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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

Contacts: equality@lives-nccr.ch

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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 www.socialchangeswitzerland.ch

Contact : Michael Siegenthaler, tel. 044 633 93 67, siegenthaler@kof.ethz.ch

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.

Format

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.

Organizers
  • 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
Dates

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

Venue

University of Geneva

Registration

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

Abstracts of the manuscripts should be submitted in English via email to rita.gouveia@unige.ch. 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

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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.

Submission

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

Scientific committee
  • Laura Bernardi (University of Lausanne)
  • Dimitri Mortelmans (University of Antwerp)
  • Stéphanie Perrenoud (University of Neuchatel)
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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 www.socialchangeswiterland.ch

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

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.

PARTICIPATION CRITERIA

  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).

APPLICATION DEADLINE

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: www.lives-nccr.ch/en/award.

Photo iStock © Eva Katalin

Older people's views on their past and their relatives are conditioned by social structure

Two recent doctoral theses carried out within the NCCR LIVES, and which are based on data from the Vivre/Leben/Vivere survey, explore the ageing process from very different angles while reaching similar conclusions. Nora Dasoki at the University of Lausanne focused on autobiographical memory, and Myriam Girardin at the University of Geneva explored family configurations. Both show that in retrospect, the context weighs heavily on the individuals. And in doing so, they somewhat challenge the sacred nature of the family.

What is left when life draws to a close? This question is implied in both of the theses presented within days of each other at the University of Lausanne and the University of Geneva. Both pieces of research drew on data from the Vivre-Leben-Vivere (VLV) survey, which is carried out by the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability (CIGEV) and funded by the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES). On 3 February 2017 in Lausanne, Nora Dasoki defended her doctoral research entitled "Autobiographical memory and ageing: Representations of periods of happiness and vulnerability”; On 13 February in Geneva, Myriam Girardin presented her work on " Family configurations in the last stages of life".

The VLV study brings together a wealth of information on the retired population in Switzerland. Nora Dasoki's and Myriam Girardin's theses focused on the results of the first wave (2011-2012) of questionnaires. However, the two doctoral researchers used different approaches: Nora Dasoki adopted a psycho-social perspective, using as a tool "life calendars" on which respondents marked the various stages of happiness and vulnerability experienced throughout their life course; Myriam Girardin used a sociological perspective with a focus on network analysis in order to describe the different types and modes of family relationships, indicating the quantity and nature of social capital offered by each one.

The common ground shared by these two theses lies in the significance of social norms and of the structural context in the assessments older people make of their past and their close relationships. To some extent, however, both researchers provide a fresh look at certain clichés relating to the fundamental importance of the traditional family. But in particular, they also point out how significantly people's lives continue to be affected by social and gender inequalities.

Mixed feelings toward family

For instance, Nora Dasoki shows that people who did not have children do not experience fewer periods of happiness throughout the course of their lives than those who did become parents. In general, those people who had children report a peak of happiness around that specific time, but the curve then returns to the same level as for those people without children. Interestingly, men are more likely to identify their wedding and the birth of their children as particularly happy moments, suggesting that they could be more influenced than women by what is known as the "cultural life script", i.e. the social norms or prescriptive expectations of what a "normal" life should be like. Nora Dasoki explains this difference by the fact that motherhood involves greater sacrifices than fatherhood: women are therefore less likely to idealise the past.

In her thesis on the effect of family configurations in later life, Myriam Girardin shows that 20% of older people with children do not identify them as being among the most important people in their family network. Significant members of the family unit can also be siblings, relations in the wider family or close friends. This is far from the image of the classic nuclear family central to gerontology where the traditional model is a resource which ensures emotional and physical wellbeing in the 3rd and 4th ages. According to the researcher, the family is actually a highly ambivalent arena involving varying degrees of support and tension.

Without going into the detail of the six family configurations outlined in this work, we will consider for a moment the marked gender asymmetry identified by Myriam Girardin: older people whose daughter is the most significant person in their network benefit from a lower social capital than those whose family configuration places a son in the central role. In this case, the network is denser and characterised by stronger links of interdependency, often associated with a pivotal role taken by the daughter-in-law in providing support. Sons-in-law are almost never identified as significant people in configurations based around the daughter, who is left alone to support her elderly parent(s).

The importance of structure

These two theses perfectly illustrate the predominance of the structural context in people's lives. By exploring family configurations, Myriam Girardin highlights the cases of isolated people who have almost no significant loved one to count on. This situation especially affects those on low incomes and in poor health, mainly women who are widowed, single and/or childless. The researcher emphasises how important resources are in fostering reciprocity and ensuring a later life that is rich in emotional connections.

Meanwhile, Nora Dasoki identifies a difference between memories of happiness and vulnerability. She argues that these two processes use different mechanisms, highlighting the importance of social norms and historical representations. Her thesis confirms that memories of happiness remain longer than recollections of difficult times. It also teaches that memories of vulnerability are very significantly associated with collective experiences such as war. Younger people, who can scarcely remember this period, record it as a time of vulnerability, but state that they experienced other moments which were just as difficult thereafter. Older people, who were entering adulthood in the 1940s, have never again been through such a difficult time in the rest of their lives.

There are many other aspects to be explored in these two wonderful theses, especially their contributions to socioemotional selectivity theory, which states that towards the end of their lives, individuals focus on positive emotions, sorting through their various memories and relationships. But given that space is limited here, we will simply underline how impressed the thesis committees were with these pieces of research and encourage those interested to read them to fully benefit from their insight.

>> Nora Dasoki (2017). Mémoire autobiographique et vieillissement: représentation des périodes de bonheur et de vulnérabilité. Under the supervision of Dario Spini. University of Lausanne.

>> Myriam Girardin (2017). Les configurations familales aux dernières étapes de la vie. Under the supervision of Eric Widmer. University of Geneva.

What does vulnerability mean? Life course research seen through the prism of television series

What does vulnerability mean? Life course research seen through the prism of television series

The concept of vulnerability has become increasingly important in social sciences to explain different phenomena of fragility in the face of new social risks. The National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES has made important contributions to this theoretical reflection through its interdisciplinary approach. This has just resulted in a major publication and several important scientific collaborative projects about life course paradigms. For a better understanding of these developments, a detour via entertainment can be quite revealing. Scriptwriters of the most popular series have intuitively understood what the studies demonstrate: danger is most stressful when it combines both professional and private life. The individual must fight threats at different levels, including threats to his bodily integrity, as well as his relationships, identity and values. Finally, temporality is essential, both to the pace of a good story and in the course of real life.

People have been readily fascinated by series, with their dose of suspense and surprises, for as long as newspapers have existed. In the 20th century, television series replaced printed stories. With the third millennium and the digital revolution, their importance has grown with an increase in the choice and accessibility of shows. One of the most emblematic series of the 2000s was 24, which recounted, in almost real time, the daily life of Jack Bauer, a federal agent in the Counter Terrorist Unit. During the first season the hero was responsible for the protection of a candidate for the presidential election. At the same time his own family was under threat: his wife and daughter had been kidnapped. Excitement guaranteed for viewers who quickly became addicted to the story, thanks to the gripping pace and desperate energy emanating from the main character who, without his emotional bonds, would have been a ‘simple’ superman devoid of human complexity.

In the years since, countless series have used the recipe combining professional with private ingredients as a guarantee of success. This tension across different life domains – relationships, place of living, activities, health – is also the first line of investigation by the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES). This scientific programme based at the University of Lausanne and the University of Geneva, with collaboration in Zurich, Berne, Fribourg, Basel, Lucerne, etc. has just published a special issue of the prestigious American journal Research in Human Development. This is an important stage in the theorisation of the concept of vulnerability, considered to be the most likely to federate multiple disciplines of social sciences involved in life course research.

Diffusion of stress

According to Dario Spini, Laura Bernardi and Michel Oris, the editors of the publication, “vulnerability is a lack of resources in one or more life domains that, in specific contexts, exposes individuals or groups to (1) negative consequences related to sources of stress; (2) an inability to cope effectively with stressors; and (3) an inability to recover from stressors or to take advantage of opportunities by a given deadline.” The authors appeal for a “systemic and dynamic” vision of vulnerability in the life course, and propose three orientations for research. Firstly, they consider that the process of diffusion of stress and the mobilization of resources is multidimensional, that it crosses different domains of life, as Jack Bauer’s situation illustrates. The three researchers go on to propose that the process is multilevel in nature, from the micro to the macro. This means that when observing vulnerable people, their social and normative environment must also be taken into consideration. Lastly, they underline that the analysis of vulnerability in the life course must be multidirectional: Vulnerability evolves over time, is subject to variations for which causes are rarely simple to identify, and escapes neither retrospective interpretation nor corrective anticipation.

The best example produced by an American studio to illustrate the three above-mentioned perspectives is Breaking Bad. The series won several awards and garnered acclaim from critics and viewers alike between 2008 and 2013. Five seasons tell the story of a man simple in appearance, a chemistry teacher in a suburban high school. He turns to producing drugs to provide for his family when he learns he has cancer. The intrigue skilfully combines Walter White’s two occupations – one legal, the other illegal – with his family’s financial and health problems – a pregnant wife, a disabled son, his almost paternal relationship with his accomplice, a police officer as brother-in-law, and his chemotherapy treatment which he must undergo and finance. His production of methamphetamine brings about a devastating chain of events which drag him further and further down the road to immorality.

Conflicting norms

If the series was such a success, other than for its cinematographic qualities, it is due to a main character each of us can identify with: a perfect representative of the middle class who is drawn into an unknown world, haunted by his conscience, but relishing the crimes he is led to commit. This example shows to what degree our referential norms can be brought into confrontation: do I have the right to do wrong to take care of my family? Is respect for the law simply a cowardly front, whereas the adrenaline generated by illegality makes a sick man finally feel truly alive? Do society’s expectations – be a good parent, earn an honest living, accept our lot – equip us for the unforeseen if the welfare State is defective?

This is, in part, the theme of the multilevel orientation proposed by the NCCR LIVES. In the special edition dedicated to vulnerability, Eric Widmer and Dario Spini publish a slightly provocative article establishing the notion of “misleading norms”. These are codes of conduct which are taken for granted but over time may lead to unfavourable developments. The two researchers take the example of parent couples with preschool children whereby the mother withdraws from professional life to conform to the predominant expectations of Swiss society. With the increase in the number of divorces, this norm of the stay-at-home mother leads to a high risk of vulnerability for those who look for a job later. To a lesser extent, the norm of the bread-winner father can prevent certain men from developing adequate relationships with their children, a situation that might make them suffer after a separation.

Little tales in the great history

The third approach, the multidirectional aspect, is easily explained using the British series, Downton Abbey. This saga, which covers the period from 1912 to the middle of the 1920s, evokes different historical events (the sinking of the Titanic, the First World War, the Spanish Flu, the Irish War of Independence, etc.) which have an impact on all the characters. The temporal dimension is not merely a background to create a context. Following the same characters over several years, and observing the evolution of successive generations, makes it possible to understand a highly-debated principle central to life course research: the accumulation of advantages and disadvantages, which is not always as mechanical as determinist approaches may lead us to think. Downton Abbey accentuates the relationships between and within social classes – aristocrats and servants, observing their practices and opinions, a reminder of the multilevel approach. And as in any good series, the multidimensional approach adds to the intrigue and gives the characters more depth.

It is noteworthy that in both the articles forming the special issue of Research in Human Development, and the three series referred to, inequality between men and women is patent. In 24, the hero’s wife and daughter are just sidekicks cast as victims. In Breaking Bad the main character’s wife is a stay-at-home mother about to give birth, despondent about her frustrated literary ambitions. And in Downton Abbey, the daughters cannot inherit, and this is the essential starting point for the narrative.

Higher risks for women

The gender theme is indeed central to the articles in the special edition about vulnerability published by the NCCR LIVES. The article focusing on the multidimensional theme, by Laura Bernardi, Grégoire Bollmann, Gina Potarca and Jérôme Rossier, demonstrates that the transition to parenthood affects women’s well-being much more than that of men, in their efforts to reconcile family, work and leisure; whereas personality differences have only limited impact. The article by Eric Widmer and Dario Spini about the multilevel theme effectively shows, as explained above, that women pay a higher price for respecting gender norms and staying at home to bring up their children. Finally, the article about the multidirectional aspect by Michel Oris, Rainer Gabriel, Gilbert Ritschard and Matthias Kliegel examines poverty in old age in Switzerland. The article illustrates that the most vulnerable are, once again, predominantly women: A part of the population which did not accumulate the necessary capital resources, in economic, social, cultural and institutional terms, before their retirement.

Television series may not represent real life, but research about life courses attempts to grasp it, to have a better understanding of the mechanisms. The common point between entertainment and scientific studies is the interest in the darker side of our existence, where human beings feel vulnerable. The difference is that research also attempts to understand what may help overcome the difficulties, whereas series take a perverse pleasure in making their characters suffer. “Happy endings” are becoming less and less fashionable because they generate less anticipation for a possible future season. Research on the other hand, has everything to gain from examining why some fare better than others. Understanding agency – in other words, the capacity for action which is vital to resilience – is the real challenge for future life course research, conclude Kenneth Ferraro and Markus H. Schafer, the American researchers asked to comment on this special edition: A publication which definitively positions LIVES as an academic standard internationally.

>> Dario Spini, Laura Bernardi, Michel Oris (2017). Vulnerability across the Life Course. Research in Human Development. Vol. 14, Issue 1.

>> A webinar will take place on February 24 at 5:00 pm, Geneva time (= 4:00 pm GMT, 11:00 am EST). Click here for more information.

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"Joint welfare and self-interest in families": Call for papers for a workshop at the SSA Congress

The workshop "Joint welfare and self-interest in families: Striking a balance between the individual, the family, and the community" is organised by a team from the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS and the NCCR LIVES at the University of Lausanne in the framework of the Congress of the Swiss Sociological Association, which will take place from 21 to 23 June 2017 in Zurich. Deadline for submission is extended to March 6.

Western Countries have experienced complex changes in partnership and parenthood patterns in the last several decades. The share of partnerships accounted for by heterogamous married unions has declined. The pathways to family formation have become increasingly multifaceted, often characterized by a postponement or decline in childbearing within marriage, a rise in the proportion of children born within cohabitation, an increase in homosexual parenthood, and in step-parenthood as a consequence of the instability of unions. Family trajectories are more heterogeneous both in terms of events and in terms of their sequencing.

Joint welfare and self-interest in families

Increasing diversity in families may impact the alignment of individual self-interest and family wellbeing, which has implications for the practice of social support and solidarity within families and for the perceived and legal obligations among different family members. Solidarity towards former spouses or their children may compete with solidarity towards new partners and their offspring. Vice versa, the extent to which children support aging parents depends on their own as well as their parents’ partnership history, which may feature multiple sets of parents and parents-in-law, also potentially complicating intergenerational solidarity between grandparents and grandchildren.

The tension between self-interest and family wellbeing is also present in the division of work and care in families. Both paid work and care tasks have become an integral part of most individuals’ life course, producing coordination problems within and across families. This in turn may lead to trade-offs between individual wellbeing and wellbeing of family members, which has the potential to reinforce existing inequalities.

Moreover, these developments affect the way families are embedded in society. In the private sphere of the family, individuals learn about important aspects of social cohesion, such as exchange, cooperation, and trust, which constitute the basis for participation in the community, like volunteering, voting, or providing informal support. Changes in families may affect the family’s integrative function for society.

Family diversity and the welfare state

Whereas many social policies were developed to cover well-defined risks such as financial difficulties in childhood or old age, departures from the “standardized” family life course require a re-evaluation of social policy. Certain family constellations, for example divorced individuals and lone parents, are more at risk of poverty and deprivation than others and may not be able to rely on similar levels of support from their social networks.

Also, important differences exist as to which family forms have access to certain social provisions. Laws and policies in Europe have progressively included alternative living arrangements, but important differences remain regarding entitlements of cohabiting unions and the acknowledgement of “family rights” for same-sex partnerships (e.g., access to marriage or registered partnerships, adoption and assisted reproductive technology) or for step-parents in blended families. Such differences bring to the surface how social policies promote opportunities for certain family forms while denying them to others.

Contributions

We welcome contributions focusing on various aspects of family diversity and change: demographic trends, legal arrangements and social policy, and their consequences. Contributions may address outcomes for individuals or families such as vulnerability, relationship quality, well-being, social networks, social support, civic and political participation, labour market participation or social trust.

We particularly welcome research papers that take a comparative approach (placing Switzerland in the context of Europe, or comparing Swiss cantons), a life course approach, or are based on longitudinal data, whether with a qualitative or quantitative approach or both.

English is the preferred language for abstracts and presentations. Please send your propopsal until February 25 to the organisers.

Organisers

>> Call for papers in printable version

>> Congress website

Delights of Alp-Pop 2017: Health, Family, and Gender issues, with some snow frosting on the top
Delights of Alp-Pop 2017: Health, Family, and Gender issues, with some snow frosting on the top
Delights of Alp-Pop 2017: Health, Family, and Gender issues, with some snow frosting on the top

Delights of Alp-Pop 2017: Health, Family, and Gender issues, with some snow frosting on the top

Thirty-five scholars participated in the 7th Alpine Population International Conference (Alp-Pop 2017) in La Thuile (Aosta Valley, Italy) jointly organised from January 15 to 18, 2017 by the Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics of Università Bocconi and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES of the universities of Lausanne and Geneva. The meeting was a great success thanks to the scientific quality of the presentations and the generous, sunny, snowy but also freezing weather.

What a better environment to talk about family issues than a conference where you can bring your children! This year at Alp-Pop, 5 toddlers and young children were being taken care of during the sessions, which gathered participants from several countries including Germany, the United States, Sweden, Finland, France, Israel, and of course Italy and Switzerland, home of the host research centres. The organisers were Prof. Arnstein Aassve and Dr. Massimo Anelli, from Bocconi Università, and Prof. Laura Bernardi and Dr. Gina Potarca, from the University of Lausanne.

The design of the Alpine Population International Conference is to get together social science scientists specialising in demography, economics and the life course in an informal setting mixing paper and poster presentations with winter sport activities, alternatively in Northern Italy and the Swiss Alps. After Villars-sur-Ollon (CH) last year, this issue happened at La Thuile in Italy. Snow had just fallen on the eve, and sun added a special touch of magic over the three days of the conference.

Global family change

On Sunday evening, Prof. Hans-Peter Kohler from the University of Pennsylvania gave the first “ski-note” talk on global family change. He presented a project he is conducting with the University of Oxford and the Università Bocconi to provide “a quantum leap” in understanding how and why family systems change with economic and demographic developments. “Family is the neglected dimension in understanding global population dynamics,” he said. The project is notably developing public-use database on global family change, integrating available information from existing surveys and many newly developed and standardised indicators such as the timing of the first sexual intercourse, human capital lost due to early marriage or fertility, time spent as provider or recipient of financial and non financial transfers, etc.

This large study aims at addressing to which extent global family change impedes or facilitates accomplishment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. First results show evidence of a global convergence in cohabitation practices among populations, as well as convergence in the timing of first marriage and first sexual intercourse. No strong evidence of convergence was observed though in fertility, but there are global patterns of delayed transitions to adulthood.

Life expectancy

Prof. Alberto Palloni from the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave the second “ski-note” on Monday 16 January. He reviewed biological theories that link early growth and development with adult delayed effects on chronic illness and mortality, and formulated a new model to represent these pathways and their effects on adult health and mortality. This model could predict a slowdown in life expectancy, that contrasts with current explanations given to observed trends in this direction: while gains of life expectancy at age 60 during the years 1980 to 2000 have been of the order of 8 years, projected gains until 2050 could be of the order of 5 years.

The remaining sessions addressed the following topics: Human capital, assortative mating and social inequality; The impact of welfare and ethnicity on family outcomes; Education, subjective and relational aspects; Family and fertility; Gender across life course domains.

Young scholars

Several reknowned scholars presented counterintuitive and fascinating results. For instance Marika Jalovaara (University of Turku) showed that in Finland, a country known for its gender equality and work-life balance high standards, single men aged 39 earn less than same age partnered men, but still as much as the most earning women of the same age with the highest family patterns. Having children thus seemed favourable to men’s careers but clearly detrimental to women’s.

Also looking at the Finnish context, Jani Erola (University of Turku) presented a study that focused on the link between timing of parental death and children’s university education. The results indicated that, the younger the children at the time of losing their parent are, the more negative the effect is, particularly among the highly educated.

Mattia Oliviero (University of Trento) shared the findings of a cross-national study looking at the fertility behaviour of European internal migrants, highlighting the impact of cultural and institutional factors, as well as their interaction. He could demonstrate for example that traditional values influence fertility only in countries with low family policy expenditure.

"The exchanges were lively, regular participants and new comers showed lots of interest. Snow and sun also played their parts!," commented Prof. Laura Bernardi at the end of the meeting. Next one should take place in 2018.

>> Overview of Alp-Pop 2017 Programme

Photo iStock © alice-photo

Keeping in touch with former colleagues is a good strategy to get out of unemployment

Drawing on the unique and particularly rich data from the SOCNET survey on job seekers in the Canton of Vaud, Anna von Ow graduated with a PhD on December 13, 2016, at the University of Lausanne. Her doctoral thesis shows that it is more efficient and cost-effective to seek employment through professional networks than through private contacts without occupational similarities. Activating solely family or friendship ties can also lead to a job position, but less often, more slowly and at greater risk of lower wages.

Fear of unemployment is one of the Swiss people’s major concerns, as polls show year after year, despite a particularly high employment rate. Yet few studies have addressed the best ways of finding work, since exhaustive data on job seekers are rare, even in more affected countries. However, the SOCNET survey is filling this gap. Undertaken within the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES in collaboration with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), this thorough study on unemployed people has resulted in two PhD dissertations: in 2015 Nicolas Turtschi’s work and most recently Anna von Ow’s thesis, defended at the University of Lausanne under Prof. Daniel Oesch’s supervision.

In the framework of the IP204 project, the team had access in early 2012 to all the new beneficiaries of the Regional Employment Offices of the Canton of Vaud. Almost 2000 people agreed to respond to the entire survey until 2013, which consisted in a series of questionnaires aiming, among others, to see who could find a job, through which means, in how much time and at what wages. The great strength of this survey rests on in its heterogeneous sample in terms of profiles within the same institutional context and macro-economic conditions. It is also supplemented with administrative data.

Work ties versus communal ties

Anna von Ow concentrated her analysis on the social capital of the job seekers. She differentiated between “work ties”, meaning network of former co-workers, other occupational acquaintances and relatives sharing job characteristics, and “communal ties”, expressing other types of relationships, including family members or friends who do not share occupational characteristics. The focus was on the availability, the mobilisation and the usefulness of those different social resources to find a job.

The dissertation of Anna von Ow integrated distinctive theories regarding social capital, social networks and the life course. She could confirm the importance of interpersonal relationships for finding work, and showed the predominant influence of work ties compared to communal ties. In the SOCNET sample, more than 40% of job seekers found a job thanks to an information from a network member, which in three of the four cases was actually a work tie. Getting out of unemployment took an average of 25 weeks through a work tie versus 33 weeks via a communal tie. Income difference was even more significant: finding a job through a communal tie was associated with a monthly loss of 289 Swiss francs on average compared to the previously earned salary, whereas those who benefited from a work tie saw an increase of 254 Swiss francs on average.

Cumulative inequalities

Anna von Ow argues that communal ties “act as the job access channel of last resort”, which do not guarantee the best match between the actual skills of the job seeker and the employment found. She also demonstrates the cumulative aspect of inequalities: people who have less cultural resources in terms of education are also the ones who benefit less from useful social resources to find employment, namely work ties, and who show less agency to mobilise these resources. When the first information on the new job came from a communal tie, men and highly educated participants were less disadvantaged than women and low skilled persons, as far as unemployment duration was concerned.

Analysis also showed that young people, at the onset of their occupational path, earned more when they found a job through a non-network channel, like answering to an announcement on the Internet or making a spontaneous application. It was observed that work ties are especially beneficial to middle-aged adults between 45 and 54 years old, at the pinnacle of their career; work ties also served foreigners better, while natives appear to find positions more easily via traditional channels like ads or spontaneous candidatures. However, the situation of European and non-European nationals differs, also according to their levels of education. Anna von Ow went into many details and conducted multiple analyses to get as much as she could out of the sample.

Promote mentoring

She concludes that the most vulnerable job seekers ought to be supported in order to help them build and activate their network, with an accent on work ties, and this especially for people aged 55+ and from low skilled backgrounds. She advocates the creation of mentoring programmes to assist unemployed persons who do not possess strong work ties.

Anna von Ow’s dissertation received the jury’s compliments at its defence on December 13, 2016, at the University of Lausanne. The level of detail exceeded what usually can be expected from such research, several experts stated. They also saw an interest in potential policy applications and underlined the great quality of data, which are now available to the research community thanks to Anna von Ow’s extremely meticulous clean-up work.

>> Anna von Ow (2016). Finding a job through social ties. A survey study on unemployed job seekers. Under the supervision of Daniel Oesch. University of Lausanne.

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Work-Life Balance and Gender Equality: 6th volume of our Springer Series in open access

This book portrays men’s experiences of home alone leave and how it affects their lives and family gender roles in different policy contexts and explores how this unique parental leave design is implemented in these contrasting policy regimes. Edited by Margaret O'Brien from UCL Institute of Education and Karin Wall from ICS - Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa, the publication also contains a chapter by our former PhD student Isabel Valarino on the situation in Switzerland.

Drawing on empirical data from in-depth interviews with fathers across eleven countries, Comparative Perspectives on Work-Life Balance and Gender Equality shows that the experiences and social processes associated with fathers’ home alone leave involve a diversity of trends, revealing both innovations and absence of change, including pluralization as well as the constraining influence of policy, gender, and social context.

As a theoretical and empirical book it raises important issues on modernization of the life course and the family in contemporary societies. The book will be of particular interest to scholars in comparing western societies and welfare states as well as to scholars seeking to understand changing work-life policies and family life in societies with different social and historical pathways.

The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES is happy that the publication includes a chapter by Isabel Valarino, entitled "Fathers on Leave Alone in Switzerland: Agents of Social Change?", drawing on research she initiated for her PhD thesis within LIVES and is now continuing.

That is the 6th volume of the NCCR LIVES edited Springer Series on Life Course Research and Social Policies, and it is now available in open access.

>> O'Brien, Margaret & Wall, Karin (Eds.) (2016). Comparative Perspectives on Work-Life Balance and Gender Equality. New York, USA: Springer, Life Course Research and Social Policies. Vol. 6.

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There are historical reasons for the lack of women in leadership positions in large Swiss companies

Long excluded from political life in Switzerland, women have only recently gained positions of power in the economy and are still very much in the minority when it comes to boardrooms and executive positions in large companies. For the seventh issue of the series Social Change in Switzerland, Stéphanie Ginalski looks back over history and describes how the current inequality has been socially constructed.

When compared to other European countries, Switzerland looks like the dunce standing in the corner when it comes to gender equality, even in relation to the elites. Statistics show that boards of directors in the largest Swiss companies have an average of only 13.9% women, less than in Spain or Italy, and almost three times fewer than in Norway! In her article "Women in leadership positions in large Swiss companies: an historical analysis of gender inequalities", published in French and German, Stéphanie Ginalski, a lecturer and researcher at the University of Lausanne, retraces the steps of the difficult and laborious rise of women within the Swiss economic oligarchy.

Until the early 1970s, Swiss women had neither the right to vote nor to stand in federal elections. This considerable delay when compared to other European countries still reverberates today in relation to the place of women in the economy, as the feminist struggle was monopolised by the voting issue, to the exclusion of other inequality issues. Up until that time, the very few women in leadership positions in companies were there for family reasons, and boardrooms were almost exclusively male bastions, based on a concept of co-optation where class and military rank were the important factors.

The "female card"

Having obtained the right to vote and to stand, some women began to break into the economic networks, mainly in the retail/mass distribution sector, where playing the "female card" was supposed to ensure a better fit between the strategy and the expectations of a predominantly female clientele. But it was only from the late 20th century onwards, with the advent of economic globalisation, that the proportion of women leaders really began to grow in the country's large corporations.

Today, it is mainly in public companies on the one hand, and in multinationals on the other that we see a genuine effort to improve the representation of women in the boardroom. The progress is due to the clearly indicated will of management to provide more male/female equality in the first instance, and more diversity in the second. But the debate about quotas, which would allow Switzerland to catch up, is still quite controversial at present and gives rise to significant opposition from economic circles.

>> Stéphanie Ginalski (2016). Les femmes à la tête des grandes entreprises suisses : une analyse historique des inégalités de genre / Frauen an der Spitze schweizerischer Grossunternehmen: Eine historische Analyse der Geschlechterungleichheiten. Social Change in Switzerland No 7. Retrieved from www.socialchangeswitzerland.ch

Contact: Stéphanie Ginalski, tel. 021 692 37 75, stephanie.ginalski@unil.ch

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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Becoming parents means becoming unequal, a long interdisciplinary research project concludes

When a child arrives, many couples manifest incoherence between their values regarding equality and their actual behaviour. This paradox is explained by the "gendered master statuses" concept, which is the common thread of a book by a group of sociologists, psychologists, social psychologists and demographers directed by Jean-Marie Le Goff and René Levy. Based on data gathered from young parents in the Lake Geneva area, this study also features in another new publication, which presents a comparison between several European countries, in which Switzerland appears particularly traditionalist.

Why do couples, who in spite of valuing equality between men and women, take on distinctly different roles after the birth of their first child? Because the transition to parenthood is the moment in the life course when "gendered master statuses" emerge the most. This concept exposes the way public and private spheres are distributed in our society: "Women 'can' engage in a professional activity or activities outside of the family if they do not conflict with the family's requirements. And men 'can' develop their role in the family or other activities outside of their professional life if that does not have a negative impact on their professional activity," explain René Levy and Jean-Marie Le Goff in their preface to the book entitled Devenir parents, devenir inégaux. Transition à la parentalité et inégalités de genre [Become parents and become unequal. Transition to parenthood and gender inequality], which Seismo Publishing has just released.

The study – Becoming a parent

This work of ten chapters, written by authors for the most part today linked with the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, presents the results of the Devenir parent [Becoming a parent] study. Data for the study was collected between 2005 and 2009 from couples living mainly in the Vaud and Geneva cantons. Each of the partners was interviewed three times: just prior to the birth of their first child, three to six months after the birth, and finally after the child had turned one. The analysis of quantitative data was enriched in certain cases by a qualitative approach, allowing comprehension of their representations and feelings.

This thorough study finds that "couples who are initially equal become more traditional when they have children. This is not intentional, but determined by their integration in the social structure." Several examples are given: the lack of proper paternity leave, the gender pay gap, the scarcity and cost of childcare services, the absence of policy for the conciliation of work and family life, and the disparity between working and school hours, as well as the kind of welfare state model. The authors also put forward the idea that the egalitarian convictions of young couples do not always match more classical gendered identities, passed on throughout their own childhood by the parental model, and reactivated by the arrival of a child.

This tendency for more traditional roles is not only expressed by the time dedicated to a professional activity – part-time for most mothers and full time for most fathers. It is also shown by the distribution of child-rearing and domestic tasks. Women invariably take on the highest quantity and the least rewarding tasks. The persistence of such practices clashes with the egalitarian values claimed by the young couples. This creates a dissonance, which has consequences on young mothers' satisfaction within their relationship and may create grounds for conflict.

Questions for Jean-Marie Le Goff, demographer, director of education and research at the University of Lausanne and research associate at NCCR LIVES

The data were collected ten years ago. Since then, the legislation around the arrival of children has been developed, and the level of education of women continues to increase. Does that lead to an improved rate of professional activity for women today?

The theory of gendered master statuses explains that the professional integration of women remains subordinate to their family life, for historical and institutional reasons; and the opposite applies to men. With regard to education, it is important to pay attention not only to the level reached, but also to the object of the education. Particularly if it leads to feminine-type jobs, where employers are more likely to offer the possibility of flexible working hours. This was not exactly the object of Devenir parent, but other research shows that young women predominantly choose their occupation with this in mind. Moreover, having a higher level of education does not necessarily protect them. There are still pre-conceived ideas about young mothers. See the article in Le Temps, dated 1 November 2016, which describes women who are dismissed just after their maternity leave.

If you could carry out the study again with a similar sample, what would your hypotheses be today?

A new study would not necessarily indicate changes compared with ten years ago. Perhaps a few more fathers who wish to reduce their working time, but to 80%; whereas the reduction of working time is greater for women. There is, however, something I wonder about a great deal, and which is linked to the increase of births outside of marriage in Switzerland. They now make up for almost a quarter of births. In the study I am currently working on with Valérie-Anne Ryser from FORS, it seems that unmarried couples are a little different to married couples; particularly because they discuss and negotiate more, and are more egalitarian. Two scenarios are conceivable if the number of births outside marriage continues to grow, as is the case in Scandinavian countries. First, such growth would be followed by the expansion of this more egalitarian model. Second, having a child out of wedlock would become commonplace and be adopted by all sorts of couples, including the more traditional. A replication of the Devenir parent survey in several years would make it possible to understand what happens around these births outside marriage.

The father's role continues to be considered secondary in child-rearing tasks. Is this the case in countries with more egalitarian structures?

Apparently Swedish fathers are more involved, given that paternity leave is obligatory. New routines are established when the first child is born, particularly for the organisation and distribution of child-rearing tasks. Paternity leave can contribute to greater equality. But we must not forget what happens prior to the birth of the child, even well before, as mentioned earlier in terms of education and occupation.

In the comparative work about European countries, you show that fathers in Switzerland are not very keen to reduce their working time. What happens in Nordic countries?

Part-time work does not have the same importance in Sweden as it does in Switzerland. In fact, it often concerns older workers, who leave the labour market gradually. The Swedish model differs in that a nursery is not only considered as allowing conciliation between family and work. The nursery also plays a role in the socialisation - and even the education - of the child. As a result, women can continue working full time, like men - and without feeling guilty!

>> Jean-Marie Le Goff et René Levy (dir.) (2016). Devenir parents, devenir inégaux. Transition à la parentalité et inégalités de genre. Genève : Editions Seismo, 352 p. (avec Laura Bernardi, Felix Bühlmann, Laura Cavalli, Guy Elcheroth, Rachel Fasel, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Nadia Girardin, Francesco Giudici, Béatrice Koncilja-Sartorius, Vincent Léger, Marlène Sapin, Claudine Sauvain-Dugerdil, Dario SpiniManuel Tettamanti, Isabel Valarino, Eric D. Widmer)

>> Nadia Girardin, Felix Bühlmann, Doris Hanappi, Jean-Marie Le Goff and Isabel Valarino (2016). The transition to parenthood in Switzerland: between institutional constraints and gender ideologies. In Daniela Grunow and Marie Evertsson (ed.) (2016). Couples' Transitions to Parenthood. Analysing Gender and Work in Europe. Cheltenham Glos (UK) : Edward Elgar Publishing

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Gender awareness event at the University of Lausanne: focus on early academic careers

On 24-25 November 2016, a conference entitled “Early academic careers in times of uncertainty: Challenges for gender equality policies and practices” will be held at the University of Lausanne (UNIL). Organised by the European research project GARCIA, the LIVES Equality Programme and the UNIL Equality Office (BEC), with the support of the Gender Studies Platform (PlaGe) and the Social Science Institute (ISS), this event will gather researchers and experts from different countries who are interested in promoting women’s academic careers.

This event is the Swiss national conference of the EU research project GARCIA (Gendering the academy and research: Combating career instability and asymmetries), directed by Prof. Nicky Le Feuvre. Concerned with fighting against gender stereotypes and promoting an egalitarian gender culture in seven different European universities, the GARCIA project will end in January 2017. Interesting outputs from the project include:

Close links with NCCR LIVES

Several workshops for junior and senior researchers have previously been organised in collaboration between the GARCIA project and the LIVES Equality Programme, and this conference will be an additional joint event. The ties between LIVES and GARCIA have been particularly tight, since Prof. Nicky Le Feuvre is the leader of the Swiss GARCIA team and of the LIVES IP206 (Gender & Occupations), Prof. Farinaz Fassa, the former Head of the LIVES Equality Programme, is a member of the Swiss GARCIA team, and Dr. Sabine Kradolfer, the LIVES Equality Officer, is the national coordinator of GARCIA.

During the conference, the main results of the GARCIA project will be presented, along with papers from various Swiss higher education and research institutions (swissuniversities, SNSF, etc.) and other invited speakers. A first half-day session on Thursday 24 November, entitled “After the PhD: Gendered aspects of undertaking an academic career... or not”, will address the socio-historical aspects of academic careers in the Swiss context, in relation to the alternative opportunities available on the Swiss labour market.

Keynote talk and workshops

On the Thursday evening, a keynote talk by Klea Faniko will study the conditions under which “senior” academics are most likely to support junior female PhDs. After this talk, a short video-clip (produced by the UNIL Equality Office (BEC) with the support of LIVES and GARCIA) aimed at raising gender awareness amongst UNIL hiring committee members, will be presented by the BEC.

On Friday 25 November the morning session “Acting for gender equality in early academic careers: Incentives, initiatives, implications” will tackle the effects of gender equality policies in the Swiss context. Three workshops will run in parallel during the Friday afternoon session:

  1. Promoting an “equality culture” in academic institutions: Tools, strategies and measurable outcomes (in French)
  2. “Follow the money, find the power issues: The principles and practices of gender budgeting” (in English)
  3. “Go abroad, become excellent? International mobility as a key issue in early academic careers” (in French)

>> Detailed Programme

>> Resources on gender awareness and early academic careers

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Winner of LIVES award showed how institutional labelling fosters bullying of disabled pupils

Handicapped children and adolescents are more at risk of physical, verbal and mental violence from fellow pupils than young people with other disadvantages, especially when they are identified as having special educational needs. For the publication of this research in Sociology, Stella Chatzitheochari received a prize at the annual conference of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies. The NCCR LIVES selection committee praised the scientific relevance and the originality of her study.

Stella Chatzitheochari

The LIVES Best Paper Award for Young Scholars recompenses interdisciplinary works on vulnerability in the life course. Remitted for the first time this year during the annual conference of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies(SLLS) in Bamberg, Germany, on October 6, 2016, the prize of 2000 euros went to Dr. Stella Chatzitheochari, assistant professor at the University of Warwick (UK), for her article Doubly Disadvantaged? Bullying Experiences Among Disabled Children and Young People in England”, published online in 2015 and in print in 2016 in the journal Sociology with Samantha Parsons of the University College London and Lucinda Platt of the London School of Economics and Political Science as co-authors.

 Double penalty

Dr. Chatzitheochari’s paper addresses the cumulating disadvantages met by pupils with physical or mental impairment who are victims of bullying. Already vulnerable because of their health condition and greater socio-economic difficulties associated with the handicap, disabled children and young people suffer a double penalty by experiencing hardship in their relationships within school. Being a victim has been proven to have potential harmful consequences for later life achievements, including emotional balance and socio-economic attainment.

The originality of this research is to bring a sociological, quantitative and longitudinal perspective to a topic that has been until now examined more from a psychological, qualitative or cross-sectional point of view. Drawing on data from the Millenium Cohort Study and the Longitudinal Study on Young People in England, Dr. Chatzitheochari looked at the reported victimisation of disabled kids and teenagers at age 7 and 15, controlling for other possible explanatory variables such as socio-economic status, educational performance, size and weight, gender, ethnicity, family configuration, etc.

Reproducing social inequalities

Using three measures of disability, i.e. Long-standing limiting illness (LSLI), Special Educational Needs (SEN), and SEN with an official statement by the school system, Dr. Chatzitheochari builds on a social model of disability and observes that higher victimisation rates of disabled children are partly explained by the other vulnerability factors. However, she also demonstrates that all other things being equal, the institutional labelling – the so-called SEN (especially when reinforced by a statement) – significantly increases the risk of being bullied. These findings “draw attention to the school context as a potential site of reproduction of social inequalities,” the authors conclude.

Selection process

Stella Chatzitheochari, holder of a PhD in sociology received in 2012 from the University of Surrey, is the first winner ever of the LIVES Best Paper Award for Young Scholars, which is due to be issued once every coming years. The selection committee, composed of the LIVES Board of directors and four other LIVES research leaders, representing several disciplines like sociology, social psychology, demography, statistics, economics, and social policy, received 53 articles coming from 20 countries all over the five continents. Six papers were presented by young researchers working in Switzerland, some of them being involved in the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES.

The selection committee members ranked the articles according the following criteria: centrality of vulnerability and life course in the research, originality, interdisciplinarity, scientific relevance, and suitability of methods. Dr. Chatzitheochari easily won the contest and in addition to receiving a gift of 2000 euros, she has been complimentarily invited to present her study during the SLLS conference. Congratulations!

>> Chatzitheochari, S., Parsons, S., and Platt, L. (2016) Doubly Disadvantaged? Bullying Experiences Among Disabled Children and Young People in England, Sociology, 50(4): 695-713.

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