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

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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



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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.

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Vulnerability is most visible during turning points and times of transition

Two recently defended theses at the University of Lausanne in the framework of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, use data from the Swiss Household Panel to observe the development of critical events, such as becoming an adult, the birth of a child or a spell of unemployment. The research studies of Florence Rossignon and Matteo Antonini use these events to highlight the interaction between individual characteristics and the structural context, which can only really be revealed in a quantitative way by longitudinal tracking over time, thanks to innovative methods. In doing so, these studies present some notable surprises.

"The road to adulthood is long and winding, and it does not come to an end until the late twenties." This phrase of Florence Rossignon on page 54 of her thesis, while rooted in scientific observation, is poetic in many ways. Written by a young PhD candidate, it can also be understood as a metaphor for her own metamorphosis, on reaching the culmination of four years of research. Her thesis, which she defended on 22 August 2017, is the very first to use the “LIVES Cohort” oversampling data from young people born between 1988 and 1997, of whom three quarters are second-generation immigrants. The data comes from the third sample of the Swiss Household Panel, an annual questionnaire conducted since 2013 by FORS, the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences, in collaboration with the NCCR LIVES.

Florence Rossignon was interested in two events marking the transition to adulthood: leaving home and entering the job market. Combining sequence analysis and event history analysis for the first time, two diametrically different methods up till now, her thesis particularly shows that, at every age studied, young people whose parents are separated show a greater probability of leaving the family home than those whose parents are still together.

Well-integrated second generation from former Yugoslavia

With regard to professional integration, Florence Rossignon highlights significant differences coinciding with ethnic origin, even when those concerned were entirely educated in Switzerland. Second generation migrants from Southern Europe make up the highest percentage of those working in skilled manual trades. More surprisingly, young people originally from the Balkans and Turkey are characterised by a greater presence in skilled white-collar jobs following on from an apprenticeship. Compared to young people with two Swiss parents, the second generation from these countries are also less likely to earn their living doing an unskilled job. Young people who have the greatest difficulty in finding work are those whose families originally came from continents other than Europe.

An especially original part of Florence Rossignon's thesis is her study of resident permits. She succeeds in showing that young people who benefitted from temporary or short-term permits when they entered the country, are more likely than the Swiss, all other things being equal, to reach more prestigious socio-professional positions, as self-employed people for instance. According to the researcher, these circumstances could be explained by the families having higher educational and professional aspirations.

Unemployment and its consequences

The self-employed category would appear to be an interesting avenue to pursue for social sciences research. It is also present in Matteo Antonini's thesis, who took his viva on 28 August 2017. He too used data from the Swiss Household Panel, but included older population samples for all ages associated with surveys started in 1999 and 2004. Part of his research addressed the paths followed by people who had experienced one or more periods of unemployment, with the idea of examining their circumstances four years after losing their jobs.

Matteo Antonini compared two groups: people who were unemployed at one point and those who did not experience unemployment. His data shows that in the unemployed group, the self-employed category increases significantly after a period of unemployment, rising from 1.6% to 6.1%. In the control group consisting of people who had not experienced unemployment, the share of self-employed people remains reasonably stable or even decreases, dropping from 8.3% to 7.9% four years later.

This researcher also used sequence analysis, being especially interested in people affected most seriously by unemployment in the medium to long term, either because they were still unemployed at the end of four years, or because they had to resort to downgrading or even because their employment history was characterised by recurring instability. Foreigners and older people are particularly affected by long-term unemployment. Women are especially affected by downgrading, accepting jobs below their level of qualifications which allow them to combine work and family life. Finally, both skilled and unskilled blue-collar workers are the people who struggle the most in finding a secure job.

Apart from these particularly vulnerable categories, Matteo Antonini observed that a significant number of highly qualified people are also affected by long-term unemployment and an insecure working life, perhaps because they are unwilling to accept just any sort of job and furthermore because they have the economic and social resources to cope with the situation for a relatively long time, according to Matteo Antonini. Nevertheless, he sees this phenomenon as a warning which should not be ignored by the Swiss education and social systems.

Women's careers and maternity benefits

The PhD candidate likewise devoted a significant section of his thesis to another turning point, the birth of a child. Working together with Ashley Pullman, a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia, he looked into the effect that new maternity benefits had on professional careers and found mixed results regarding the importance of this reform for women's careers in Switzerland. In some cases, women have actually lost some rights after the 2005 introduction of 16 weeks of compulsory leave on 70% pay, compared to what certain collective agreements used to provide. In any event, the new law has not increased the share of women who work full-time. Matteo Antonini shows that most women are inclined to reduce their working hours, sometimes even before the birth of a child.

The researcher laments that "the reform was not strong enough to overcome the social inertia that maintains a certain structure of individual work sequences." If one looks at this analysis together with the thesis mentioned above, Switzerland does not appear to have improved much: one of Florence Rossignon's observations is that second generation young people who have gained citizenship have not seen their professional path made any easier for all that: individuals who become Swiss still have fewer chances of occupying a higher position than those who are born Swiss. They may have higher expectations and would therefore enter into competition with nationals who have a more substantial social capital, the researcher suggests. In both cases, the research of the LIVES PhD graduates reveals the tension that exists between the social structure and individual strategies.

>> Florence Rossignon (2017). Transition to adulthood for vulnerable populations in Switzerland: When past matters. Under the supervision of Jacques-Antoine Gauthier and Jean-Marie Le Goff. University of Lausanne.

>> Matteo Antonini (2017). The impact of critical events on work trajectories. Under the supervision of Felix Bühlmann. University of Lausanne.

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Psychology studies aim to capture real-life snapshots of our changing mentalities

Nowadays, at the start of the 21st century, the family is an inescapable crucible of social change. It was no surprise then to find this subject at the heart of several presentations at the 15th Conference of the Swiss Psychological Society, held on 4–5 September 2017 at the University of Lausanne. During the event, the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES made a large number of submissions focusing on the quality of relationships, wellbeing and modern family norms.

Views and attitudes relating to the family have changed at breakneck speed in recent years, and this subject is naturally of interest to research in all kinds of fields within the social sciences. This is all the more true for psychology, which has always prioritised the study of family relationships. Thus as ever, the structure of the family was a prominent subject among the many debated this year at the Conference of the Swiss Psychological Society. What was striking, however, was how often the subject of change arose.

On the first day, the public conference held by Professor Susan Golombok, Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, referred to the many fears triggered by both the transformations of family structures and new methods of conceiving children. Drawing on a large number of studies conducted with atypical families or families where assisted reproduction played a role, she showed that the psychological wellbeing of children is not linked to parental type or the way the children were conceived, but to the quality of their family relationships.

In all scenarios, whether they involve same-sex parents, single-parent families or individuals with children conceived via assisted reproduction, the scientific findings of Susan Golombok contradicted the fears voiced by proponents of the traditional family unit. Her conference, sponsored by NCCR LIVES and the University of Lausanne's Science-Society Interface, discussed many examples included in her best-selling book published in 2015: Modern Families: Parents and Children in New Family Forms.

Members of NCCR LIVES presented 23 papers during the conference, which was attended by more than 250 researchers. Twelve of these papers were based on data gathered as part of specific projects conducted by the Centre (IP201, IP207, IP212, IP213). In addition to issues related to the world of work and ageing, the subject of the family was particularly well covered, with several female researchers seeking to better understand various aspects of the way family structures are evolving.

Progress on gender equality – but what about in Switzerland?

Professor Clémentine Rossier, a family demographer at the University of Geneva and leader of NCCR LIVES IP208, presented research conducted with Juliette Fioretta on the wellbeing of couples with children who adopt progressive attitudes and practices towards questions of gender.

Their study compared five countries – Germany, Belgium, France, Sweden and Switzerland – demonstrating that couples with the most egalitarian opinions have much better indicators of wellbeing, irrespective of country. One factor that explains this result is that couples who aspire to more progressive gender-based ideals also occupy a more privileged position in society. When gender equality was examined in practice – here observing couples where both partners work on a full-time basis – quite the same results emerged: couples where both partners were in full-time work generally had better wellbeing indicators.

Of the five countries studied, Switzerland was the only country where working couples with both partners in full-time work experienced greater financial and health-related difficulties than couples where the female partner did not work or worked on a part-time basis. Unlike in the other countries, women working full-time in Switzerland seem to be obliged to do so for financial reasons – to the detriment of their wellbeing – in a context which does very little to promote a balance between work and family life. Women from more privileged backgrounds, who gain an advantage from full-time work in other countries, opt heavily for part-time work in Switzerland because of a lack of appropriate childcare facilities.

This observation is confirmed by the fact that Switzerland also has the largest proportion of fathers who have reduced their working hours in order to look after their children (9%). The researchers concluded from these findings that "what is at the root of the problem in Switzerland, therefore, is the ability to juggle a career and family life, and not gender equality in terms of representation or other practices."

Individual views and social norms

This same finding – of changing mentalities not yet entirely reflected in real life – was also found in the highly promising and original study presented by Léïla Eisner, an NCCR LIVES doctoral student at the University of Lausanne under the direction of Professor Dario Spini. Following a survey of 1,105 people from all social backgrounds in various areas of the canton of Vaud, Eisner, a young social psychology researcher, studied the respondents' views on working mothers and same-sex parents, as well as their perceptions of what other people think of these same questions.

In relation to working mothers, her results revealed somewhat neutral views, with the least favourable attitudes expressed by the oldest and least qualified respondents. An analysis of the differences between personal views and the perceived norm showed very small disparities: in other words, few people believe their stance to be dramatically different from the feelings of the rest of society. This would tend to indicate that a woman's right to a career is now less and less disputed and is becoming more widely accepted as normal practice.

Progressive views on same-sex parents

However, in relation to views and perceived norms on the subject of same-sex parents, Léïla Eisner's analyses illustrate large gulfs between personal opinions and the picture the respondents had of the views of other people. Only 40% of those questioned said they were personally opposed to the idea of families with same-sex parents, but nearly double this figure thought most people were against the idea. A further significant point is that those respondents most hostile to the notion of gay or lesbian parents believed that society as a whole shared their view, whereas the opinions of individuals are in reality much more progressive, demonstrating that the opposite is true.

Yet those people who were least opposed to the right of same-sex couples to raise children believed they accounted for a small minority of public opinion on the matter whereas in reality, many more people actually agree with them than they realise. Closer examination of this avant-garde group of people, who feel at odds with the direction of society despite being quite representative of it, demonstrates that women, young people, those with left-leaning political views and the least religious are very strongly represented. But men, older respondents, and individuals with political views on the right or with strong religious beliefs are less likely to differentiate between their own opinion and that of other people, believing that it is a majority view when it actually seems to be a perspective in decline.

Emotional bonds first and foremost

Transformations affecting the family were also the focus of other presentations. Examples included the work of Professor Daniela Jopp and her team on relationships between grown up children and their very elderly parents, a phenomenon that longer life expectancies allow us to observe, and the presentation of Jeanette Brodbeck, a psychologist at the University of Bern and member of NCCR LIVES IP212. Brodbeck's team spent six years studying how individuals come to terms with the loss of a partner following a bereavement or divorce during the second half of their lives. The paper presented to the Conference showed that former partners who maintain friendly relations display far fewer symptoms of depression and are more satisfied with life, irrespective of their new relationship situation, socio-economic status and their personality.

This optimistic finding in the face of rising divorce rates echoes another result presented to the Conference by Shagini Udayar, a very young researcher and member of IP207, a project devoted to career paths. Her research, conducted under the direction of Professor Jérôme Rossier, demonstrates that people who say they feel supported by those around them gradually become more extrovert, agreable and conscientious, findings which were illustrated by the measurements taken in year four of the study. Society and family structures may have evolved, but emotional bonds remain our single most important resource.

>> 15th Conference of the Swiss Psychological Society

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Integrating Gender in Science: Lecture and round table in Lausanne

On September 13, 2017 at noon, the Equality Programme of the NCCR LIVES will welcome a lecture by Prof. Alison Woodward from the Free University of Brussels. She will discuss the extent to which issues of gender and national diversity are being taken into account by major funders in the European research area, and how it can affect research innovation. Her presentation will be followed by a round table with distinguished scholars specialising in gender issues.

Alison Woodward (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley), is a Research Professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) and a Co-Director of RHEA, the Center for Gender Studies and Diversity Research. Her research interests are in the field of comparative European Union public policy and organisation, especially in the areas of civil society transnational mobilisation, gender, migration, and equality. Working as a policy consultant she has assisted the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and the Flemish government, and is frequently relied upon for expert contributions relating to social exclusion, gender and politics.

Her lecture, "Challenges of diversity in Europe: Mobilizing talents for research grant success", will start à 12:00 am on Wednesday 13 September and take place in the room 1620 of the Géopolis Building, University of Lausanne, Mouline metro M1 station.

The round table that will follow, lasting until 1:30 pm in the same room, will be held by:

This event is organised in collaboration with the Equal Opportunity Office and the Interfaculty Platform on Gender Studies (PlaGe) of the University of Lausanne.

>> Registration


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In Switzerland, hours of work per person have dropped since 1950, but productivity did not slow down

The five-day work week, an increase in paid leave and the rise of part-time jobs are all factors that have considerably reduced the number of hours people in Switzerland spend working, according to a study by Michael Siegenthaler published in the series Social Change in Switzerland. Siegenthaler's analysis shows that, contrary to popular belief, working people in Switzerland do not work much more on average than people in other industrialised countries. However, this study finds that productivity growth in Switzerland is higher than previous studies suggest, since they lacked chronological data.

In the mid-20th century an economically active person worked almost 2,400 hours per year, on average, whereas the average annual volume of work in 2015 was barely 1,500 hours per person. By taking advantage of records that had not been used until now, the KOF Swiss Economic Institute was able to reconstruct the average numbers of hours worked in the various sectors of the Swiss economy since 1950. This data shows that in agriculture, construction and the hotel and restaurant sectors, it was not unusual to work more than 50 hours per week back then. The number of hours worked per week and per year has since fallen. This is due to fewer business days, more leave and an increase in part-time jobs, explains Michael Siegenthaler in his article " Vom Nachkriegsboom zum Jobwunder – der starke Rückgang der Arbeitszeit in der Schweiz seit 1950" ("From the post-war boom to the employment miracle – the sharp decrease in working hours in Switzerland since 1950").

This study, published in the 9th issue of Social Change in Switzerland, also allows for an international comparison. It shows that Austria and the United States have higher annual working times nowadays, whereas in the 1950s Switzerland far surpassed them in terms of the number of hours worked per active person. What is even more surprising is that the decrease in Switzerland in time spent working has followed the same trajectory as in France and Germany. Our French neighbours enjoy a 35-hour work week, whereas a full-time job in Switzerland is 42 hours. However, this is offset by the fact that 60% of women here work part-time – a practice that is much less common in France.

Finally, the study questions previous claims that Switzerland had seen delayed growth compared with other countries since the 1980s. According to Michael Siegenthaler, the chronological data used up until now was inconsistent in terms of hours worked, which led to the volume of work being overestimated. As a result, the increase in Swiss productivity had been underestimated. In actual fact, productivity growth in Switzerland has remained more or less stable and compares very favourably with large industrialised nations.

>> Michael Siegenthaler (2017). Vom Nachkriegsboom zum Jobwunder – der starke Rückgang der Arbeitszeit in der Schweiz seit 1950 // Du boom de l'après‐guerre au miracle de l'emploi – la forte diminution du temps de travail en Suisse depuis 1950. Social Change in Switzerland No 9. Retrieved from

Contact : Michael Siegenthaler, tel. 044 633 93 67,

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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Families that do not ask for or obtain assistance are a ticking time bomb

The second 'Assises de la famille' ('Symposium on the Family'), supported by the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, took place in Geneva on 13 June 2017. It was held under the auspices of the organisation 'Avenir Familles' ('Future for Families'), which is made up of people working in different public and private institutions that provide mutual aid, and in research. The topic under discussion was the non-take up of social benefits for families, a phenomenon which attracts far less media coverage than the abuse of social welfare, but which causes many problems, both in the short and long term.

Guess where the Geneva State Council member Mauro Poggia, responsible for employment, social affairs and health, recently said that "the risk of poverty increases with the number of children and for single-parent families"? That was during the 'Assises de la famille' ('Symposium on the Family'), which took place on Tuesday 13 June at the University of Geneva in the presence of almost one hundred representatives from non-governmental organisations, public bodies and universities. The Geneva magistrate, who gave his speech before the series of lectures and workshops began, said that Geneva was "often ahead of" and "more generous" than other cantons when it comes to family policy.

Referring to the 66% increase over three years in supplementary family benefits ('PCFam'), which went from CHF 11.7 million to CHF 19.5 million between 2013 and 2016 and affected 1,380 families at that point, Poggia added that "associations do more than the state – and they do it better and for a lower cost". The proof is the equally spectacular rise in demand for food parcels from the organisation Cartons du Cœur, he stressed. Because although a segment of families are helped by state benefits, many are not. In this respect, "the risk of expulsion for those with B residence permits who apply for social welfare is a worrying situation and a consequence of highly damaging case law", declared the magistrate.

What prevents families from getting benefits?

The topic of the symposium was thus introduced. This year it was entitled 'Les vulnérabilités psychiques et sociales des familles: quelles barrières aux prestations?' ('The psychological and social vulnerability of families: what are the barriers to social benefits?'). The aim of the 2017 event was to address the non-take up of benefits – a phenomenon that receives far less media coverage than the issue of those who do claim benefits. Indeed, while the rising consumption and costs of social benefits regularly make the headlines, few people speak out about the fact that there are families living in hardship in one of the richest cities in the world. This symposium was significant because it tackled this issue.

Apartments with five rooms shared by four families, unscrupulous landlords sub-letting derelict properties, recently separated fathers sleeping in their cars, dental care put off indefinitely, and even serious medical treatment avoided because insurance excesses are too high: the examples of precarious situations observed by the symposium's participants in their everyday work revealed a different version of social reality in Geneva. It is difficult to quantify all this because it is not included in the official statistics, but it is still happening.

Times of transition are critical

The lectures in the morning focused on identifying the mechanisms that prevent individuals and families from claiming benefits. Prof. Claudine Burton-Jeangros, a health sociologist at the University of Geneva, cited an ongoing study at the 'Observatoire des familles' ('Observatory on Families'). She began by pointing out that people can be extremely vulnerable when going through transitions in life, such as coming of age, having a child, getting divorced or separating, retiring or emigrating. For this reason, social and family policies should pay particular attention to these times of transition.

On the topic of marital problems, her colleague Eric Widmer, also a sociology professor in Geneva, drew results from a large-scale longitudinal survey of contemporary couples and showed that the extent to which people make use of couples' therapy differs according to cultural, financial and social resources. "In certain environments it is not an obvious thing to do, because there's a belief that you shouldn't talk about problems in a relationship or in the family... There is a massive problem there of non-take up, which puts many couples and their children at risk – particularly in the case of high-conflict separations", stressed Widmer.

Very powerful norms

The research carried out by these two researchers falls within the scope of the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES (NCCR LIVES), where vulnerability is studied as a multidimensional process that affects all areas of life and all resources, be they economic, social, cultural, physical, psychological or institutional. Vulnerability also manifests at various different levels, involving individuals, their families and social networks, and – more generally – their communities. This is why the question of norms is key: who has the right to what, legally – and, above all, who dares to demand what, morally? Ultimately, vulnerability should be considered in the context of the point in time at which it manifests, at the individual and historical level. For example, receiving a harsh but accidental blow is not the same as having to endure poverty for several generations. The effects are not the same, and the responses differ from one era to another, but sometimes they share the same causes. At what point then, with what means and for how long should institutional support be offered to vulnerable people?

Several speakers, such as Prof. Barbara Lucas from the Haute-école de travail social (School of Social Work) in Geneva and Héléna Revil from ODENORE, the 'Observatoire des non-recours aux droits et services' ('Observatory on Non-Take Up of Social Rights and Public Services') in Grenoble, provided explanations for the fact that individuals often refrain from seeking help. They include lack of information, administrative barriers, psychological problems or fear of the consequences, but above all it is the very significant values of autonomy and responsibility, as well as the fear of stigmatisation, that really prevent people from claiming benefits to which they have a legitimate right. This has very serious consequences for society, affecting health, family, school, professional life, social life and even politics – when the feeling of exclusion leads to political or religious extremism.

Different costs for society

In this context, Prof Jacques Besson warned: "Not treating the patients is what costs the most." An addiction specialist at Lausanne University Hospital, he compared – in a rather provocative way – the price of a stay in prison with that of outpatient psychological treatment. After having provided several portraits of drug addicts and described their family, social and professional backgrounds, he stressed that "a family under stress is a family vulnerable to addictions".

In the afternoon, during one of the four workshops, a participant who worked in marital counselling and family therapy said: "This morning I gained a better understanding of the people who come to us for advice." These workshops highlighted the importance of cooperating as part of a network and revealed the great extent of the needs of vulnerable families. These needs are not always expressed in the right place, at the right time or towards the right person. But every gesture counts. And perhaps this symposium was also helpful in this respect – by drawing attention to the issue.

"It was a thought-provoking event, and it helped to improve understanding of the vulnerability of families in Geneva and the solutions that need to be developed", said Eric Widmer, summing up the event. He also announced that another symposium was already scheduled for next year. It will probably focus on family vulnerability among the elderly and very elderly.

>> See also the news on the first Symposium on the Family in 2016

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Sex in all its forms... An unprecedented scientific survey of 40,000 young people

In the coming days, one sixth of people aged between 24 and 27 residing in Switzerland will be contacted and asked to respond to a questionnaire which will include an electronic 'life calendar'. The aim is to establish a link between life courses and sexual experiences in order to gain a better understanding of the contexts that may lead to persons taking risks, suffering abuse, experiencing sexual dysfunction or simply living out their sexuality in a fulfilling way.

Sexting, Viagra, the morning-after pill, the end of taboos about homosexuality and greater awareness of the trans-gender phenomenon: many things have changed in relation to sexuality over the last twenty years, marked, among other things, by the emergence of the Internet and the widespread normalization of AIDS. A group of researchers from the CHUV, the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES at the University of Lausanne and the University Hospital of Zürich will attempt to produce an analysis of the sexual practices of young people today on the basis of a large survey which will start in June and which will focus on several tens of thousands of people born between 1989 and 1993.

Twenty five is the age at which a person may already have a certain perspective on his or her first intimate relationships. This in-depth survey aims to collect a wealth of information on the chronology of the sexual experiences of young people and their links to other events relating to physical and psychological health, emotional relationships, education, professional integration, etc.

Sexuality and well-being

"Sexuality cannot be isolated from other areas of life," explains Prof. Joan-Carles Suris, the principal applicant for this project, which is being financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation. "For example, if your sexuality does not meet your expectations, either in terms of quantity or quality, or if it is problematic due to various factors, which may be related to abuse or dysfunction, your general well-being will be affected, which in turn can have an impact on your social relationships and your productivity at work or in your studies."

Among the cases of problematic sexuality, the researcher also refers to the taking of risks in the context of unprotected relationships with occasional partners, a phenomenon that is often associated with substance use. There is also the whole question of unwanted relationships, which do not necessarily occur in the context of violent coercion, but which can nevertheless result in suffering.

In relation to sexual dysfunctions, these can affect both women and men: vaginal dryness for women, which can cause painful sexual intercourse; erectile or premature ejaculation problems for men, which causes great stress for those involved.

All these issues, and many others besides, must be better understood in a longitudinal way, that is to say, by following the order of the events that have marked out the life course of each person, while taking care to understand the individual as a whole.

The last survey on the sexuality of young people dates back to 1995, a time when society had not yet experienced the rapid changes of recent years. Today’s challenges are no longer quite the same and this new study is a lot more ambitious, both in terms of the issues being addressed and the methods of collating them.

Online life calendar

The young people will be contacted by mail using a sample provided by the Federal Office of Statistics. They will then have the opportunity to log on to the internet and to use - in complete anonymity - an extremely innovative tool in the second part of the survey. This is an electronic 'life calendar', a visual and interactive way of noting the various events that have occurred throughout one's life. A trial phase was carried out on students from the University of Lausanne in order to render the software more intuitive and flexible. This pilot demonstrated that, in comparison to traditional questionnaires, the life calendar is an effective way of stimulating autobiographical memory and thus remembering more events.

The forthcoming survey could therefore be of significant interest: for its subject matter, because there is a lack of data about the sexuality of young people, both in Switzerland and internationally; and for its method, which goes beyond the traditional use of paper versions of life calendars, which can take a long time to decipher and code before analyses can be performed.

An interdisciplinary team

For this new research project, Prof. Suris, a member of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (IUMSP) and head of the Research Group on Adolescent Health (GRSA), gathered together specialists in the methodology of the study of life courses. He is being supported in this project by Prof. André Berchtold, statistician, and by Davide Morselli, social psychologist, who are both members of the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. Prof. Brigitte Leeners, a specialist in sexual dysfunction at the University Hospital of Zürich, and PhD student Yara Barrense-Dias, who is attached to the IUMSP, complete the core team, which will work with other partners such as Christina Akre and Raphaël Bize (IUMSP), Sylvie Berrut (Santé PluriELLE / LOS), Annick Berchtold (Abiris) and Caroline Jacot-Descombes (Sexual Health Switzerland).

The first report, due in early 2018, will be followed by several scientific publications on various aspects of the project, in which the team may well address a number of taboo subjects.

Sexting, new practices, new positions

With Prof. Suris and Christina Akre, Yara Barrense-Dias has already published (last February) a surprising, accessible and yet little-noticed report on the phenomenon of 'sexting', which refers to the electronic transmission of material of a sexual nature. Noting that this practice is 'defined in positive terms by the majority of young people as merely an exchange between two consenting persons', the researchers call for the practice not to be demonised but rather for those guilty of sending unwanted materials and of harassment to be identified, and for the victims to be exonerated and supported.

It is this same desire to understand the evolution of the practices and issues without taking a moralistic posture, but rather with the aim of prevention and screening, that motivates the entire team involved in the study on the health and sexual behaviour of young people in Switzerland. "We do not have any preconceivedattitudes, that's what makes the research interesting," says Prof. Suris. Hence his exhortation to the recipients of the mail soon to be received by 40,000 young people: "Please, please, please take part!"

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Workshop "Ambivalences, vulnerability and life course: potentials, gaps and challenges"

This workshop will take place on November 2-3, 2017 at the University of Geneva. Its aim is to discuss the heuristic potential of the concept of ambivalence to study the accumulation of vulnerability over the life course. Deadline for abstract submissions is July 3, 2017.

As individuals move over the life course they experience multiple roles, they move over different contexts of socialization, and they accumulate resources and stresses across several life domains (family, intimacy, work, leisure, health, citizenship, migration, etc.).Individuals are thus likely to experience contradictory demands between these several spheres, which can generate the experience of ambivalences. Thus, if on the one hand, ambivalence can produce vulnerability; on the other hand, it can also represent a coping strategy to deal with vulnerability over the life course. For instance, individuals may experience psychological distress by trying to conciliate work and private life, but the experience of ambivalence may also incentivize individuals to find more suitable and innovative strategies of family-work balance, and to become socially creative.

The experience of certain critical events and normative and non-normative life transitions can potentiate ambivalence in relationships, feelings, cognitions, attitudes, practices, and rituals which can reconfigure spaces of vulnerability. Actually, the life course has an inherently multilevel nature since human lives are built in the interplay between historical, normative, political, structural and subjective levels. However, these levels can often be in conflict with each other, triggering ambivalences in individuals, families and groups. For instance, how do couples cope with inconsistency between their perception of prevailing gender norms and their own strategies of family-work conciliation?

The current debates on life course studies often describe human lives in contemporary societies as characterized by uncertainty, complexity and contradiction, thus forced to deal with contingencies. Individuals oscillate and vacillate between agency and structure, resources and constraints, stability and instability, individualization and pluralization, reproduction and innovation, tradition and modernization, standardization and de-standardization, linearity and turbulence and claims of authority and influence. These dynamics are embedded in vulnerability structures, but it can also generate vulnerabilities in short or long-term. Therefore, we believe that ambivalence can be used as a framework to give sense to these complex dynamics. This requires theoretical and methodological elaborations of the concept.

How can the idea of ambivalence be useful for the study of vulnerability over the life course? What are the theoretical bridges between ambivalence, vulnerability and life course?  How can we bring quantitative and qualitative methods together to approach these issues? In which way can we measure and operationalize ambivalence, and how can we use it as an interpretative concept? What is the current knowledge of an elaborated understanding of ambivalence? What are the gaps and potentials in the theoretical, methodological, and empirical developments of ambivalence to better tackle vulnerability over the life course? In which topics can we expect to give new insights by using the ambivalence framework? These are some of the key questions that we aim to address in our workshop.


The workshop will be divided in two parts. First, we will have a round table with key-note speakers who will address the topics of ambivalence, vulnerability and life course both theoretically and empirically, followed by a joint discussion on the potentials, gaps and challenges for future research on the articulation of these three research topics. The second part consists of a discussion of the submitted manuscripts, previously distributed among the participants.

Types of manuscripts

We welcome both empirical and theoretical papers discussing themes on the intersection of ambivalence, vulnerability and life course, to be distributed in advance among the participants. In the workshop we intend to stimulate interdisciplinary discussions on these topics and to potentiate research networks.

  • Kurt Lüscher, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Konstanz
  • Eric Widmer, Professor of Sociology at the University of Geneva
  • Rita Gouveia, Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Geneva

November 2 (14:00-18:00) to November 3, (9:00-13:00), 2017


University of Geneva


The registration is free and includes the social dinner on Thursday and the lunch on Friday. The participants are responsible for all other expenses.


Abstracts of the manuscripts should be submitted in English via email to Abstracts should have at least 800 words and a maximum of 1000 words (excluding the title, the authors’ name, e-mail, and institutional affiliation).

Deadline for abstract submissions

July 3, 2017

Recommended reading
iStock © KatarinaGondova

Family dynamics and the changing landscape of shared custody in Europe: workshop in Lausanne

Call for abstract submissions regarding an international workshop that will take place at the University of Lausanne on December 14-15, 2017. It is open to social sciences researchers from all disciplines (demography, sociology, social psychology, political sciences, economics, law).

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?

We address this call to social sciences researchers (demography, sociology, social psychology, political sciences, economics, law) with an interest in the topic of custody arrangements. We particularly welcome empirical contributions (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods) taking a national or international perspective on this domain.

The following topics are to be addressed in the workshop:

  • Prevalence of types of custody
  • Intergenerational perspectives on legal arrangements of custody arrangements
  • Transitions in custody arrangements. Stability and changes in arrangements across the life course of children
  • Socio‐economic, psychological, social well-­‐being of parents in different custody arrangements
  • Gender perspective on parenting and custody arrangements
Venue and date

The workshop will take place at the University of Lausanne, Geopolis Building, on December 14-15, 2017.


The deadline for abstract submissions (between 500 and 2000 characters) is June 15, 2017. Proposals can be sent to

Scientific committee
  • Laura Bernardi (University of Lausanne)
  • Dimitri Mortelmans (University of Antwerp)
  • Stéphanie Perrenoud (University of Neuchatel)
iStock © RichVintage

Social investment in Switzerland: too light for some, an economicist orthodoxy for others

In a book published in April 2017 by Editions Seismo, Jean-Michel Bonvin and Stephan Dahmen question the paradigm of social investment and its versatility within the context of Switzerland. Gøsta Esping-Andersen, one of the leading specialists in this approach, writes in support of the strategy in the Scandinavian way. Other authors, including Giuliano Bonoli and Jean-Pierre Tabin, demonstrate their own contrasting visions of this model, as well as its local impact. Additional contributions from various individuals lead to a call for a better balance between efficiency and fairness.

In aiming to reform the welfare state by focussing on improving the profitability of public policies, the declared purpose of social investment is to develop human capital upstream in order to reduce social spending and increase tax revenue downstream. For around twenty years, this approach has been supported by numerous political and academic figures on the basis of demographic and technological revolutions: given the lower birth rate, ageing population, increased unemployment and widening inequality, social investment appears to some as the best way to respond to current challenges.

The example cited most often is the establishment of nursery places for pre-school children, which could lead to several benefits: on the one hand, better integration for children from under-privileged areas, leading to fewer problems at school later on and better employability in the long term; and on the other hand, female emancipation, as women who see themselves relieved of a part of their family duties are said to be encouraged to rejoin the job market, and thus the ranks of taxpayers.

In Switzerland, the issue of social investment has not taken on the importance that it has acquired elsewhere, whether in the recommendations of the European Union or in the effective public policies of the Nordic countries. The book edited by Jean-Michel Bonvin and Stephan Dahmen thus makes an essential contribution to the national debate, continuing a theme that arose in 2010 at a conference of the Association suisse de politique sociale [Swiss Association for Social Policy] in Bern. As a distinctive sign of its Swiss character, the book offers some chapters in French and others in German, including a translation of an article by Gøsta Esping-Andersen originally written in English. As usual, this Danish author, a professor at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, shows himself to be an ardent supporter of social investment. However, the main purpose of the publication is to bring together opposing viewpoints regarding the paradigm when considering it in the context of Switzerland.

Institutional and ideological limitations

In Giuliano Bonoli's opinion, only "light" versions of social investment have been seen in Switzerland so far. The main target of these measures is to activate the unemployed, particularly young people or those without much in the way of qualifications. They are different from the "heavy" version of social investment, as found in Scandinavia, which the researcher believes to be more effective. He explains that the principles of social investment have made little headway in this country due to institutional and ideological limitations: federalism, which hinders a communal vision and harmonised management of family policy, and conservatism, which favours keeping women with their children and the non-intervention of the State in so-called private matters.

As for Jean-Pierre Tabin, he has a different view: that social investment is a manifestation of neo-liberal ideology, whose sole objective is to reduce costs for the State. In particular, he believes this purely financial logic results in devaluing unpaid work, without actually seeking to fight against social and gender inequality. According to him, this "social investment orthodoxy" was particularly implemented in the 4th revision of unemployment insurance in 2010, where the main topic of parliamentary discussion revolved, in his opinion, around the necessity of making social security benefits less attractive.

Social or partial justice?

The book's other contributors, Eva Nadai, Hans-Uwe Otto and Claudia Kaufmann, prove to be equally critical of social investment. The approach is thus perceived as being too selective, as it mainly targets the most promising beneficiaries; it is said to flout the real ambitions of the relevant stakeholders, who are perceived only as economic agents, in contrast to a capability approach which focuses more on personal fulfilment; finally, it fails to take a real interest in working conditions and gender inequality.

Jean-Michel Bonvin and Stephan Dahmen conclude that "in the current context, the social investment State does not achieve its objectives, or does so only partly, and often proves to be a reinforcing factor in social inequality." They stress that its impact remains difficult to evaluate: what benefits can be expected, and in what time frame? "The vague character of the concept certainly allows coalitions to be formed, but it has the perverse effect that these may be following widely varying objectives," they add, recalling their wishes for "a more balanced symbiosis between efficiency and social justice".

>> Jean-Michel Bonvin, Stephan Dahmen (eds.) (2017) Reformieren durch Investieren ? Chancen und Grenzen des Sozialivestitionsstaats in der Schweiz / Investir dans la protection sociale – atouts et limites pour la Suisse. Zürich : Seismo Verlag

Image iStock © denisik11

Tracking in secondary schools increases social inequalities

In an article about inequality in the Swiss education systems in the series Social Change in Switzerland, Georges Felouzis and Samuel Charmillot compare cantons (districts) based on students’ results as measured by PISA in 2003 and 2012. They observe that grouping pupils into different tracks reduces equality of opportunity, without actually improving performance.

The organisation of compulsory secondary education has been the subject of heated controversy in several Swiss cantons. The debate opposes supporters of common core curriculum and advocates of tracking students by ability. In this debate, the question of effectiveness, measured by pupils' results, is often set against the question of equal opportunities, i.e. allowing children from less advantaged backgrounds to have access to higher qualifications.

Georges Felouzis and Samuel Charmillot provide a comparison across time and space using an oversampling of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Their analysis of education systems in fifteen cantons in 2003 and 2012 demonstrates that systems opting for early ability tracking are not the most effective: in those cantons, maths results at the end of compulsory schooling were below the Swiss average. On the other hand, the cantons with the best results are those with less tracking, making for more equal opportunities.

More equal access to opportunities alone does not guarantee above-average results. However, observation of the developments in education systems in different cantons between 2003 and 2012 can indicate whether the socioeconomic profile of higher-achieving pupils has changed according to individual canton reforms. The authors show that the proportion of pupils with good results coming from less advantaged backgrounds decreased in cantons which had resorted increasingly to tracking pupils by ability. In contrast, equality increased in cantons which had opted to move away from tracking, offering better educational prospects for pupils from all backgrounds.

>> Georges Felouzis and Samuel Charmillot (2017). Les inégalités scolaires en Suisse / Schulische Ungleichheit in der Schweiz. Social Change in Switerland No 8. Retrieved from

Contact: Georges Felouzis, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, Tel. 022 379 90 21,

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.

2nd edition of the LIVES Best Paper Award for Early Scholars: 2000 €

2nd edition of the LIVES Best Paper Award for Early Scholars: 2000 €

The award will be delivered during the next Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (SLLS) conference taking place in Scotland next October. 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 (3 nights) covered.

In order to stimulate advances in the areas of vulnerability and life course studies, the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES - Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) encourages early career scholars to apply to the LIVES Best Paper Award 2017.

The prize is endowed with 2000 euros. This year, it will be delivered in Stirling (UK) during the SLLS conference (October 11-13, 2017).

The first edition of the LIVES Best Paper Award for Early Scholars in 2016 offered the prize and the full conference package - including fees, travel and accommodation expenses - to Stella Chatzitheochari, from the University of Warwick.

Her paper, Doubly Disadvantaged? Bullying Experiences Among Disabled Children and Young People in England, was published in the journal Sociology.

A summary of her research was published in our news: Winner of LIVES award showed how institutional labelling fosters bullying of disabled pupils.


  1. 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.
  2. The paper must have been published (including online first) in English in a peer-reviewed journal in the year 2016.
  3. To be eligible for the award, the author must be the main contributor of the paper as well as have received his or her PhD in 2010 or later (graduation date).


Early career scholars can 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. Applications can be submitted until July 10, 2017 via this link: