peer-reviewed journal the year before application.
  • To be eligible for the award, candidates must be the main contributor and have received his or her PhD in 2011 or later (graduation date).


Early career scholars shall apply to this award by submitting the published version of the paper in PDF and a short paragraph (100 words max.) explaining why the submitted paper deserves to win. Deadline for application is set on 12 April 2018, through this form.

Previous winners

This will be the third time that the award is granted. In 2016, Stella Chatzitheochari from the University of Warwick won the prize for her paper Doubly Disadvantaged? Bullying Experiences Among Disabled Children and Young People in England published in the journal Sociology (see the news).

In 2017, Christian Brzinsky-Fay from WZB Berlin received the award for his article Compressed, Postponed, or Disadvantaged? School-to-Work-Transition Patterns and Early Occupational Attainment in West Germany published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility (see the news).

8th Alpine Population Conference (Alp-Pop 2018) in La Thuile, Italy

8th Alpine Population Conference (Alp-Pop 2018) in La Thuile, Italy

The next Alpine Population Conference will take place in La Thuile (Aosta Valley, Italy) from January 14 to 17, 2018. Organised by the Carlo F. Dondena Centre of Bocconi University and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, Alp-Pop brings together scholars interested in population issues across several disciplines, including demography, economics, epidemiology, political science, sociology and psychology.


The programme includes 14 presentations, 20 posters, and two Ski-note lectures by Prof. François Héran (INED) and Prof. Paola Profeta (Bocconi University and Dondena Center).


Papers cover different population issues (e.g. population and health, migration, families and the welfare state; population and economic development/institutions, well-being, etc.), with a special focus on life course issues and social inequalities.

The conference emphasises empirical rigor and innovation over a given topic or geographical area, and meets the challenges of interdisciplinary and international audiences.

Alp-Pop scholars confer both formally and informally. A traditional conference programme (paper and poster presentations) mixes with group activities in a world-class winter resort.

Organising Committee

  • Arnstein Aassve, Bocconi University
  • Massimo Anelli, Bocconi University
  • Laura Bernardi, University of Lausanne
  • Gina Potarca, University of Geneva
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“How Does the Internet Change Modern Romance?”, a new research project will unveil

LIVES postdoctoral researcher and teaching assistant at the University of Geneva Gina Potarca received an “Ambizione” grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation to study the consequences of digital technologies on contemporary love relationships and union formation.

In recent years, Internet dating, particularly phone dating apps, became one of the most common ways of searching for a partner. It fundamentally transformed courtship and dating dynamics, offering an unparalleled abundance of meeting opportunities with minimized search costs and reduced third party interference. Social commentators are heavily debating the ways in which new technologies alter the nature of partnering. There are strong claims that the Internet is widening socio-economic inequalities (as the wealthy can more easily match up with the wealthy), and threatening the existence of committed relationships (as an overload of choice makes people unable to invest in a single connection). Until now, scientific research has failed to join the discussion, mainly focusing on early-stage patterns in online dating preferences and messaging, with no attention given to final outcomes.

Gina Potarca’s project will comprehensively study the consequences of this historically new context of mate search and selection, by addressing two fundamental questions: First, does the Internet contribute to the reproduction of social inequalities in marriage? And second, do new technologies foster an overall decline in commitment in partnerships? Both inquiries aim to understand whether Internet dating changes who partners, who partners with whom, and for how long.

Her project received funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) through the “Ambizione” grant procedure and will start in early 2018. These investigations set a timely research agenda that assesses the demographic consequences of a technological revolution right in the midst of its expansion.

Potential shifts that the Internet might trigger

“How online instruments are used in the formation and development of relationships will have implications for people’s well-being, health, reproductive behavior, but also for the reproduction of inequality within populations. Understanding any potential shifts that the Internet might trigger in modern romance, with far-reaching and long-term implications on socio-demographic change, is thus imperative,” wrote the researcher in her project proposal.

Gina Potarca will use unique cross-national panel data from the U.S., Germany and Switzerland, as well as Swiss and French cross-sectional data. Her project will for the first time make it possible to track online mating processes over time and across different countries, with a proper longitudinal design and a consideration of selection effects. She was personally involved in updating the American and particularly the German instruments to include items on where couples met and where singles search for partners. Besides, additional data sources are on the verge of being updated soon.

Ambizione grants are aimed at young researchers who wish to conduct, manage and lead a project of their own for four years at a Swiss higher education institution. By mid-January 2017, 289 young researchers had submitted their Ambizione applications. After a two-step evaluation procedure, the SNSF awarded 89 new grants last summer. With 32 grants (36 per cent) going to women, the targeted share of female grant holders (35 per cent) was fully achieved.

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Innovative ways of studying the "secondos" and of combating stereotypes

A new book in the series Life Course Research and Social Policies has just been published by Springer. This seventh volume, which was edited by three members of the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, emphasises the importance of the methodology for research into second-generation migrants. Its thirteen chapters focussing on the life course approach reveal that rigorous characterisation of the groups of migrants and a considered choice of the comparative benchmarks are essential for studying these populations, which are particularly exposed to generalisations and discrimination.

Switzerland is a country with a high level of immigration. People from a wide range of backgrounds and social classes have been arriving there for generations. In the Lake Geneva region, if we take into account the nationality of the parents or the grandparents, 40% of the population is of foreign origin. What happens to the "secondos" is therefore of fundamental interest: "Their future is influenced bythe way in which first-generation migrants are received”, says Claudio Bolzman, professor at the Geneva School of Social Work (HETS / HES-SO), who edited this publication along with Laura Bernardi and Jean-Marie Le Goff, from the University of Lausanne.

The second generations represent prime populations for research into integration. They can be studied longitudinally — observations repeated on the same sample of people over a long period of time —, both retrospectively, by looking at the life courses of parents or grandparents from the countries of origin and by tracking the trajectories of their children and grandchildren in the host country. However, despite the numerical importance of the second generations, researchers at the NCCR LIVES found that existing studies often relied on incomplete descriptions and inappropriate methodological structures.

Defining what and who we are talking about

The methodology is crucial in order to study the secondos in a systematic way, as they are often victims of the most persistent stereotyping. Claudio Bolzman is critical of the fact that we never really know what or who we are talking about, let alone what we are comparing: "The French media, for example, tend to say that people of Maghrebi origin do not integrate well, but forget to mention all those who succeed." The book proposes tools for monitoring and understanding these populations in the Swiss context, but also in the European, African and North American contexts. All the methods described in this book can in fact be applied to other migration contexts.

In order to study the second generation of migrants properly, the authors argue that the characteristics of the populations to be studied must first be adequately pre-defined. Claudio Bolzman notes that "studies tend to focus on national origins, whereas much more in-depth work needs to be done". The social role, the local integration into a neighbourhood or the generation concerned are crucial factors. In addition, the criteria for comparison are important. "We have to define what we are comparing in order to find out why, within the same group, some succeed and others do not", he says.

Comparing what is comparable

In order to understand the turning points, these transitions that tip life in one direction or another, the chapter by Andrés Guarin and Emmanuel Rousseaux identifies for instance the factors that influence unemployment and access to the labour market for secondos of different origins in Switzerland. It is based on a longitudinal approach, combined with the use of data mining, an analysis technique derived from the basic sciences, to develop and control the variables.

As people from a migrant background are under-represented in positions requiring high-level qualifications, as well as in lower-skilled jobs, Guarin and Rousseaux have concluded that it is inappropriate to compare the second-generation immigrants with the Swiss population as a whole, since they do not fit into the same social categories. Therefore, they have compared their second-generation cohort to people belonging to the same socio-professional categories. By using this approach, the researchers have been able to show that the level of education of the parents has a huge influence on the likelihood of the children either being unemployed or succeeding professionally. Their article also emphasises that prejudices about national or ethnic origins hinder access to the labour market.

Cross-referencing the approaches

Combining quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis makes it possible to obtain clearer and more detailed overviews of situations. Andrés Gomensoro and Raúl Burgos Paredes therefore propose to use the “life calendar” tool, cross-referenced with a personalised interview, to combine quantitative factual information with qualitative subjective information, and thus "to bring out social phenomena not identified by statistical analyses” explains Claudio Bolzman.

These two approaches are tested on the transition to adulthood of Albanian-speaking immigrants, one of the most stigmatised populations in Switzerland, for whom access to employment remains problematic. The authors have tried to identify what made the difference in this population and noted that in most of the successful cases, certain social or institutional resources were present: a teacher who was more involved than the others, influential people in the network of family or friends, the way a neighbourhood operated or particular cantonal provisions.

Crossing borders

Taking account of the transnational character of society is another methodological aspect that is particularly relevant. Indeed, societies are still too often defined in terms of the State, that is, in relation to the domestic political and institutional context of the country; while nowadays many people construct their lives on both sides of the borders, having relatives abroad or merely by using the Internet.

Moreover, current international events have repercussions on the lives of populations at a local level. Societies have become globalised or highly internationalised, and their formal boundaries no longer coincide with people's real lives. In this respect, the chapter by Marina Richter and Michael Nollert shows that the children of Spanish migrants are in close contact with their networks outside the host country. For their part, Peggy Levitt, Kristen Lucken and Melissa Barnett show that young Indian people in the United States reinvent the Hindu or Muslim religions using Indian references but reinterpreted with an American slant.

Pathways for the future

Bolzman, Bernardi and Le Goff conclude their work by suggesting possible pathways for future research and make several recommendations. They recall the importance of properly identifying the populations to be studied and not focussing solely on those that are marginalised, in order to identify the factors conducive to success. The authors call for studies that do not stop at the beginning of adult life, but which take account of the whole of the life course, including transitions, inter-generational relationships and transnational aspects, and by putting the emphasis on a comparative approach.

>> Bolzman, C., Bernardi, L., Le Goff, J.-M. (eds.) (2017). Situating Children of Migrants across Borders and Origins. A Methodological Overview. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, Life Course Research and Social Policies, Vol. 7

Author Yann Bernardinelli (Les Mots de la Science)

Note to researchers

The new version of the LIVES Cohort data for the years 2013 to 2016 (waves 1 to 4 for individuals recruited in 2013) is now available on the Swiss Household Panel (SHP) website. The LIVES Cohort study collects yearly information on the life course of youth living in Switzerland since their childhood, and it has a special focus on migrants and children of immigrants. These data include several measures of psycho-social vulnerability, such as identity and discrimination (W2, 2014); anomie (W2, 2014); stress (starting from W4, 2016 and yearly repeated), satisfaction with different life domains (W3, 2015), as well as other psychological (W3, 2015), political (W2, 2014), health and social variables (W1-4, 2013-2016). Access to the data is free of charges via the SHP website.

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The Swiss middle class is not in decline, it is growing fast

The middle class in Switzerland is not shrinking. Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, the labour market did not become polarised in Switzerland during the 1990s and 2000s. The 12th issue of the Social Change in Switzerland journal shows that employment has indeed increased in highly-qualified professions and reduced in low-skilled jobs.

Observers of the digital revolution fear that automation threatens a number of skilled professions. Employment would then only increase at the margins - in well-paid intellectual professions and poorly-paid personal service jobs. This would result in the collapse of the middle class.

In a new study, Daniel Oesch and Emily Murphy refute this theory. Using population censuses from 1970 to 2010, they show that in each decade employment grew most in the highest-paid professions and notably decreased in lower-paid jobs, except during the real estate boom of the 1980s.

This improvement in the employment structure can be explained by the increase in the salaried middle class, supported by a significant expansion of educational attainments. Between 1991 and 2016, executives, managers and other experts increased from 34% to 48% of the working population while the amount of production workers fell from 23% to 16%, and assistant office workers decreased from 17% to 8%.

Only one working class category has grown since 1991: workers in the personal services sector, which grew from 13% to 15%. However, this increase has not been significant enough to compensate for the jobs lost in the agricultural, industrial and back-office sectors. Consequently, technological progress has not diminished the middle class, but has led to a fall in the number of industrial workers and low-skilled administrative staff.

>> Daniel Oesch & Emily Murphy (2017). Keine Erosion, sondern Wachstum der Mittelklasse. Der Wandel der Schweizer Berufsstruktur seit 1970 / La classe moyenne n’est pas en déclin, mais en croissance. L’évolution de la structure des emplois en Suisse depuis 1970. Social Change in Switzerland No 12,

Contact : Daniel Oesch, +34 91 624 85 08,

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.


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The programme of the international workshop on shared custody is online

The workshop "Family dynamics and the changing landscape of shared custody in Europe" will take place at the University of Lausanne, IDHEAP Building, on December 14-15, 2017. It will bring together scholars from many renowned research institutions across Europe, as well as specialists of social policies and field practioners.

Divorce rates and separations are on the rise since a long time. They tend to stabilize on a high level throughout all European countries. Despite the long evolution of broken families, only the last decade has seen a radical shift in custody arrangements for children in divorced families. For a long time, mothers were considered to be the main socialization actor and fathers have been given visiting rights. A gender revolution is taking place, whereby fathers have asked and received an increasingly larger share of time to be spent with their children.

Despite this evolution, we do not possess a clear view on families in shared custody across Europe. What are the legal arrangements throughout Europe? What time allocation is considered “normal”? What kind of freedom do judges possess to decide on regulations? How do men act in their post-divorce roles? Are they a Disney-dad or rather a divorce-activated father? And what about mothers? Do they accept the decrease in time spent with their children? Do custody arrangements have an influence on their employment rates and career opportunities?


This workshop will host two keynote presentations, fourteen presentations and a round table gathering recorded experts.

On day 1, Benoit Laplante (INRS, Québec) will give a keynote talk on "Family Demography and Family Law: Interdependencies and Challenges for Shared Custody".

On day 2, Katharina Boele-Woelki (Bucerius Law School, Hamburg, and Chair of the Commission on European Family Law) will speak about "A European Model for Harmonizing the Law on Parental Responsibilities".

Other presenting participants come notably from the Université Catholique de Louvain, INED, EHESS, Stockholm University, University of Rostock, University Pompeu Fabra, University of Antwerp and University of Lausanne.

The round table on day 2 will propose a discussion among four experts on the following question: "Shall shared physical custody and alternating residence be pushed as the default arrangement for children after parental separation?"

  • Vittorio Carlo Vezzetti (European Platform for Joint Custody, Coparenting and Childhood, Italy)
  • Benoit Laplante (INRS, Canada)
  • Monika Pfaffinger (COFF, Switzerland)
  • Katharina Boele-Woelki (Bucerius Law School, Germany)

>> Full programme

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The boundaries of single parenthood are blurred. A new book helps to take stock

The 8th volume of the Life Course Research and Social Policies series, edited by the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES at Springer Publishing, is dedicated to a central issue in the study of life courses: the growing complexity of family structures, which affects an increasing number of people who experience single parenthood at some point in their life. Typically associated with a greater risk of vulnerability, single parenthood is a dynamic process that challenges social policies and that should not be confined to stereotypes

Created in the wake of a workshop organised by the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES in 2014, the publication that has just been released in open access, entitled Lone Parenthood in the Life Course, brings together 15 chapters giving a range of perspectives on single parenthood and offering a comparative and interdisciplinary view of this phenomenon, which has become so common at the beginning of the 21st century.

Edited by Laura Bernardi, professor at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lausanne and deputy director of the NCCR LIVES, and Dimitri Mortelmans, professor of sociology at the University of Antwerp, the book depicts the multiplicity of single-parent situations in various countries and looks at the complexity of these families from several angles: access to work and social benefits, health, well-being, representations, social capital, etc.

"The growing heterogeneity of lone-parent households has not yet been sufficiently emphasised in the scientific literature," says Prof. Bernardi. In three decades, their profiles have indeed diversified. In the past, single parenthood used to concern mainly widows and, more rarely, ostracised "unwed mothers". Today, it affects a much wider group, mainly divorced or separated women. However, the average duration of lone parenthood has fallen drastically, due to a very high rate of single parents finding a new partner after a few years alone. Added to this are the increasingly common situations of shared custody.

Understanding the complexity of family structures

"These changes make it difficult to define lone parenthood within specific boundaries. Socio-demographic and administrative criteria do not always overlap, and sometimes correspond very little to the residential dynamics of children or the real experience of parents," explains Laura Bernardi.

For example, a single mother with children who moves in with a new partner may not always be considered a lone-parent household, according to institutions. However, most of the time, lone parenthood does not end with the formation of a new couple, even if the parent no longer lives alone with their children: "The legal obligations remain with the custodial parent, while from an economic and emotional point of view, it all depends on the new partner's involvement with the child," emphasises Laura Bernardi.

According to the researcher, administrative data and data collected by scientific surveys should provide more details on the concrete living conditions of children and help to better understand who cares for them, for how long, and how the various costs are covered.

In Switzerland and elsewhere

The book's introduction reviews the latest research on lone parenthood in relation to various aspects of the life course, and brings together several datasets to present an overview of the developments since the 1960s in some twenty countries, including Switzerland, Russia, the United States and several European states.

The subsequent chapters develop several themes in different national contexts. The chapter on Switzerland, written by Laura Bernardi and Ornella Larenza, reports on a qualitative study of 40 single parents in the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. It shows that the transition to lone parenthood is often a non-linear and progressive process, the beginning and sometimes even the end of which are difficult to date precisely by the people concerned, who express strong ambivalence in their relationships with their (ex-)partner(s) and in relation to their family situation.

In an increasingly common landscape of non-traditional families, is there any point in delineating the boundaries of lone parenthood? Yes, says Laura Bernardi: "Because while the need for a precise definition of lone parenthood may be questioned in this context of transient arrangements, it is still necessary to know who is legally and practically responsible for the children." On the other hand, she believes that policies should "rethink the rights and duties of parents within a broader framework of complex family configurations, rather than classifying single parents as a homogeneous population of people in need."

Single parenthood and precariousness

However, the extent of the phenomenon should not obscure the fact that lone-parent families remain a category more likely to experience precariousness. More specifically, risks arise especially when several factors accumulate: the young age of the mother, lack of education, unemployment, health problems. Lone parenthood therefore finds itself at the intersection of gender and class inequalities, made even more sensitive by social structures.

One chapter shows that the least developed countries in terms of gender equality are also those with the highest poverty rates for single mothers. The poor integration of women into the labour market and the difficulty in reconciling work and family life significantly increase the risk of having to rely on social welfare.

Yet research indicates that working single mothers have a higher level of well-being, are happier, less stressed and healthier than those who care for their children full-time, as demonstrated by Emanuela Struffolino, one of the authors of the book, in another article published in 2016 with Laura Bernardi and Marieke Voorpostel on the Swiss Household Panel database1.

For universalist policies

One of the book's findings is that social policies that specifically target single parents as a homogeneous group work less well than universal measures. Simplistically targeted measures can even be counterproductive and may discourage lone parents from working or getting back into a relationship, warns Laura Bernardi.

In her view, "implementing policies that guarantee the work-family balance for all parents would have better results in reducing poverty and health risks than targeted and stigmatising measures."

And since lone parenthood is ultimately a risk for very young women without qualifications, Laura Bernardi believes that an important area for improvement lies in promoting education opportunities for everyone, regardless of age or parental status. "The transition from school to work should be flexible and allow young mothers to develop vocational skills so as to prevent the downward spiral of disadvantage."

>> Laura Bernardi & Dimitri Mortelmans (eds.) (2017). Lone Parenthood in the Life Course. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, Life Course Research and Social Policies, Vol. 8.

  • 1. Struffolino E., Bernardi L., Voorpostel M. (2016) Self-reported Health among Lone Mothers in Switzerland:Do Employment and Education Matter? Population-E, 71 (2) pp. 187-214. DOI: 10.3917/pope.1602.0187. Winner of the Population Young Author Prize 2016.
Photo Hugues Siegenthaler © LIVES

People on social welfare are not necessarily lost to the job market

A team of researchers from the University of Lausanne assessed a pilot project in the Canton of Vaud and the City of Lausanne intended to better support marginalised jobseekers. Beneficiaries of the project were invited to a joint Unit of employment advisors and social workers. More of them left welfare through employment than those receiving social assistance alone.

Led by Professor Giuliano Bonoli, an evaluation carried out for the Canton of Vaud on the basis of an experiment carried out jointly with the City of Lausanne, confirmed an intuition that had already been developing for several years: a large proportion of people dependent on income support (Revenu d’insertion, RI) are able to return to work if they are better supported towards achieving this goal. This has a cost in terms of additional supervision, but this is offset by savings on financial benefits paid to beneficiaries.

To carry out this evaluation, Giuliano Bonoli, a social policy specialist at IDHEAP, enlisted the support of his colleagues Rafael Lalive, an economist at HEC, and Daniel Oesch, a sociologist at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, all of whom are members of the same project (IP204) within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. Three young researchers, Maurizio Bigotta, Lionel Cottier and Flavia Fossati, completed the team.

The pilot project being reviewed was launched in February 2015 with the support of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). It consists of a joint Unit created in the City of Lausanne to enable close coordination between advisors from the Regional Employment Centre (ORP) and social workers from the Regional Social Centre (CSR) responsible for delivering income support services. In this unit, which is still active, seven employment advisors deal with an average of 65 cases, half as many as in a traditional ORP, and are supported in their work by four social workers.

1,200 cases compared to a control group

The study covered the first 22 months of the experiment, during which new welfare applications were assigned to the joint unit every other day, while the remaining cases were routinely processed to form a control group. Nearly 1,200 people benefited from closer monitoring in terms of job seeking as part of the experiment.

The comparison between the two groups, using three databases, showed that "recipients supported by the Unit were more likely to leave income support for employment and had lower expenditure during the observation period," according to Professor Bonoli's report.

At the end of the observation period, 52% of the Unit's beneficiaries had found work, compared to 43% in the control group. These new jobs were also more stable for individuals who passed through the Unit: 70% of them did not re-enter unemployment during the study period, compared to 58% among the control group.

Cost/benefit ratio

These good results achieved a saving of 11% on the financial benefits paid to beneficiaries, resulting in an average monthly cost of CHF 107 less per month in the Unit than in the control group. This corresponds roughly to the additional cost of CHF 108 per month per beneficiary generated by the increased supervision from employment advisors in the Unit. The operation was therefore cost-neutral over 22 months.

The evaluation also shows that the Unit applied more sanctions against uncooperative persons than the CSR applied to the control group. According to the report, "the specialised literature is unanimous enough to identify the use of sanctions as an important lever for reintegration into the world of work".

Greater satisfaction

Based on a survey of some of the beneficiaries of both systems, the report indicates that more people in the Unit's care expressed greater satisfaction and were more likely to receive job offers than those from the control group.

The Unit's staff found the collaboration between employment advisors and social workers to be very positive. "Many were afraid of this forced marriage," explains Giuliano Bonoli. "This has made it possible to get rid of a lot of prejudices between the two professions," says Florent Grin, head of the joint Unit.

"One of the keys to success"

In their conclusions, the researchers mention that the results of the pilot project are consistent with similar experiments carried out in the United States and Germany. They feel that the high rate of supervision from employment advisors is "probably one of the keys to the success of the experiment", while suggesting that a slight reduction in this rate would be desirable to improve the cost/benefit ratio, especially since some employment advisors admitted to feeling not busy enough.

The researchers add that the social workers' supervision rate, on the other hand, could be increased in order to speed up support, or that otherwise social workers' expectations should be reduced.

A follow-up project

In this spirit, the report's authors recommend, among other things, that the Unit's action be limited to a more restricted duration. Analyses show that most jobseekers return to work during the first 14 to 16 months of support. "This group is not forever lost to the job market, but its opportunities are also limited by the same job market," said Giuliano Bonoli at a recent meeting with social workers at the Poverty Symposium in Lausanne.

The Canton of Vaud announced on the day of publication of the report that the project would be progressively extended throughout the canton.