iStock © tommaso79

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.

iStock © sturti

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
iStock © wildpixel

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
iStock © ryanking999

“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.

iStock © Rawpixel

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.

iStock © Photosampler

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.


iStock © Katarina Gondova

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

iStock © baona

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.

The 2018 Winter School on Life Course will take place in Bremen in collaboration with BIGSSS

The 2018 Winter School on Life Course will take place in Bremen in collaboration with BIGSSS

The LIVES Life Course Winter School is a one-week intensive program on life course research. Two interdisciplinary workshops (drawing from sociology, social psychology, life-span psychology, social demography, social policy) take place in small groups of 6 to 8 students. Three to four experts will lead each of these research workshops, with the aim of preparing collaborative articles through a process of learning by doing. It will take place from 12 to 18 March 2018 in Bremen, Germany, jointly organized with the Bremen International Graduate School in Social Sciences (BIGSSS).

Since 2015, BIGSSS has successfully organized intense courses with varying research foci from one of its thematic fields. The aim of the BIGSSS summer (winter) school program is to support young social scientists by opening a cross-border dialogue on theoretical questions and methodological approaches to current matters of social science research.

Workshop 1

Social networks, social participation and life transitions: a life course perspective 

With Eric Widmer (University of Geneva), Karin Wall (University of Lisbon), Rita Gouveia (University of Lisbon), Marie Baeriswyl (University of Geneva)

This workshop will explore the interplay between life transitions and changes in personal networks and social participation (for example to various kinds of associations). The pluralization of life courses that has characterized the experience of currently young adult cohorts has also affected those who are now retired or close to retirement. The occurrence and the timing of a variety of life transitions have increased in recent decades, making the family life cycle and traditional work-family arrangements less predictable and standardized than it once was.

This diversity of life trajectories has created additional challenges and contradictions in social networks and social participation. Individuals may have to adjust their personal relationships and social participations to their new life situation without having anticipated the need to do so. Additionally, members of their personal networks may also experience life transitions, which may have an effect on their relationships. In other words, social networks and social participations may be strongly interrelated with the way in which life transitions are experienced.

A focus on the transition to retirement will be proposed by the instructors, as such transition is expected to be associated with a major shift in personal networks and social participation, which still need to be better understood. Participants are invited to propose other life transitions to be considered.

The  workshop aims to advance the empirical study of social networks and social participation in a life course perspective using novel longitudinal datasets made available by the LIVES program or other international datasets, such the Share data. Advanced multivariate quantitative methods will be used. The workshop readings, discussion and data analysis will provide a context for designing two to three papers that will be formulated during the workshop.

Workshop 2

How do values and political orientations develop across the life-span?

With Klaus Boehnke (Jacobs University), Regina Arant (Jacobs University), Maria Pavlova (University of Vechta) and Clemens Lechner (Gesis, Maheim - TBC)

This workshop will explore the life-span development of value preferences and political orientations. Is it really the case that people’s value preferences are more or less stable once people have become of age? Is the old folk wisdom really true that people become politically ever more conservative, the older they get? How does early-life political activism affect later-life psychosocial well-being? These are the three main questions addressed in the workshop.

The most influential political science value change theory, the approach developed by Ronald Inglehart in the 1970s, assumes that value preferences are acquired during the early years of life and depend—in their preference patterns—on the degree of need fulfillment during those years. If lower-level needs, as conceptualized in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, remain unfulfilled during those years, people will cherish what they lacked and will accentuate survival values. If basic needs are by and large fulfilled during these years, people will rather cherish self-expression values. Intrapersonal development is rarely addressed by researchers with an interest in value change. To fill this gap is the focal aim of the workshop. Does the value stability assumption really pertain? And how does it relate to the mentioned folk wisdom that political orientations are said to become ever more conservative across the life-span?

A further question addressed will be the one what effects political activism has on the later-life development of value preferences and political orientations. And how does political activism affect psychosocial well-being and happiness during people’s later lives. It has been suggested that activism and volunteering affect mental health positively. At the same time it has been proposed that a good mental health is an indispensable prerequisite for political activism and volunteering. Can one shed more light on the causal direction of effects? This question will be addressed in the workshop as well.

The workshop aims to advance the empirical study of value change across the life-span using longitudinal (panel) datasets made available by the workshop leader or other international datasets, like the SOEP data set. The core data set will be coming from a study of some 200 early-age peace movement activists, who have been surveyed during their adolescent years in the mid-1980s and have then been followed every 3 ½ years in altogether 10 waves of data gathering. Latent growth modelling approaches will be used, as will be approaches from the tool-kit of repeated-measures ANOVA. The workshop readings, discussion and data analysis will provide a context for drafting two to three papers that will be formulated during the workshop.

The Winter School Program

Our joint winter school on life course studies has a specific design that differs from most of the other academic events of this kind: internationally renowned experts will lead two thematically different courses, with the aim of preparing collaborative articles through  learning by doing. In a nutshell, the seven-day class represents all stages of a research process, heading towards a joint publication as a medium-term follow-up:

  1. Firstly, based on the descriptions of the topical foci on the website, work groups of 6-8 participants plus faculty jointly investigate and define the topic of the workshop in more precise terms by reading pertinent papers selected by the organizers.
  2. On this basis, the second step aims at a deepened discussion of possible hypotheses that will - or will not - structure the work with the available data.
  3. The third day (‘lab day’) is dedicated to working ‘hands-on’. Data and measurements are presented, worked with and discussed in the two workshops. In a joint session, preliminary results are made available to both work groups.
  4. After having scrutinized data, the concrete topics of the research project/paper are defined. These topics flow into the essential research questions the publication/s will tackle.
  5. The last two days are dedicated to working on the initial drafts of the collaborative articles plus finally agreeing upon a work-plan for the two groups on how to complete manuscripts in the immediate aftermath of the workshop.

Terms and Conditions

The LIVES winter school is targeted at Early Stage Researchers, i.e. graduating PhD students and PhD students who recently have graduated. Experienced MA students are also welcome. We encourage applications from all countries but may only consider candidates with a social science background working on questions related to one of the two workshops.

There is a 480 € program fee, covering accommodation, all academic events and leisure activities. Breakfast, lunch and snacks will be provided for all accepted participants of the winter school. Lodging at a hotel near the venue for the duration of the course is included for all accepted participants. Travel cost reimbursement can not be granted.

Participants will be asked to present proof of an international health-, accident-, and liability insurance that covers their stay in Germany for the duration of the winter school.

The winter school will start on March 12th, at 1.30 pm (pick up at Hotel Seven Things). Therefore, we recommend that you arrive in Bremen on Monday, March 12th, at noon the latest. The program will finish on Sunday, March 18, at 4.00 pm. Please make sure to consider this when booking your train/flight home.


  1. Please apply by sending an e-mail including the following documents (Arial 12 pt, 1,5 lines spacing) to BIGSSS' Admissions and Administration Officer, Hristina Gvozdenovic ( a letter of motivation (max. 2 pages), a CV including publications and academic/research experience (max. 3 pages) and a proposal of your current project, e.g. your MA thesis, an upcoming publication or your PhD thesis (max. 5 pages). 
  2. Please indicate the workshop you are interested in. During the winter school you will be assigned to one workshop only. All accepted participants stay with their group (except for joint activities).
  3. The application period is open between November 21, 2017 and January 21, 2018. Incomplete, incorrect and late applications will not be considered. 
  4. Please send your application in one composite pdf.

>> Website

>> Flyer

iStock © filadendron

New book in open access on surveying second-generation immigrants

Our colleagues Claudio Bolzman, Laura Bernardi and Jean-Marie Le Goff, from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland and the University of Lausanne, are the editors of the book Situating Children of Migrants across Borders and Origins. This publication includes contributions from several excellent international scholars. It is published in the Springer Series Life Course Research and Social Policies, which is headed by the NCCR LIVES.

This open access wide-ranging collation of papers examines a host of issues in studying second-generation immigrants, their life courses, and their relations with older generations. Tightly focused on methodological aspects, both quantitative and qualitative, the volume features the work of authors from numerous countries, from differing disciplines, and approaches.

A key addition in a corpus of literature which has until now been restricted to studying the childhood, adolescence and youth of the children of immigrants, the material includes analysis of longitudinal and transnational efforts to address challenges such as defining the population to be studied, and the difficulties of follow-up research that spans both time and geographic space. In addition to perceptive reviews of extant literature, chapters also detail work in surveying the children of immigrants in Europe, the USA, and elsewhere.

Authors address key questions such as the complexities of surveying each generation in families where parents have migrated and left children in their country of origin, and the epistemological advances in methodology which now challenge assumptions based on the Westphalian nation-state paradigm.

The book is in part an outgrowth of temporal factors (immigrants’ children are now reaching adulthood in more significant numbers), but also reflects the added sophistication and sensitivity of social science surveys. In linking theoretical and methodological factors, it shows just how much the study of these second generations, and their families, can be enriched by evolving methodologies.

This book is open access under a CC BY license.


>> More on the series

>> 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



iStock © AlexLMX

The income of the super-rich is rising unabated in Switzerland

Over the past twenty years, Switzerland’s top 1% tax payers have seen their income rise strongly despite the international financial crisis, according to an article by Isabel Martinez published in the 11th issue of the series Social Change in Switzerland. The probability to stay in this income group from one year to another has been constantly high.

The rise of income was especially strong among the super-rich: the 450 most wealthy tax payers (the top 0.01%) have seen their share of overall income in Switzerland almost double since the 1980s. The 2008 crisis hardly made a dent in this upwards trend, which can also be observed at an international level, particularly in the United States.

To date, very few studies have been conducted over the length of the period during which the persons with the highest incomes remain at the top. Based on data from the Swiss Old Age and Survivors’ Pensions Information Service, Isabel Martinez observes that 80% of the richest individuals tend to maintain their position the following year. After five years, the share of people remaining in this top group is still 60%. These figures are surprisingly stable since 1981.  “The observed rise in inequality has therefore not been compensated for by greater income mobility”, the researcher concludes. Common measures of inequality like the Gini-Index, taking into account the income of all contributors to the Swiss Old Age and Survivors’ Pensions, confirm this result.

Isabel Martinez’s study also allows us to gain a better understanding of who exactly the highest earners in Switzerland are. Foreign-born tax payers represent around one third of the richest percentile. Women, on the other hand, are substantially under-represented in this top percentile; they only account for 10% of the latter despite making up 46% of the active population.

>> Isabel Martinez (2017). Die Topeinkommen in der Schweiz seit 1980: Verteilung und Mobilität / Les hauts revenus en Suisse depuis 1980: répartition et mobilité. Social Change in Switzerland No 11. Retrieved from

Contact: Isabel Martinez,, +41 79 560 27 26

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.

International Conference on Social Identities and Health (ICSIH4) in Lausanne

International Conference on Social Identities and Health (ICSIH4) in Lausanne

The International Conference on Social Identity and Health will be hosted in 2018 (July 13-14) at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland by the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. The deadline of the call for abstract submissions is set on January 4, 2018. The conference will be preceded by a Groups 4 Health workshop on July 12.

The theme of the 2018 conference is Vulnerabilities in Social Identities and Health. With the concept of vulnerability we want to stress the dynamic and multidimensional processes which relate social identity to health. Accordingly, studies analysing how cognitive, affective and behavioural dimensions of social identities are associated with positive or negative health outcomes across the life span, and research that examines how social inequalities and social norms affect the interplay between vulnerability and social identity are of high interest for this conference. We also welcome submissions of studies that focus on stigmatised groups and their health trajectories across the life span, and of research which looks at interventions and policies that empower vulnerable groups in order to promote positive health outcomes. While we encourage submissions addressing these themes, we also welcome more general research examining the interplay between social identity and health.

To present your work at the conference, please send a title and an abstract of 250 words for peer-review before 4 January 2018 by registering on this webform. During the registration process, you will be asked to indicate your preference in terms of format session: 10-min presentation, 20-min presentation or poster session. Information on acceptance/rejection will be sent by the beginning of February 2018. 

Invited speakers are Tegan Cruwys from the University of Queensland and Eric Widmer from the University of Geneva. The final program will be available by mid-February 2018.

The organizing committee:
Olivier Desrichard, Daniela Jopp, Davide Morselli, Dario Spini, Christian Staerklé, Eric Widmer

>> See also the Groups 4 Health workshop

Swiss demographers at the International Population Conference in Cape Town

Swiss demographers at the International Population Conference in Cape Town

A group of LIVES members are in South Africa from 29 October to 4 November 2017 to present their researches on life course issues like family, migration, health, ageing, etc. The IPC 2017 Conference draws over 2,000 scientists, policy makers and practitioners in the global population community.

The programme of the 28th International Population Conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) in Cape Town, South Africa, is huge. The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES is proud of having at least seven of its researchers involved, some of them still PhD candidates, others more seasoned scholars.

Prof. Michel Oris, vice-rector of the University of Geneva and a member of the IP213, organised two sessions, one on “Social inequalities in health at older ages: Life course perspectives”, the other one on “The construction of socioeconomic and gender inequalities in health and mortality in old age”. Prof. Claudine Sauvain-Dugerdil, a professor of demography at the University of Geneva participating in IP208, also organised two sessions, one on “Later life through a gender lens”, the other one on “Gendered ageing”.

Two female professors, prominently active in the NCCR LIVES, are very visible at the conference. Prof. Clémentine Rossier, head of IP208 at the University of Geneva, organised a session on “Sexual and reproductive needs in mid- and later life”, and will present two papers and two posters - either as main or second author. She will notably present a study on “Couples with children in Switzerland: impact of gender attitudes and practices on well-being1.

Prof. Laura Bernardi, deputy director of the NCCR LIVES at the University of Lausanne, will present three papers, one poster and participate in a session about publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Conducted with Gina Potarca, one study addresses “The (un)healthy immigrant effect. The role of legal status and naturalization timing”, where they show that legal status has a significant influence on the health disparities between Swiss natives and immigrants. Another paper addresses “Gender spillover effects on satisfaction with different life domains during the transition to parenthood”, showing that women experience more vulnerability and decrease in leisure satisfaction than men after the birth of their new-born child(ren)2. There is also a presentation on the “Changing pathways of lone parents in Europe”, together with Dimitri Mortelmans from the University of Antwerp and Ornella Larenza, a PhD student within LIVES at the University of Lausanne.

Three young researchers are expected to present their research during paper or poster sessions: Adrien Remund, who got his PhD in 2015 at the University of Geneva3, will speak about methodology “On partitioning deaths”; Marie Baeriswyl, who got her PhD in 2016 also at the University of Geneva4, about “Gendered ageing”, and Julia Sauter, still a PhD candidate in the same university, will present her poster on “The association of leisure activities and cognitive functioning in old age: The role of social capital”.

The session called “All you want to know about publishing in a peer-reviewed journal” will allow Laura Bernardi to present Advances in Life Course Research, of which she is the co-editor in chief since last spring. This journal is devoted to the interdisciplinary study of human life course and welcomes empirical analyses, theoretical contributions, methodological studies and reviews.

Image iStock © Synergee

In Switzerland, the share of working mothers has tripled since the 1980s

The 10th edition of the series Social Change in Switzerland focuses on the changes in the professional activity of mothers of pre-school children over the last four decades. The article by Francesco Giudici and Reto Schumacher analyses the situation of these women according to their individual characteristics, such as number of children, level of education, nationality and marital status. It shows that part-time work has become commonplace, while the housewife model, which was still the most widespread choice in the 1980s, is now much less popular.

In their article about "Working mothers in Switzerland: evolution and individual-level variables", which is published in French and German, Francesco Giudici and Reto Schumacher base their study on federal censuses of the population carried out in 1980, 1990 and 2000 as well as the structural survey 2010-2014. They show that the presence in the labour market of mothers in a couple with a child under 4 years old has almost tripled since 1980, with significant regional and sociodemographic differences. The francophone cantons have seen the biggest increases. The canton of Valais, for example, has seen the number of young mothers in work rise from 18% in 1980 to 69% in 2010-2014.

Four individual-level variables were examined. Firstly, the size of the family: nowadays, the more children a mother has, the less she works. In the past, the small proportion of women who worked were much less affected by the number of children they had. Next came the level of education: women who have been through tertiary education are more likely to work, as was also the case back in the 1980s. However, the differences in professional engagement depending on socio-educational levels have tended to reduce, apart from among women who are less qualified than their partner. For these two factors - family size and educational level - the authors believe that the cost-benefit assessment of childcare services, which have become more common, plays an important role in the decision whether to work or not.

Other individual-level variables: nationality and marital status. Francesco Giudici and Reto Schumacher have noted a reversal between the numbers of working mothers who are Swiss and those who are foreign: in the 1980s, Swiss mothers in a couple with a child under 4 years old worked much less than foreign mothers in the same situation. However, nowadays, foreign mothers are proportionally less likely to be in the labour market. According to the authors, "although it is possible that the changes in the foreign population in terms of nationality has played a role, it may also show the end of the bourgeois family model among Swiss couples". This increased equality within couples can also be seen when comparing the professional situations of married and unmarried women: mothers living in a common-law partnership work more than married women, but the different has significantly reduced, falling from over 50% in 1990 to less than 10% in 2010-2014.

>> Francesco Giudici and Reto Schumacher (2017). Le travail des mères en Suisse : évolution et déterminants individuels / Erwerbstätigkeit von Müttern in der Schweiz: Entwicklung und individuelle Faktoren. Social Change in Switzerland No 10. Retrieved from

Contacts :

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.

Image iStock © monkeybusinessimages

LIVES Award for early scholars is granted to a paper on school to work transitions

The winner of the "LIVES Best Paper Award for Early Scholars" is Dr. Christian Brzinsky-Fay from WZB Berlin. He received a prize of 2000 Euros on October 11, 2017 at the opening of the annual conference of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (SLLS) in Stirling. His article, published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, shows that vocational education and training (VET) systems, common in Germany and Switzerland, facilitate occupational attainments across cohorts under different labour market conditions. However, gender inequalities come to light.

Christian Brzinsky-Fay’s research addresses school to work transitions (STWT) of five cohorts of German residents born between 1948 and 1977. He notably questions non-linear transitions, when there is no direct entry into the labour market after education or several different activity statuses before occupation. Born in 1972, he went back to university when he was 25 years old and obtained his PhD at age 39. Is there a relationship between his own life course and his research topic?

Absolutely, he confirms: “The time between my Abitur (high school degree) and age 25 was indeed filled by a couple of different 'activity statuses', such as freelance work (private tutor, telephone interviewing), studying (trial run: chemistry, biology), company work (Siemens). Despite its lack of sustainability and drifting character, this period was for me a very important time, because it allowed me to learn a lot of informal qualifications and soft skills. In this respect, I think that my interest in STWT is partly a result of my own experiences.”

His personal trajectory allowed him to contest for the LIVES Best Paper Award for Early Scholars, aimed at researchers who received their doctoral degree less than seven years ago. 55 articles, originating from 15 countries, were submitted for this second edition of the award, only two by LIVES members or former members, in what happened to be a very tight competition. Christian Brzinsky-Fay’s finally won the best scores for the topicality of his research in the life course perspective and its high scientific relevance, as well as for his mastery of methods.

Educational expansion

Using data from the German National Education Panel Study's adult survey (NEPS) and the innovative method of sequence analysis, Christian Brzinsky-Fay looks at entries into the job market not as isolated events, but as patterns of trajectories. He observes differences inter and intra cohorts, all marked by the educational expansion that followed World War II, and subject to varying macroeconomic conditions. This approach allows him to test whether the VET system, usually considered as leading to less unemployment for young adults, is correlated to less instability and better professional integration at any period, even during the less favourable ones in terms of job prospects.

Results show that the proportion of young people experiencing smooth transition patterns increased over the cohorts, largely due to the rising attendance of secondary school before apprenticeship. Although they were the largest and met the poorest labour market conditions at the end of compulsory schooling, the 1965 and 1970 cohorts showed the lowest rate of non-linear school to work transitions. The instability cluster, while decreasing, was however marked by more activity statuses, indicating a higher degree of non-linearity among the “unstable” minority.  All in all, 13% of men and 25% of women were concerned by a high number of activity statuses across all the cohorts, 44% of them holders of a high school diploma.

Reduced upward mobility for women

One originality of Christian Brzinsky-Fay’s paper is to consider not only the first entry into the job market, but the situation of all individuals at age 30. This enables him to see whether the different types of trajectories have a sustainable repercussion on the job situation, once what is considered as the regular age of adulthood is reached. The finding is that men nowadays succeed in compensating the usually longer duration of their education and display important rates of upward mobility: for the youngest cohorts, there is in fact no postponement of the male occupational and socioeconomic attainments compared to the 1950 cohort. For highly educated women, however, once entered into regular adulthood, the situation is far less favourable, as they have the higher risk of not reaching positions which they would deserve according to their degree level. Upward mobility between first occupation and age 30 is much flatter for women across all cohorts.

Christian Brzinsky-Fay concludes by calling for “greater attention to gender differences”. His analysis nevertheless shows clearly “the merit of vocationally oriented upper secondary school systems”. He may yet be proud of having pursued his own education further. Our sincere congratulations for his award on such an important topic of life course studies!

>> Brzinsky-Fay, Christian & Solga, Heike (2016): Compressed, Postponed, or Disadvantaged? School-to-Work-Transition Patterns and Early Occupational Attainment in West GermanyResearch in Social Stratification and Mobility, Vol. 46, Part A, pp. 21-36.

Alison Woodward: “Science quality improves when gender diversity comes into play”

Alison Woodward: “Science quality improves when gender diversity comes into play”

On 13 September 2017, the Equal Opportunity (EO) Programme of the NCCR LIVES, in collaboration with the EO Office and the Interfaculty Platform on Gender (PlaGe) of the University of Lausanne, organised an event on the topic of "Integrating Gender in Science". Prof. Alison Woodward, a renowned specialist of those questions, gave a presentation about what has been done so far to improve women’s access to top academic positions, and what remains to be done. Her talk was followed by a round table discussion with other concerned scholars.

"There has been considerable change in my lifetime, including the fact that increasingly good science is being seen as science that takes considerations of gender seriously on board". When meeting scholars at the University of Lausanne last September, Prof. Alison Woodward, from the RHEA Center for Gender and Diversity and the Institute for European Studies of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, pointed out why there has been so little progress in gendering science, why it is important and what tools are today available to help make it happen.

Alison Woodard mentioned the constitutional and legal developments which have taken place in Europe over the last decades, and the various specialized government institutions accountable for gender equality progress. She listed different women’s interest groups which exerted citizen pressure, and insisted on the importance of the leadership from powerful research organisations.

She stated that "at least in Europe the comparator on scientific achievement remains the US, and the diversity of their labs, in terms of gender as well as ethnicity, is an important benchmark". As far as Switzerland is concerned, she considered that Swiss gender experts are "world leaders in addressing gender diversity issues in science" — at least in theory, she specified, through existing regulations and due monitoring.

Some progress has been made, but problems continue to exist at higher levels of scientific careers. As Alison Woodward showed, the most recent data indicate that women made up 47% of PhD graduates in the European Union, but made up only 33% of researchers and 21% of top-level researchers. It is even lower at the level of heads of institutions with a mere 20%.

"Mixed groups work better"

Alison Woodward put forward that mixed and diverse scientific work forces improve the emotional health of scientific teams, and can contribute to research into wider domains. "Research shows that mixed groups work better", she said, but "the underrepresentation of women is a clear indicator that there are unfair barriers on the pathway to power and performance in science." She added that "not utilising these highly skilled people is an enormous economic waste", as training scientists is costly for society.

During her presentation, Alison Woodward gave many examples and links to resources regarding diverse endeavours (see below). She declared: "On the one hand, I think there is a need to let researchers know that they do not have to reinvent the wheel, as there are almost too many wheels to count when it comes to good advice on how to achieve gender balance. However, on the other hand, given the political sociologists habitual cynicism about much talk, and good promises, but no action, and little monitoring — in reality, change has gone so slowly — so that the classic question ‘Why so Slow?’ still echoes when one looks at the depressing stagnant figures, and occasional backslides showing that it is still often the case that the success rate of men in all categories is better than women."

The debate that followed her talk headed in the same direction. René Levy, professor emeritus of the University of Lausanne, Farinaz Fassa, sociology professor at the University of Lausanne, Damien Michelet, coordinator of the Interfaculty Platform on Gender (PlaGe), and Carole Clair Willi, physician at CHUV, agreed that most of the time problems of gender inequality are not so much rooted inside the academic structures but ahead in society stratification and role models. They supported the idea that every research proposal should ensure a female representation in the research teams, and that research projects addressing human issues should systematically adopt a gender perspective in the research questions, whatever the scientific discipline is.

The baby boom, zenith of perfect housewifes, explained through macro- and microanalyses

The baby boom, zenith of perfect housewifes, explained through macro- and microanalyses

Aline Duvoisin defended her thesis with verve and assurance on 12 September 2017 in relation to the life courses of women of childbearing age between the 1940s and 1965. She paints a detailed picture of a major demographic phenomenon that is still poorly understood, using an approach which puts an emphasis on personal testimonies in order to complement the statistical analysis. Her research reveals an era when everything tended to push women into marriage. Or rather the end of an era...

"An international phenomenon, totally unforeseen, unique and overwhelming in nature", the baby boom has given rise to many interpretations without obtaining a consensus on its real causes. Aline Duvoisin's thesis enables us to move beyond the usual theories, which are often based on an essentially economic perspective, and to better understand this particular period within the Swiss context.

An assistant at the University of Geneva, based at the Interfaculty Centre of Gerontology and Vulnerability Studies (CIGEV) and a member of the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, Aline Duvoisin shows that this period was characterised by a marked reduction in the age of marriage and the generalisation of the bourgeois model of the “neat and orderly” family.

Socialised in the years between the two world wars, women were imbued in their youth with pro-family discourses extolling the distinction between female and male roles and the incompatibility between employment and parenthood. These norms were conveyed at all levels of society: family, school, churches, youth movements, social and political institutions, legislation and mass culture all contributed to create the ideal of the housewife, respectable and respected "guardian of morals”.

Mixed method

Aline Duvoisin's research has had the impact of a “genuine revelation”, as one of her thesis jury members described it, justifying the advantages of using a "mixed biographical approach" combining quantitative and qualitative data.

Her thesis, largely based on the Vivre/Leben/Vivere (VLV) survey, analyses the life trajectories of 1184 women born between 1910 and 1941 and living in five very distinct Swiss cantons (Geneva, Bern, Basel, Valais and Ticino). For each one of these regions, the researcher was able to benefit from the transcripts of semi-structured interviews conducted by Sylvie Burgnard.

Several types of life trajectories can be discerned, depending on whether the women were married or not, had children or not, and depending on other elements such as career path, the rural or urban context, or the degree of religiosity.

76% of the married women in the sample had at least two children, with the peak of 2.68 children per woman being reached in 1964. Mothers of three or more children were the main contributors to the baby boom - women of faith and those living in the countryside were, unsurprisingly, most prominent among these.

The cohorts observed were better educated than the previous generations, and often went beyond the primary level, but their education nevertheless was still highly gendered, with the proliferation of "household" studies, followed in most cases by a rapid withdrawal from the world of work following marriage.

Internalisation of norms

The testimonies make it possible to understand how these women internalised the current norms. "I have always done the right thing," explains one respondent, recounting her career as a wife and mother of four children. "When I arrived here, I found that the women were behind the times" recalls the other, having grown up abroad before settling in Valais.

"At one time or another during their life courses each of these women experienced an event which reminded them of their place in society," notes Aline Duvoisin.

She observes that the normative pressures felt most strongly by the cohorts being studied were those mainly exerted on their marital path. Infertility was more readily accepted than "disordered" fertility. Thus, not having a child represented a "less serious" failing than not complying with the norms of conjugality.

We can also see that a significant number of mothers of large families had unwanted, or at least unplanned, children due to a lack of effective information about contraception or because of conservative positions.

Pioneers in spite of everything

This thesis shows that in the end a significant proportion of women nevertheless resumed a professional activity when their children were older. "The ideal of a wife at home evolved towards the ideal of a mother at home which had a profound impact on Switzerland and Swiss women during the second half of the 20th century," notes Aline Duvoisin.

For the researcher, the mothers of the baby boomers "were the initiators of dynamics which their daughters then consolidated and normalised, in this case the return of women to the labour market." On a part-time basis, reflecting a gradual change in behaviour patterns rather than a clean break between the period of the baby boom and the subsequent decline in the birth rate since the 1970s.

>> Aline Duvoisin (2017). Les origines du baby-boom en Suisse : une approche biographique des cohortes féminines (1910-1941). Under the direction of Michel Oris. University of Geneva.