Photo iStock © Sturti

Kids and workload are worse than illness for couples, but things get better at retirement

The relationship quality of 721 couples in Switzerland over a period of thirteen years is at the core of a PhD thesis that was conducted within the framework of the NCCR LIVES. Manuela Schicka successfully defended her dissertation on September 30th, 2015 at the University of Geneva. She demonstrated that while the various styles of conjugal interactions generally remain stable along the life course, some critical life events and transitions weigh much more on relationship quality than others, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Sociology of the family had already observed the spillover effect of socio-professional problems on conjugal relationships. Being unemployed or encountering financial difficulties is for sure not the easiest path to romantic felicity. We also knew that the transition to parenthood might be a huge blow for partners. But how to measure relationship quality? How does it evolve over time? And have all critical life events the same impact?

Longitudinal data collected within the NCCR LIVES’ IP208 project allowed Manuela Schicka to answer those questions. The Social Stratification, Cohesion and Conflicts in Contemporary Families survey, which Prof. Eric Widmer has been conducting since 1998 at the University of Geneva, generated unique information on stability and change among couples living in Switzerland.

1442 heterosexual long-lasting partners were observed in Manuela Schicka’s study. They were part of those who accepted to participate in the first and third wave of the survey in 1998 and 2011. During the second wave in 2004 it had only been possible to interview the women. The third wave also tried to reach separated or divorced people, but those were not included in the present analysis.

Critical life events and transitions

The doctoral candidate investigated if different critical life events and transitions have had an impact on the relationship quality and whether the types of conjugal interaction had an effect or not on these outcomes. She looked at normative (i.e. expected and ordinary) transitions like becoming parents, grown children leaving home (the “empty nest” syndrome) and retirement. She also examined non-normative (i.e. unexpected and unintended) events like socio-professional and health-related problems.

In order to address the relationship quality, she looked at indicators such as relationship satisfaction, thoughts of separation, conflicts of different sorts, and severity of arguments.

The styles of conjugal interactions were identified following the typology set by Jean Kellerhals and Eric Widmer, which is based on dimensions like cohesion (fusion vs. autonomy, openness vs. closure) and regulation (level of gendered role differentiation, level of routinisation).

High degree of fusion is an asset

Manuela Schicka’s research found that couples with a high degree of fusion resisted better to life hazards. She also observed that the style of conjugal interactions change very little over the life course. However, some transitions, especially the retirement phase, tend to result in the growth of fusion. This moment in time and the “empty nest” transition appeared as rather beneficial for relationship quality. By contrast, transition to parenthood and socio-professional problems generated more conflicts and a decrease in relationship satisfaction.

It is also interesting to note that serious illness and injuries do not affect relationship quality. Almost half of the interviewed couples had been confronted to health problems between the first and the third wave, whereas only 20% faced socio-professional difficulties.

Responsible or not for life hazards

Manuela Schicka explains the difference of outcome between work and health related problems by the fact that people are considered as controlling their occupational trajectory, whereas illness and accidents are seen as linked to bad luck and not personal responsibility. There is therefore less grief and bitter thoughts between partners when the latter occur. Furthermore, she notes that “the importance of life events in the professional domain can be explained by the importance for men and women in Switzerland to be part of and active in the labour market. A failure in this life domain leads to frustrations and disappointments.”

The other Swiss characteristic is related to the issue of children: as the researcher observes, “transition to parenthood is associated with a higher degree of closure of the couple, as well as greater differentiation of functional roles.” Women in this country often abandon or substantially reduce their participation in the labour market once they become a mother, because of lack of institutionalised child care facilities. This also generates a great deal of frustration.

It is therefore ironical that the main purpose of matrimonial union, having kids, is a major challenge to couple stability, whereas transitions to the “empty nest” and to retirement succeed in reuniting couples at an age that is generally not perceived as the most romantic one…

>> Schicka, Manuela (2015). The Impact of Critical Life Events and Life Transitions on Conjugal Quality: A Configurational Approach. Under the supervision of Eric Widmer. University of Geneva

Image iStock © Jennifer Borton

Gender inequality is still mirrored in young people's career aspirations

The third issue of the series Social Change in Switzerland addresses the gender division concerning career aspirations among adolescents. This article, by Lavinia Gianettoni et al., demonstrates that the majority of girls intend to enter a profession that is mixed or atypical in terms of gender. However, two-thirds see themselves working part-time in order to be able to combine work and family life. The internalisation of gender norms is thus maintaining the segregation of women on the labour market, which does not make sense from an economic perspective.

The article is based on a study on the professional aspirations and orientation among girls and boys nearing the end of compulsory education, which was financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation. It involved collecting data from 3,302 adolescents aged between 13 and 15 in five Swiss cantons (Geneva, Vaud, Ticino, Aargau and Bern) in 2011.

The authors have observed that almost two-thirds of the boys surveyed hope to enter a profession that is typical in terms of gender, i.e. one in which people of their own sex make up 70% or more of the total (IT specialist, police officer, etc.). Less than a third would like to enter mixed professions (doctor, secondary school teacher, etc.) and just 7% aim for an atypical profession (primary school teacher, hairdresser, etc.). As for the girls, a third would like to enter a typically female profession (early years teacher, beauty therapist, etc.), half are interested in a mixed profession and 19% would prefer an atypical profession (lawyer, engineer, etc.).

The data also show that two-thirds of girls imagine that they will work part-time in the future for family reasons, compared to 37% of boys. And while the boys' desired level of activity is not related to a particular type of career, the girls who want to work part-time are more likely to choose "women's" professions.

Institutional and ideological factors

The authors conclude that institutional and ideological factors still have an impact on young people's aspirations: insufficient childcare structures, a lack of work-life balance in certain professions and the way children are socialised – which still favours the division of roles based on gender – are maintaining the horizontal and vertical segregation of women on the labour market. There are still fewer women in professions that are valued by society and well paid. The same applies to high-level positions.

What is more, the persistence of these gender-based inequalities has an economic impact, since young women's training is not fully exploited by the labour market. For these reasons it is vital to keep working to remove the many constraints that limit young people's professional and family-related ambitions.

>> Lavinia Gianettoni, Carolina Carvalho Arruda, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Dinah Gross, Dominique Joye (2015)
Aspirations professionnelles des jeunes en Suisse: rôles sexués et conciliation travail/famille
Berufswünsche der Jugendlichen in der Schweiz: stereotype Rollenbilder und die Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Beruf

[Professional aspirations of young people in Switzerland: gendered roles and work-life balance]
Social Change in Switzerland No. 3.
Retrieved from

Contacts: Dr. Lavinia Gianettoni, 079 565 35 81,

Gender-based social hierarchies remain vivid, as a new book shows

Gender-based social hierarchies remain vivid, as a new book shows

With contributions from junior researchers based in French-speaking Switzerland and NCCR LIVES members from the Universities of Lausanne and Geneva, Gender and Social Hierarchies offers a fresh picture of applied research from within social psychology on the intricate relationship between gender and social status.

This book comprises a collection of innovative approaches which seek to understand the pervasiveness of status asymmetry between gender categories, and, in particular, the vulnerabilities experienced by women in their everyday life and career.

It is co-edited by Oriane Sarrasin, a post-doc researcher at the Swiss National Centre for Competence in Research LIVES, together with colleagues from the University of Geneva and the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland.

Drawing upon recent theoretical advances in gender, social and organizational psychology, the book provides tools for developing practical and political recommendations to address and resolve status inequality today.

Each chapter examines a different aspect of the impact that gender-based social hierarchies have on people’s lives.

Part One explores the consequences of gender stereotypes in school, higher education, and in professional settings. It includes a paper on “Sexism and the gendering of professional aspirations by Lavinia Gianettoni and Edith Guilley.

The struggles faced by women in the workplace are discussed in Part Two, featuring topics such as work-life balance, the ‘glass cliff’, and the lack of support for affirmative action. In this part Sarah D. Stauffer, Christian Maggiori, Claire Johnston, Shékina Rochat, and Jérôme Rossier present “Work-life balance vulnerabilities and resources for women in Switzerland: results from a national study”, which draws upon LIVES IP207 research.

Part Three is devoted to the antecedents and consequences of gender-based forms of prejudice, such as discrimination against gay men, and against women within cultural minorities. A must read is the paper by Oriane Sarrasin, Nicole Fasel, and Eva G.T. Green on “Gender differences in the acceptance of the Muslim headscarf”.

The book concludes with some practical suggestions for working towards lasting and beneficial change. 

>> Klea Faniko, Fabio Lorenzi-Cioldi, Oriane Sarrasin, Eric Mayor (eds.) (2016). Gender and Social Hierarchies. Perspectives from social psychology. London & New-York : Routledge. 194p.

Image iStock © pablographix

Years of economic boom increase income inequality

The second issue in the series Social Change in Switzerland is devoted to a study by Ursina Kuhn (FORS) and Christian Suter (University of Neuchâtel) that describes the development of income inequality in Switzerland over a period of more than twenty years. The study used eight different sets of data, thus providing the most comprehensive analysis to date of the development of income inequality since 1990. In contrast to earlier studies, it covers a longer period and differing data sets. The authors show that income inequality increases during times of economic boom as it is mainly the top earners that benefit from economic growth.

Several studies have examined income inequality in Switzerland in recent years. However, these studies delivered inconsistent results as they related to different, mostly short periods and were based on a variety of data sources. This study is the first to describe the period since 1990 and uses all the representative data sources in Switzerland that contain information on income. These comprise seven national studies and the tax data.

In addition, this investigation not only takes into account income from work but also disposable household income, which includes capital income, pensions, social welfare, stipends and private transfers. Taxes, contributions to social insurance and compulsory health insurance premiums were deducted.

The study shows that in 2012 the extent of inequality was at a similar level to the level at the beginning of the 1990s. Between these two points in time, income inequality developed in parallel to the economic climate. During times of economic boom, inequality increased; the gap between high and low incomes became ever wider. The reason for this is that top earners benefited from capital income and bonuses. During the crisis years on the other hand, the incomes of poorer households were supported by social policies, in particular through unemployment insurance, social welfare and old-age pensions.

A comparison of the distribution of salaries and household income provides an interesting insight: income inequality increases due to the sharp increase in high salaries and part-time positions. At the same time, however, the increasing number of women in the workplace reduces income inequality.

However, if one compares the salaries of the top 10% with the average salary, it can be seen that the differences became more marked between 1994 and 2012. Whilst low and average real earnings increased by 18% on average, real earnings among the top 10% of earners rose by 41%.

» U. Kuhn and Ch. Suter (2015)
L’évolution de l’inégalité des revenus en Suisse.
Die Entwicklung der Einkommenungleichheit in der Schweiz.
Social Change in Switzerland No 2.
Retrieved from


Prof. Christian Suter, University of Neuchâtel, 032 718 14 14 or 076 381 20 22,

"Healthy lives: technologies, policies and experiences": ESHMS 16th biennal congress in Geneva

"Healthy lives: technologies, policies and experiences": ESHMS 16th biennal congress in Geneva

The 16th congress of the European Society for Health and Medical Sociology (ESHMS) will take place on June 27-29, 2016 at the University of Geneva. It is co-organised by a local team including three members of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. The call for pre-organised sessions ends on November 20, 2015, whereas the call for abstracts deadline is set on December 20, 2015.

Call for papers

In European societies, the imperative of good health keeps expanding. Health literacy, developments in personalized medicine, health and illness self-monitoring through mobile information and communication technologies, shared medical decision making, rising individualization of risks in health insurances, all support the normative importance of leading healthy lives.

In daily life and in encounters with healthcare institutions, individuals are expected to manage their own health through the adoption of healthy behaviours and/or endorsement of patient-centred and family focused care. Healthism, self-surveillance and individual regulation affect the experience of healthy and ill individuals, their relationships with healthcare professionals, but also public health policies and the monitoring of population health.

At the same time, different social trends challenge this dominant discourse. Unfavourable conditions in childhood, socioeconomic inequalities, instability of family ties, increasing requirements in job performance, inequalities in access to health care and growing difficulties associated with ageing limit the ability to lead healthy lives.

Furthermore, some individuals deliberately challenge the imperative for health and youth, by refusing medical treatments or disease screening, by adopting risky behaviours, or by criticizing health-sustaining technologies and strategies. The conference aims to address the dominant norm of leading healthy lives (technologies, policies and experiences) and to considerthe different resources used to reach ‘health’.

Papers addressing theoretical issues or presenting empirical research, both qualitative and quantitative, are welcomed. In addition to this central focus, abstracts in the main domains of health and medical sociology are welcomed. Propositions for sessions are also welcomed.  

Organisation of sessions

Sessions can take either the form of a pre-organised symposium or an open session. A typical session lasts 90 min and includes 3 to 4 papers, there can also be series of sessions on the same themes. Pre-organised sessions and papers can cover topics under any of the following issues:

  • Technologies and policies for healthy lives
  • Professional and lay experiences of the health imperative
  • Inequalities and social determinants of health
  • Risk behaviours
  • Gender and health
  • Vulnerabilities and health
  • Austerity and health
  • Health policy
  • Health services
  • Lifestyles
  • Subjective well-being and quality of life
  • Welfare states
  • Mental health
  • Health care and rehabilitation
  • Health promotion
  • Wellbeing at work
  • Life course perspective on health: trajectories and transitions

>> Deadline for pre-organized sessions: November 20, 2015
>> Deadline for abstracts: December 20, 2015
>> Contact:


HSHMS Executive committee
Local committee
International Conference on Sequence Analysis and Related Methods: call for contributions

International Conference on Sequence Analysis and Related Methods: call for contributions

The International Conference on Sequence Analysis and Related Methods (LaCOSA II) will be held at the University of Lausanne four years after the Lausanne Conference on Sequence Analysis (LaCOSA). The conference aims to bring together scholars using innovative methods for analyzing longitudinal data in social, managerial, political, health or environmental sciences with developers of methods for longitudinal analysis.

Sequence Analysis (SA) has become a popular exploratory tool in social sciences since the pioneering contributions of Andrew Abbott and the recent release of powerful pieces of software. Nevertheless, SA remains essentially exploratory and needs to be complemented with other modeling tools, especially when it comes to testing hypotheses or studying the dynamics that drives the trajectories. Therefore, this second conference intends to not limit itself to SA by also covering alternative longitudinal methods, such as survival and event history analysis, Markov-based and other longitudinal stochastic models. The aim is to debate how these different approaches can complement each other.

The conference will feature invited speakers and individual presentations. Confirmed keynote speakers are Francesco Billari, Anette Fasang, Jeroen Vermunt.

We welcome all submissions connected with SA or related methods in the social sciences, especially applications of innovative methodology, new methodological developments, method comparisons, or theoretical discussions linking substantive theory with methodological choices. Propositions across scientific domains are welcome.

  • Examples of application domains: Life course research, familial, residential, educational and health trajectories, life span, professional careers, career management, time use, geographical development paths...
  • Examples of methods: Sequence analysis, latent class, survival and event history analysis, multistate models, Markov-based transition models, structural-equation-model-based models such as latent growth curve models, multilevel longitudinal models...


Extended abstracts of at least two pages plus references should be submitted before the 20th of January 2015. Full papers can also be submitted as an extended abstract. Authors of accepted extended abstracts should then submit a full paper of their contribution for online proceedings before the 8th of May. At least one author for each accepted contribution will have to register to the conference for the paper to be included in the online proceedings. After the conference, authors of the best contributions will be invited to submit a possibly extended version of their papers for the post-conference volume to be published open-access in the Life Course Research and Social Policies Series by Springer-Verlag.

To submit a contribution, please follow the instructions on the conference website.

Data analysis contest

In addition to usual contributions, the conference will also promote a data analysis contest: Participants will be asked to run their own analysis of a provided longitudinal data set using methods of their choice and to submit results as a poster. For detailed instructions, please refer to the conference website.


Image iStock © SondraP

Osmosis between social and life sciences proceeds in a book on health trajectories

First contribution to the Springer series Life Course Research and Social Policies to be published under Open access thanks to the support of the NCCR LIVES, the volume edited by Claudine Burton-Jeangros, Stéphane Cullati, Amanda Sacker, and David Blane provides a welcome theoretical framework as well as choice empirical examples and methodological inputs in a booming field of study, at the crossroads between social epidemiology and the sociology of health.

The same applies to social conditions and anti-inflammatory creams: they get under the skin and act on the body cells. The former last longer though, without always being as beneficial. This is what life course epidemiology teaches us in a collective book resulting from a collaboration between the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES and the International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (ICLS) at the University College London.

Published by LIVES members Prof. Claudine Burton-Jeangros and Dr. Stéphane Cullati from the University of Geneva, along with professors Amanda Sacker and David Blane, who are two authorities in the field at ICLS, this volume brings a fresh look at a still recent area of research by extending the scope of analysis to health in general. For up to now, publications on the subject had mostly addressed chronic diseases.

How does social and economic status produce class differences in terms of health and life expectancy? How, conversely, can health status during childhood later on influence schooling and occupational paths, as well as relationships? The editors’ introduction describes a promising and evolving field of study. They insist on the need for developing preventive policies that take into account all life domains.

The following chapters describe the state of research at the theoretical and empirical levels.

Obesity, scourge of modern times

Laura D. Howe, from the University of Bristol, in collaboration with Riz Firestone, Kate Tilling, and Debbie A. Lawlor, offers a review of the evidence regarding trajectories and transitions in childhood and adolescent obesity. Considered as “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization, obesity concerns 42 million children under the age of five, close to 31 million of these are living in developing countries. This scourge of modern times increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and social isolation in adult life.

“The study of child adiposity trajectories represents an area where we hope to be able, one day, to determine not only the age period during which children are more at risk of becoming and staying overweight, but also in which social and family conditions, and according to what biological predisposition,” Stéphane Cullati and Claudine Burton-Jeangros explained.

The smile as social marker

Another area where social and family environments are critical is oral health. That is the subject of another chapter by Anja Heilmann, from the University College London, with Georgios Tsakos and Richard G. Watt as co-authors. Teeth problems are a source of multiple difficulties and suffering in the short, middle, and long term. Education may prevent part of those, but treatment remains hardly accessible to the underprivileged. Moreover, it is far from being a priority for policy makers.

Other diseases occur independently of social conditions. That is the case of cystic fibrosis. Yet important differences will appear in the life course of the most favoured patients versus those who live in a deprived context, show David Taylor-Robinson, from the University of Liverpool, with Peter Diggle, Rosalind Smyth and Margaret Whitehead.

Calculate and predict inequalities

Among the nine contributions that compose the content of the book, three address important methodological issues, which arise for researchers willing to carry out longitudinal studies on health in a life course perspective. One chapter, written by a Geneva team linked to the NCCR LIVES, presents statistical models that include both stability and change. Paolo Ghisletta, Olivier Renaud, Nadège Jacot, and Delphine Courvoisier demonstrate how these methods allow analysis of the interaction between individuals and their context over time.

Asked about the challenges posed by life course epidemiology, Claudine Burton-Jeangros and Stéphane Cullati mentioned several limitations, which remain to be overcome: getting access to representative samples of the general population, and not only to sub-populations of patients; having longitudinal databases that are sufficiently rich in data on family, work, leisure, life conditions during childhood, health behaviours and status (including biomarkers); repeating these studies on new cohorts; encouraging the development of statistical models able to process large quantities of repeated data; and finally, collect also qualitative data through interviews with participants, in addition to quantitative data, in order to better capture the meaning that individuals give to their health trajectories, in relation to changes in their life conditions.

Protect family life

On the basis of current knowledge, both authors consider that social policy should better protect childhood and family life: “Ensure the best conditions for our kids, be it during intrauterine life, at birth, during early childhood and the early phases of mental and physical development, promote a good social integration during adolescence, all these factors represent key elements for a future healthy life. However, health promotion, which goes far beyond the sole sector of public health programmes, is not a priority, as the voting against a law on prevention recently showed in Switzerland”, they regret.

>> Burton-Jeangros, C., Cullati, S., Sacker, A., & Blane, D..  (2015). A life course perspective on health trajectories and transitions. Life course research and social policies (Vol. 4, p. 213). New York: Springer.

Available under Open access

Image iStock © zimmytws

Threats and opportunities facing single-parent families from a grass-roots perspective

In a report on the forum "Changing families and single parenthood: vulnerabilities and resources from the practioners' point of view", LIVES researchers document observations from the field made by professionals.

The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES - Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) and the Swiss Federation of single parent families organised on November 21, 2014 an exchange forum between social scientists and practitioners at the University of Lausanne on the question of single-parent families. The meeting’s report aimed at addressing weaknesses and threats, but also strengths and opportunities in relation to this type of household, is now available.

A focal point were also the recent changes and on-going debates in family law, particularly concerning parental authority and alimonies. Social workers, early childhood educators, legal experts, child psychiatrists, civil servants, and NGO representatives shared their knowledge and experience, drawn from their daily work on issues such as legal matters and tax problems, social policy and support facilities as well as the relationships between parents, children, and the extended families.

>> See the report in French

>> See the report in German

Educational Expansion, Partnership, and the Family: Special issue of the Swiss Journal of Sociology

Educational Expansion, Partnership, and the Family: Special issue of the Swiss Journal of Sociology

Publication is planned for November 2017. Guest editors: Rolf Becker (University of Bern), Ben Jann (University of Bern), Eric Widmer (University of Geneva & NCCR LIVES). Deadline for submitting abstracts: November 15, 2015.

Call for papers

Compared to other countries, the educational expansion in Switzerland was rather moderate in impact and less dynamical. However, longitudinal studies making use of a cohort design demonstrate that Switzerland did indeed catch up in terms of participation in education and the acquisition of higher education during the last decades. On the one hand, the educational expansion led to an unprecedented educational upgrading of the Swiss Population over generations. On the other hand, this process led to changes in the inequality of educational opportunities according to people’s social origin, ethnic background and gender. While the educational expansion was accompanied by changes in the occupational and class structure, familial and demographic processes also changed.

Based on official statistics for the historic period of the educational expansion since the 1960s, the pattern of declining marriage rates, an increase in the mean age of marriage, decreasing birth rates, a shift in age of the first child’s birth, and increasing divorce rates can be revealed. In other countries studies using a life course perspective could show empirically that the increase in the age of marriage as well as the age at first child’s birth is a consequence of cohorts remaining longer in the educational system. Hence, these cohorts postponed these decisions to later stages in life. Especially the increase in female employment as a consequence of the higher qualification of girls and women seems to be a driving force of this process. Furthermore, the educational expansion also contributed to the decrease in number of children per family. This is not only due to the increase in women’s participation in the labor market, but also to a shift in family conception and the aspirations toward designing one’s own life. Finally, the higher demands on partnership and marriage as a consequence of the educational expansion also led to a higher dynamic in terms of divorce, remarriage and other forms of cohabitation.

For the case of Switzerland, in contrast to other countries, it remains unclear to what extent these structural changes can be causally attributed to the educational expansion – both theoretically as well as empirically. Also, there are striking research gaps regarding the educational expansion’s consequences for familial and demographic processes and trends in time. Questions remain, such as: Did the educational expansion lead to more educational homogamy, strengthening therewith the social closure of partnership and marriage markets? Did dating agencies gain more importance in the course of the educational expansion? What are the consequences of the increasing educational homogamy for socialization processes and the educational opportunities of the younger generation? Did the stability of partnerships and marriages in- or decrease as a result of higher qualifications? Are childbirth simply postponed or did the educational expansion also lead to changes in the fertility and therewith the family structure? What is the potential impact of educational changes on the development of alternative family options (single-parent family, living apart-together couples, same sex couples, and so on). Do the rates of remarriage increase and does the likelihood to start a new partnership after a divorce or separation increasingly depend upon the partner’s education? How does increasing education change the ways spouses or partners interact together, but also with their children, in relation with gender and individualization issues? What are the differences between Switzerland and other modern nations in terms of these relational and demographical processes?

All these questions require answers from a dynamic longitudinal perspective of the life courses of successive birth cohorts. As these cohorts are the cultural promoters of the educational expansion, they can be perceived as the main actors of change within these familial and demographical processes. To answer the issues raised, the empirical reconstruction of these changes ideally requires time-continuous data which allow the application of panel, event-history or optimal matching models. In doing so, potential causal relations between the educational expansion on the one hand and the socio-structural changes of partnership, marriage, family formation, divorce, and remarriage on the other hand can be revealed – as well as their consequences for the further progress of the educational expansion. The special issue is intended to combine contributions that address the consequences of the educational expansion upon familial and demographic processes with adequate, modern methodological approaches and current longitudinal data for the case of Switzerland as well as other modern countries. In particular, historical and international comparisons considering Switzerland at least as a reference country are highly welcome.

Interested scholars are invited to submit a proposal to Rolf Becker ( no later than November 15, 2015. Your submission for the special issue should include the following:

  • name, email address, and affiliations of all the authors
  • title of the paper
  • abstract of around 450 words plus a short bibliography (topic, aim, theoretical perspective, empirical design, main/first results)

The guest editors will decide on the acceptance or rejection of the abstract until December 20, 2015.

Selected authors will be invited to submit a full paper (max. 8,000 words, 50,000 characters including tables, figures and references), which will be due on June 1st, 2016. The papers will go through the usual peer-review process of the Swiss Journal of Sociology. The proposal as well as the paper can be written in English, French or German. More information about the Swiss Journal of Sociology and the submission process are available in

For any queries, email

“The Future of Psychology”: congress of the Swiss Psychological Society in Geneva

“The Future of Psychology”: congress of the Swiss Psychological Society in Geneva

The 14th biannual congress of the SPS will take place at the University of Geneva (Uni Mail) on September 8-9, 2015. It is organised by a local team headed by Prof. Matthias Kliegel, a specialist of the psychology of aging and new head of NCCR LIVES IP213.

The conference intends to target current discussions, pioneering theories and extraordinary projects that could indicate the new pathways on which psychology might move forward in the near future. In that regard, the programme will focus on innovative topics in psychology. About 40 symposiums plus some workshops and paper or poster sessions will be carried out.

The keynote speakers will be Markus Heinrichs, from the University of Freiburg in Germany, and Mark A. McDaniel, from Washington University, in St. Louis, USA. Markus Heinrichs’ talk will address the mechanisms by which a certain hormone, i.e. neurohormone oxytocin (OT), contributes to human social behaviour, and how recent knowledge could enhance advances in the personalised treatment of psychopathological states. Mark McDaniel’s talk will combine recent advancements of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and educational psychology and focus on evidence-based techniques to improve instruction and student learning.

Several members of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will participate. They notably organised a symposium entitled “Studying vulnerability across the life course: An interdisciplinary project”. Chaired by Andreas Ihle and Delphine Fagot, this symposium aims to discuss LIVES’ most recent evidence on vulnerability and the process of vulnerabilisation, emphasising the interdisciplinary and multi-methodological inputs of this NCCR in a life course perspective.

Research on aging

In the first talk, Nora Dasoki will present a study investigating the interrelations and the influences that different temporalities, i.e. individual, social, and historical times, have on memories of happiness and vulnerability. This research, led with Davide Morselli and Dario Spini, shows that happy memories are linked to social expectations, no matter what age difference. Regarding vulnerability, individual time and historical context have both an impact and an interaction. The oldest elderly are less likely to remember their lives as vulnerable, except during the Second World War. For that period of time it is the younger elderly who report less vulnerability.

Two other communications will also draw on data from the Vivre-Leben-Vivere (VLV) study on Swiss elderly, which IP213 conducts at the Geneva Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability. Andreas Ihle will discuss the role of different life course determinants in middle adulthood for cognitive performance in old age. This research, in collaboration with Michel Oris, Delphine Fagot and Matthias Kliegel, shows significant links between educational background, health status, and engaging in professional and leisure activities with cognitive functioning in old age. Later on Fanny Vallet will present empirical evidence that frail elderly have more difficulties to recover after a stressful event. Her co-authors here are Olivier Desrichard, Delphine Fagot, and Dario Spini.

Within the framework of IP212 led by Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, Charikleia Lampraki will focus on continuity and social participation in the process of recovering from the loss of an intimate partner in the second half of life. Together with Davide Morselli and Dario Spini, this study assesses how active participation in social groups outside family or friends may support the coping process.

Psychology of work

Another team of psychologists work at NCCR LIVES within IP207 under the direction of Jérôme Rossier. During the symposium this project will be represented by Christian Maggiori, who will focus on the impact of personal resources and professional conditions on the relationship between personality dimensions and professional and general well-being.

Colleagues of his will intervene in other sessions. Claire Johnston will present a review of the literature on the relevance of career adaptability in early careers, and also talk about “Immigrants’ career resources”. Grégoire Bollmann will present “Does Smiling Really Make us Happier? A Cross-Lagged Examination of the Causal Relationships between Affective and Cognitive Components of Subjective Well-Being”. Michaela Knecht will talk about “Selection, Optimization, and Compensation as response to goal conflict and facilitation”. And there will be a poster session where Martin Tomasik will present “Multiple Goals From the Perspective of Optimal Foraging Theory”.

Life span and other topics

A further symposium will address “Social relations over the life span: challenges and rewards” and include LIVES researchers. Jeannette Brodbeck and colleagues investigated the longitudinal relationship between life events and casual sexual relationships (CSR) in emerging adulthood in Switzerland. Daniela Jopp and colleagues compared the role of social resources for life-satisfaction in German and Japanese people aged 65 to 84. Germans were more likely to live alone, but had more social contacts, more psychological strengths and life-satisfaction than Japanese. In the very old age, optimism was a strong predictor of life-satisfaction in both cultures.

During the symposium “Legitimizing ideologies in the context of gender and political issues”, chaired by Grégoire Bollmann and Oriane Sarrasin, Rachel Fasel will present “Does victimization threaten the belief in a just world?”. Based on the TRACES project, her talk will demonstrates how socioeconomic conditions and war victimization shattered the general just world beliefs of residents of former Yugoslav countries.

We should also mention some other interesting presentations by LIVES members during different sessions: Lavinia Gianettoni with “Professional aspirations of boys and girls: the impact of sexist ideologies”, and Oriane Sarrasin with “When support for gender equality and tolerance of the Muslim headscarf go hand in hand”.

The organiser's point of view

According Prof. Matthias Kliegel, “this congress will be an excellent platform to present the exciting interdisciplinary potential of LIVES to the national and international psychological community. With its important psychological component, LIVES is one of the light house research programmes in psychology in Switzerland and therefore perfectly suited in the spectrum suggested by the motto ‘The future of psychology’ chosen for this conference. Importantly for LIVES, the motto is targeted not only at current discussions, pioneering theories and extraordinary projects that could indicate the new pathways on which psychology might move forward in the near future. A second very important point concerns young researchers who will be the future of psychology in Switzerland and who are therefore particularly invited to participate actively at the conference. In that regard, this year's congress offers several special events that explicitly support young scientists’ development. Special measures taken are the two Young Academics Program symposia (Career Option Forum and PhD Skills) where also several LIVES members will actively participate.”


Photo Hugues Siegenthaler © LIVES

Eric Widmer, new co-director of NCCR LIVES: "I grew up with interdisciplinarity"

Following Professor Michel Oris' appointment as Vice-Rector of the University of Geneva, Professor Eric Widmer will take over the co-leadership of the NCCR LIVES for Geneva from July 2015. Along with Professor Jean-Michel Bonvin, he will be responsible for the doctoral programme and will continue leading the "Family configurations and the life course" (IP208) project, with the support of Professor Clémentine Rossier. Interview.

First of all, a few words to mark the departure of Michel Oris…

Of course! Michel Oris has done an absolutely wonderful job in building and structuring the centre, along with Dario Spini and Laura Bernardi. He organised the work in Geneva very efficiently. He was always up to speed with all the records and knew all the LIVES PhD students by their first names. All the work Michel has done in these last few years has made my new role easier.

What will you do differently?

I think my new role is essentially about continuing the work that was done in the first phase. But now it will be a case of deepening the work on cross-cutting issues (CCI). I have the impression that in the first four years, the teams have made their mark on quite specific questioning relating to their discipline. But I think we are still at the beginning of the interdisciplinary work. In the coming years, there needs to be more collaboration between developmental and social psychologists, sociologists, demographers, statisticians and economists to develop a coherent and original interdisciplinary perspective, which will produce new results on life trajectories and vulnerability. I intend to focus on this aim, from a leadership perspective.

What is your experience of interdisciplinarity?

I grew up with interdisciplinarity, as the "family" aspect, on which I've been working for twenty years, is at the intersection of demographics, psychology and sociology. It is not pure sociology like the sociology which deals with social stratification, and in which you can really remain within the confines of your discipline. From the time I did my PhD, I was exposed to lectures and contacts with the psychology of interpersonal relations, developmental psychology, etc. Then, during my post-doctoral research in the United States, I was involved in interdisciplinary programmes with psychologists, demographers and anthropologists. When I came back to Switzerland, I quite quickly became involved in the PAVIE Centre, which in a way was the predecessor to LIVES. Its objective was to develop interdisciplinary research into life trajectories which materialised as several publications and the "Devenir parent" ("becoming a parent") research project, something we are still working on today. I also completed a certain number of research projects with legal experts and economists; these interdisciplinary experiences were positive ones. But the major experiment is what we are doing now with LIVES!

One of the purposes of the NCCR LIVES is to act as a window on society. What is your aim in this regard?

One of the aims of such a National Centre of Competence in Research is indeed to have an impact on civil society, and enable political leaders, association leaders and the general public to benefit from the knowledge accumulated by the research. As such, the LIVES leadership values relations with social actors. Furthermore, these links are very useful to fundamental research, as they give us easier access to areas which otherwise would be difficult to access and study. It is impossible to launch a research project on a vulnerable population if there are no existing links (ideally, institutional ones) with partners. It is the role of universities and national programmes to help promote more applied knowledge, particularly in social sciences, which must have a good hold on social problems.

Do you have any examples of this kind of project?

Yes! The sociology department of the University of Geneva, with the support of the NCCR LIVES, joined forces with Pro Juventute Genève and the OPCCF (Protestant Office for Couple and Family Counselling) to create the "Avenir Famille" ("Family Future") association. Our project has three pillars. First of all, the operation of a network of family professionals in Geneva – associations, services, foundations, etc. Such a network provides a wide range of services, but they are not very coordinated. The aim here is to try to encourage partnerships, dialogue and communication between professionals to help them produce something more integrated. The second aim: provide individuals with a "one-stop shop" for all the information they may need regarding family issues in the canton. The third point, and it is here that LIVES and the University of Geneva are particularly involved, is the establishment this autumn of a family monitoring centre (observatoire de la famille) which will be responsible for applied family research, in response to explicit requests from professionals via the family conferences which will be held each year, and the concerns of families and individuals. Contacts are also being made on the Vaud side. Ultimately we would like to develop something across French-speaking Switzerland. There is a social need which is being very clearly expressed and which requires the knowledge acquired in LIVES to be applied to civil society.

Is it linked to the current shift in family structures?

It is mainly linked to the absence of an explicit family policy in our country, at both the canton and federal level, which is even more damaging as, in the last five decades, family structures have become much more complex, not only in terms of divorce and blended families, but also in terms of increased life expectancy and migration. We recently obtained a mandate from a commune in the canton of Geneva where there are a large number of working-class families. There is great job instability, childcare problems when both parents work and major housing problems, in situations where family networks are relatively weak as a result of relocation through migration and when the generations live far away from each other. The commune authorities are asking themselves: what can be done to help these families, which have become vulnerable through a combination of factors, both economic and demographic? What are their needs, and what kind of services should be in place to respond to vulnerable families in precarious situations? I think that LIVES has all the skills to respond to this type of questioning.

Another priority of the NCCR LIVES is to develop internationally, this time from an academic point of view. How can this be done?

The first way to develop scientifically and gain better international recognition is to have original research results with a solid empirical grounding. A way to make LIVES more visible, in my opinion, would be to increase collaborative work on cross-cutting issues and on the interdisciplinary dimension, as that is what sets our work apart. The paradox is that this makes publication more complicated, because unfortunately, we are evaluated by colleagues who belong to specific disciplines. Typically, sociology experts will have very strict requirements in terms of sampling and will soon become critical of the small, non-representative samples which may be acceptable in psychology; at the same time, psychology experts will pay much more attention to the validity of the measurements and replication of results than sociologists. When these two sets of expectations are come up against one another, it is harder to publish interdisciplinary articles. But when they are balanced, something very valuable is achieved!

You will be mainly in charge of directing the third cross-cutting issue (CCI 3) concerning the multidirectional approach, i.e. over time. What are the features of this?

As this has been described in our proposal to the Swiss National Science Foundation, we are interested, for example, in the effects of the first years of life over the long term: is everything decided before the age of five or not? Although we have no studies on children, a retrospective assessment can be made. There is also this fundamental hypothesis of the cumulative effects throughout the life course, which in my opinion, should be explored even more than they have been up to now. Finally, the third important point is the "biographisation" of life trajectories, this idea that individuals participate quite actively, via the recomposition of their projects, in conducting their life course over the long term. I would like to add something that has been very widely discussed in the international literature: the idea of opening the black box of "agency", i.e. the actor's ability to act, to have an influence on their trajectories, via their preferences, orientations and their aims in life. It is a classic theme in life course analysis, but we need to know more about how this action-oriented dimension is expressed over the medium- and long-term of life trajectories, in different structural situations which are at first glance negative: single-parent families, health problems, work problems, unemployment, disability, etc. I believe that the interplay between structure and agency over the long term is an important point.
I am also involved, more marginally, with Dario Spini and Oriane Sarrasin, in the CCI 2 on social interactions, and here, I think we have succeeded in promoting this strong idea of "misleading norms", social norms which push individuals to take paths which prove counter-productive for them over the medium or long term. For example, in a country such as Switzerland, where 50% of marriages end in divorce, this norm, which pushes women to stay at home or greatly reduce their involvement in the labour market. We can build the hypothesis that each generation sets out in life with the norms set in place by the previous generation.

Within the IP208, you also want to investigate the issue of family ambivalence. What does this mean?

Ambivalence, as it is defined in sociology, mainly by Kurt Lüscher, is the oscillation between contradictory social norms. Typically, the social imperative to be professionally active and to breastfeed your child until the age of two, or the obligation to actively help ageing parents and the obligation to lead a very independent life, to pursue a career which requires social and geographical remoteness. From Kurt Lüscher's point of view, this ambivalence can generate innovation and personal development, as it requires individuals to come up with new solutions. My hypothesis is that this form of agency is possible only if people have significant reserves of financial, cultural and social resources. When more disadvantaged individuals are affected by these contradictory normative forces, they can become stress factors and thus lead to the weakening of personal identity and the ability to act. But this remains to be seen! Essentially, sociology views the family as a place of rejuvenation, support and solidarity, while the IP208 postulates that the family itself is a source of stress, due to the many conflicts it generates in the allocation of different resources – money, affection, time… What is given to a child in time, to a partner or an ageing parent, cannot be given to another person, in families where links are much more individualised than before. Hence the benefit of seeing these family links as generators of resources, but also as links which generate vulnerability. And up to now, this has not really been done.


Learning through play how inequalities build over the life course

Learning through play how inequalities build over the life course

The Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) began a series of workshops in French-speaking Swiss schools in spring 2015. The Kalendaro workshop is the result of a project between social science researchers and the education system. It involves group play and data collection, to make connections between contexts and personal stories, observe the interdependence between different life domains and move from an individual to a general outlook in a resolutely systemic approach.

"When my grandfather left the Congo, he was very young and had to learn everything again in Switzerland. He did a lot of different jobs, as he had to look after his family. He had to be responsible. But I didn't know that he had also left a lot of children back there, with other women…" When this pupil from the Collège des Terreaux in Neuchâtel recounted his discoveries to his classmates, he took the whole class on a journey through time and space, and revealed the extent to which family, residential and career histories are interlinked. The story of this African grandpa also illustrated how our values are the product of relative norms, and how individuals retain a certain ability to act, even in the most difficult situations.

All this took place on 19 May this year, during the second part of the Kalendaro workshop, which has been available to secondary classes in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland since spring. On the first day, pupils were made aware of certain notions through a board game based on the trajectory of a fictional life, with its associated tragic and joyful events. There are accidents, which make you lose time as well as health, training phases that contribute resources, the economic crisis, affecting players to differing degrees, but also encounters and separations, celebrations and bereavements, as well as difficult choices, coinciding with career transitions or the birth of the first child.

Then the organisers ask the pupils to make links between the events that occurred in the game and think about how they might impact different areas of life. Stress at work that leads to a divorce and moving house, sometimes with depression to boot; a disability that makes it impossible to do certain activities; a lack of money that limits education opportunities: the pupils understand all this very quickly and can imagine a whole range of interactions.

The life calendar

Then comes the time to see specifically how these interactions play out in a real-life situation. To do this, pupils are given a "life calendar" to complete based on an adult of their choice, if possible aged over 50. This tool, which is also used by the NCCR LIVES researchers in actual studies on life course, documents the important events and phases of someone's biography. In the Kalendaro project (the word means "calendar" in Esperanto) this task contributes an interesting intergenerational dimension, in addition to introducing pupils to real empirical data.

Pooling observations leads to a deeper understanding of social inequalities in the second session. Through the analysis, the pupils are able to perceive the glaring differences between the life trajectories of men and women from different social backgrounds, and the extent to which certain non-normative events strike individuals and have long-term consequences on their life course.

Cross-disciplinary skills

According to one of the teachers in Neuchâtel, where the first sessions took place, "this workshop fully meets the objectives of the French-speaking secondary school curriculum to give pupils cross-disciplinary skills. Furthermore, it is ideal at the end of compulsory education, at a time when young people are making a major transition and have to think about entering the labour market and the implications this brings."

"It's a very good resource, clear and pleasant to use, and the topics it deals with enable teachers to subsequently revisit certain themes, such as gender issues or migration, for example", noted another teacher on 23 June after another session at the same institution.

This is precisely the objective of the citizenship education pedagogical team at the Applied University of Education of the canton of Vaud at the start of the next academic year; it has included Kalendaro in the induction course programme for future citizenship teachers. It is up to the trainee teachers to come up with possible developments and implement them in their respective classes, in connection with the other subject they teach, often history, geography or economics, and sometimes French or foreign languages.

Nothing would make the members of the National Center of Competence in Research LIVES and its partners happier. The same also applies to the Science-Society Interface of the University of Lausanne and the éducation21 foundation, which were involved in building this project and producing the associated training guide.

Their hope is that the interdisciplinary approach to the life course perspectives will attract other educational institutions across French-speaking Switzerland. See you at the start of the next academic year!

To find out more (in French)


Project team

  • LIVES Researchers: Ana Barbeiro, Nora Dasoki, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Nadia Girardin, Andres Guarin, Jean-Marie Le Goff, Davide Morselli
  • UNIL (Science-Society Interface): Nicolas Schaffter
  • éducation21 foundation: Florence Nuoffer
  • Graphic design: Vincent Freccia (Secteur B)
  • Illustration: Luc  Frieden (MEYK)
  • Coordination: Emmanuelle Marendaz Colle
 “Transformation of the Swiss elites”: First article of a new series on social change

“Transformation of the Swiss elites”: First article of a new series on social change

During the past thirty years, the coordination model of the Swiss elites has been significantly eroded as a result of globalisation and the rise to power of the financial market, as described by Felix Bühlmann, Marion Beetschen, Thomas David, Stéphanie Ginalski, and André Mach. Their contribution was published in the series "Social Change in Switzerland", which FORS, the LINES Centre and NCCR LIVES co-edit.

Based on a large dataset including the profiles of 20,000 leaders in the economic, political, and administrative spheres between 1910 and 2010, five researchers in the social and political sciences from the University of Lausanne show that traditional networks of co-optation and coordination have lost quite a large part of their influence.

Their article, “Transformation of the Swiss elites”, is the first of a new series entitled Social Change in Switzerland, which is co-edited in French and German by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequality Research Centre LINES (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lausanne), and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES.

The authors observe different characteristics of Switzerland’s elites at five moments in time: 1910, 1937, 1957, 1980, 2000, 2010. They notably look at issues like gender, the education level, the nationality, the military rank, and the involvement in executive boards, extra-parliamentary commissions, committees of economic organisations, etc.

On the basis of these comparisons, they demonstrate how the Swiss elites were co-opted and have coordinated throughout the 20th century, thanks to their educational paths (law studies mainly, ETHZ to a lesser degree) and the involvement in typically masculine socialisation hubs (student associations, army, clubs-service, but also executive boards, extra-parliamentary commissions, economic organisations).

For the past thirty years, this multipositionality of the Swiss elites’ central figures has constantly diminished: the proportion of leaders linked to several spheres of power clearly decreased, which reduced occasions for consultation. Even within the sole economic sphere, relations between industry and the banking sector have weakened, as shown by the changes in the composition of executive boards. This situation reflects the fact that large companies have partly abandoned credit in favour of the stock market.

The current dominant fractions of the Swiss elite – UDC party in politics and hyper globalised managers in economics – seem to have no common ground. It is an open question whether and how these winners of the Swiss elites’ transformation process start rebuilding a new system of coordination.

This 10-page paper is perfectly in line with the new series’ ambition to propose empirical findings drawn from academic research to a non-scientific, yet well-informed public, so as to stimulate reflection on social change in Switzerland. Other topics are in the pipeline. The editors aim at a frequency of about six articles per year.


>> F. Bühlmann, M. Beetschen, T. David, S. Ginalski & A. Mach, Transformation des élites en Suisse / Der Wandel der Eliten in der Schweiz. Social Change in Switzerland N° 1. Retrieved from



Image iStock © Aleksandar Petrovic

Unemployment hurts senior jobseekers more. Can a good social network offset this disadvantage?

Two recently-completed theses at the University of Lausanne as part of a LIVES project have produced interesting results relating to the Swiss labour market. Isabel Baumann shows that people over 55 have fewer prospects than young people when seeking employment. Nicolas Turtschi observes the impact of networks on the chances of rejoining the world of work: although personal relationships are useful in decreasing the handicap of age, they do not reduce the impact of other types of inequality.

Using samples of unemployed people produced for the IP204 project of the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES, Isabel Baumann and Nicolas Turtschi successfully defended their doctoral theses in June 2015, each documenting in their own way the channels via which people find, or fail to find, a way out of unemployment.

In Switzerland, unlike elsewhere in Europe, young people and the low-skilled are unlikely to become stuck in long-term unemployment following the closure of a company. This is one of Isabel Baumann’s conclusions from her studies on the trajectories of around 1,200 people who were collectively laid off between 2009 and 2010 from five industrial companies which closed their doors in different regions of Switzerland.

Two years after losing their jobs, two-thirds of the displaced workers had found new employment, half in less than six months, a third with a salary increase and most in the same area of work. Most people with a low level of education had not been forced to take service jobs such as cleaning or in fast food outlets. The manufacturing sector remains a provider of employment in Switzerland.

The most vulnerable are those over 55 years of age; this group is the most likely not to have found employment, or to have accepted a lower quality, lower paid job following a longer period of unemployment than young people and low-skilled people.

For those left behind, the negative repercussions on well-being and sociability are significant. Only older people who were able to take early retirement eventually experienced this transition in a positive way. 32% of those over 55 were able to access this solution, while 37% were still unemployed at the end of 2011 and only 31% had found work again, often under less favourable conditions.

Potentially growing phenomenon

"This result is striking in the context of the current demographic development," says Isabel Baumann. As baby boomers enter this age group, unemployment among older people could affect a growing number of people over the next fifteen years.

The young researcher is therefore calling for continuous training measures to be improved. The apprenticeship system, which at first improves the employability of young people in Switzerland, risks putting those who did not keep up with technological progress at a disadvantage thirty years later.

In the shorter term, she recommends better support in searching for employment for older people who have been let go. She also believes that making it easier to take early retirement is an option to be considered.

Her thesis, which was directed by Prof. Daniel Oesch, has been accepted for publication in the Springer Life Course Research and Social Policies. This will be the first monograph published and will be in open access in autumn 2016.

Compensating effect of networks

Still as part of IP204 but under the supervision of Prof. Giuliano Bonoli, Nicolas Turtschi worked on another sample of unemployed people, which was more diverse in terms of profile, but limited to the Swiss canton of Vaud.

From February to April 2012, all persons attending the group information session on unemployment benefits, organised by regional employment centres, were asked to complete a questionnaire on social networks and access to employment. People who found work within twelve months received a second questionnaire. Those who were still unemployed after one year were also interviewed with a third type of questionnaire. Around 3,500 people took part in the study.

Nicolas Turtschi shows that certain disadvantaged sub-populations, such as people aged fifty and over, benefit from a "compensatory effect" thanks to their networks. But he notes in particular that "the most advantaged profiles statistically have the most interesting social resources". Clearly, people of foreign origin and those with the lowest educational level have fewer useful contacts for finding work. Among the most valuable relationships, former colleagues are much more useful than family and loved ones. Being a member of an association appears to have no effect on the period of unemployment, a finding that mirrors the other research mentioned above.

Feelings of guilt

"Social networks amplify the inequalities involved in rejoining the workforce," concludes the researcher, calling for targeted actions on the least advantaged profiles to help them identify and mobilise their contacts. He also recommends "exonerating" the unemployed, so that their shame does not cut out relationships.

Finally there is the question of the quality of the employment found through networking, which, according to Nicolas Turtschi, deserves more research, which has already been partially provided by Isabel Baumann: in her sample of industry workers, people who found a new job through a personal contact lost an average of 6% of income compared to their previous salary, in comparison with just 2% for others.

This puts the importance of networks into perspective somewhat, whose "negative aspect", in some cases, should not be overlooked. This nuanced reflection by Nicolas Turtschi invites further research to better understand the complexity of social networks and their influence on the values, perceptions and ideas of individuals.

In a very metaphorical conclusion, he ends by suggesting that, as sources of information, networks could be likened to a sense, in the same way as sight or hearing. A kind of "social sense", "developed to differing degrees, with different levels of effectiveness", the only one that is likely to improve with age, in fact!

As for the future of our two young PhDs, no one will be surprised to hear that they themselves will not encounter the problems of unemployment: Isabel Baumann will continue her career at the Centre de recherche des sciences de la santé at the Haute École Spécialisé de Zurich, and Nicolas Turtschi has a position at the Haute École de la Santé du Canton de Vaud.


>> Baumann, Isabel (2015). Labor market experience and well-being after firm closure: Survey evidence on displaced manufacturing workers in Switzerland. Under the supervision of Daniel Oesch. University of Lausanne.

>> Turtschi, Nicolas (2015). Les réseaux sociaux : un outil de réinsertion pour les chômeurs désavantagés. Under the supervision of Giuliano Bonoli. University of Lausanne

Image iStock © 4774344sean

High skilled foreign employees in Switzerland often feel rejected by their colleagues

In a thesis by publication Claire Johnston provides significant advances in the field of psychology about what helps or prevents people to get satisfaction in their job. Her work has been approved by several outstanding journals. One piece presents evidence of subtle forms of discrimination in Switzerland targeting more German and French employees, perceived as highly competitive, than immigrants from Southern Europe who seem warmer and less challenging.

Claire Johnston’s proficiency struck the audience when she defended her PhD dissertation on May 26, 2015 at the University of Lausanne. Jury members praised the quality of the publications linked to her thesis, which was developed in the framework of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. One paper is still under revision in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, whereas three articles appeared in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, one in the Journal of Career Development, and one in Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology.

In the latter she shows, along with her co-authors, that French and German immigrants experience more incivility from their colleagues than immigrants of other nationalities. This subtle interpersonal form of discrimination encompasses hostile behaviours such as interrupting, ignoring or using a condescending tone. Other recent research had already observed that Swiss people perceive immigrants from immediate neighbour countries as highly competent but less likeable. Claire Johnston’s findings prove with figures that the concerned individuals resent this animosity.

From a sample consisting of 1661 employees, of which 18% were immigrants (among whom 43.4% came from France or Germany), people from Western Europe reported significantly higher scores of experienced incivilities than people from Southern and Eastern Europe. As a matter of fact, immigrants from Portugal or the Balkans with lower education level and lower status position did not complain about incivility more than the Swiss nationals did.

Highly skilled foreigners from neighbouring countries “are believed to integrate easily into the host country and labour market, and hence tend to be forgotten when designing measures to combat discrimination against immigrants”, notes the psychologist in her article.

Growing job insecurity

This finding is not the only one of Claire Johnston’s thesis. In the context of an increasingly complex labour market with growing job insecurity, demand for flexibility and decreasing long-term positions, she scrutinised different individual and professional characteristics and their relations to general and work-related well-being.

To do so she used many inputs from psychology like measures of personality and life satisfaction, as well as concepts like belief in a just world and organisational justice. Her data came from a representative sample of about 2000 residents in Switzerland, 94% employed and 6% unemployed, which were collected within a 7-wave longitudinal study on career paths conducted by the NCCR LIVES IP207. Only the two first waves (2012 and 2013) are included in Claire Johnston’s analysis.

Career adapt-ability

Claire Johnston notably elaborates on the concept of career adapt-ability, which is characterised by concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. It has already been shown that good levels of adapt-ability improve work engagement, job satisfaction, job search strategies, job tenure, and self-rated career performance.

The young psychologist contributed to methodological advances in measuring career adapt-ability and its relations to happiness and work stress. With IP207 team she validated a French and a German version of a career adapt-ability scale in order to use it in the Swiss context.

Claire Johnston’s thesis confirmed previous counter-intuitive research, that job search episodes may enhance adapt-ability resources: unemployed participants actually reported higher scores on career adapt-ability. This effect does not appear however for people with high job insecurity, who face “a more stressful and demanding professional context in which it is more difficult to activate and trigger the resources,” she notes.

It remains to be tested whether the adapt-ability of job seekers stays elevated in the long term or if there is only a limited “critical window” of time in which individuals have a higher chance to find employment. The researcher also suggests that interventions aimed at developing career adaptability should be designed and tested.

Having got her doctoral degree seven months ahead of the end of her contract, Claire Johnston will certainly use the remaining time to dig further. Work Psychology has much to gain from such a professional and adaptable researcher. Her competence should in fact frighten many, but as she is from South Africa and highly likeable, all is forgiven.

>> Johnston, Claire (2015). The contribution of individual and professional characteristics to general and work-related well-being. Supervised by Jérôme Rossier and Franciska Krings. University of Lausanne.

13th European Conference on Psychological Assessment in Zurich with sessions on life course

13th European Conference on Psychological Assessment in Zurich with sessions on life course

The biennal conference will take place this year at the University of Zurich on July 22-25, 2015. Chaired by Prof. Willibald Ruch, leader of the Personality and Assessment Unit in the Department of Psychology and a member of the NCCR LIVES, it will include a session on "Opportunities and challenges of longitudinal perspectives" and a session on "Vulnerabilities and resources at work and in career development".

Session 1
Opportunities and challenges of longitudinal perspectives

Thursday, July 23, 2015: 9:45am - 11:15am

Time poses several challenges to longitudinal perspectives, an example of this would be when it comes to ensure measurement invariance of constructs or to assess people evaluations of past events. This symposium brings together researchers from the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES and those interested in longitudinal perspectives to explore these challenges and discuss the opportunities they also entail.

First, introducing the issue of measurement invariance, Jeannette Brodbeck and colleagues examine standardized inventories of marital satisfaction and psychopathological symptoms. In two 2-waves studies on married individuals and on patients before and after psychotherapy, respectively, this team presents the evolution of these constructs over time.

Oriane Sarrasin then showcases the invariance of a 5-item self-esteem scale with multigroup confirmatory factor analyses in the tumultuous context of late adolescence and young adulthood. Her results highlight that changes in self-esteem of this vulnerable population are mainly related to changes in their satisfaction with their body image.

Finally, Davide Morselli and colleagues present life-history calendars as a means to approach past events. Their work compares respondents’ subjective evaluations of their personal trajectory obtained with graphical representations or a differential scale and pinpoints advantages of life-history calendars.

Chairs: Grégoire Bollmann, University of Lausanne, Christian Maggiori, University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland (NCCR LIVES IP207)
Discussant(s): Jérôme Rossier, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP207)

  • Longitudinal measurement invariance issues illustrated by examples of marital satisfaction in later life and the structure of psychopathology before and after psychotherapy
    Jeannette Brodbeck, Hansjörg Znoj, Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, 
University of Bern (NCCR LIVES IP212)
  • Measuring self-esteem among young adults in different educational tracks: A longitudinal perspective
    Oriane Sarrasin
, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP201)
  • The use of Life-History Calendar Methods (LHC) to assess subjective evaluation of the personal life trajectory
    Davide Morselli, Dario Spini, Nora Dasoki, Elenya Page
, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP201)

Session 3
Vulnerabilities and resources at work and in career development

Friday, July 24, 2015: 9:45am - 11:15am

Within the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES, vulnerabilities and resources can be conceived at multiple levels. Here we bring together researchers interested to track down various forms and sources of these two concepts in the domains of career development and work. This symposium will showcase a collection of newly developed instruments investigating the multiple levels at which vulnerabilities and resources can be experienced and respectively garnered, namely within individuals, in their interpersonal relationships or the broader normative context.

Starting within individuals in career development, Shékina Rochat and Jérôme Rossier explore the validity of the career decision-making difficulties scale and its relationship with various forms of self-esteem.

Sgaramella and colleagues then identify future orientation and resilience as relevant resources for individuals’ career and life paths. The next two talks then proceed with vulnerabilities and resources in individuals’ interpersonal and normative context.

Introducing humor at work, Jennifer Hofmann and Willibald Ruch validate a short instrument of dispositions toward ridicule and laughter and present their relations with work related outcomes.

Finally, Grégoire Bollmann and Sébastien Mena examine people endorsement of the free market system as an institution permeating society and its implications for the self and decision-making at work.

Chairs: Grégoire Bollmann, Claire Johnston, Jérôme Rossier, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP207)

  • Validation of the Career Decision-Making Difficulties Scale (CDDQ) in a Francophone context
    Shékina Rochat, Jérôme Rossier, 
University of Lausanne
  • More complex times require more attention to future orientation, resilience and methodological choices in Life Design approach
    Teresa M. Sgaramella, Laura Nota, Lea Ferrari, Maria Cristina Ginevra, I. DiMaggio, 
Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy
  • Validation of the PhoPhiKat-9 (Short Form) in a workplace context
    Jennifer Hofmann, Willibald Ruch
, University of Zurich
  • Believing in a free market system: Implications for the self and the society
    Grégoire Bollmann, University of Lausanne, Sébastien Mena, City University London

>> Conference website

Image iStock © Felix Renaud

Young adults’ excess death rate is not inevitable but the result of social inequality

Early adulthood comes with an increase in the risk of death. There are three possible explanations for this phenomenon: “internal turmoil” linked to the psychological development of the adolescent, the impact of the socio-economic environment surrounding the assumption of new adulthood roles, or a selection effect due to the presence of a small group of particularly exposed individuals. In a doctoral thesis successfully defended on 21 May 2015 at the University of Geneva, Adrien Remund resolves this enigma by largely ruling out the first hypothesis.

The temporary increase in the risk of death at the end of adolescence is a phenomenon that was first identified over a century ago. Although this abnormally high mortality rate has been extensively documented and recognised in demography, it has never been clearly defined, measured or explained.

Adrien Remund’s doctoral study fills those gaps. Undertaken within the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES at the University of Geneva, his dissertation shows that the presence of a very small vulnerable sub-population is enough to generate a mortality bump without any individual actually experiencing an increase in their personal risk of death.

Contrary to the vision shared until now by certain demographers and a number of (neuro)psychologists, the high death rate among young adults is not, therefore, primarily linked to a spread of dangerous behaviours during this phase of life, but rather to the presence of particularly pronounced social, economic and biological inequalities within this age group. Once the most exposed individuals have been taken out of the equation, the mortality curve resumes a more even trajectory.

To obtain these results, the researcher tested different theoretical hypotheses applying several methodological tools, some of which already existed and some of which were newly developed. He analysed the mortality statistics of more than 10,000 different population groups using the Human Mortality Database, which covers four centuries and four continents.

Remund's findings reveal that the high mortality rate among young adults is neither universal, nor limited to adolescents, nor caused solely by accidents and suicides. Prior to World War II, the phenomenon could be mainly attributed to tuberculosis and maternal mortality.

The young demographer also used the Swiss death records compiled by the Swiss National Cohort to study inequalities among young people in relation to death at a more local level, by observing survival rates between the ages of 10 and 34 in a cohort of approximately 375,000 residents born between 1975 and 1979.

Sub-populations at risk

The Swiss data revealed the presence of inequalities "exceeding all expectations", particularly with regard to gender, level of education, type of household and socio-professional status. As the vulnerability factors combine, risk ratios ranging from 1 to 100 are found between the most privileged and most vulnerable profiles. For the researcher, this proves that it is not an inevitable phenomenon.

"No, the abnormally high mortality rate among young adults is not an inevitability, as numerous historical populations and a large proportion of the young people growing up in Switzerland avoid it. While road accidents and suicides do currently represent the main challenge in terms of public health policy, history teaches us that, in the past, non-violent causes of death greatly contributed to the high death rate among young adults. Indeed, the socio-economic context of the transition to adulthood brings about huge inequalities in the risk of death, which can explain the high mortality rate among young adults much better than theories based purely on the neuropsychological development of the adolescent," Remund concludes in his thesis.

The demographer hopes that his conclusions will have an impact on future public health policies aimed at young adults. He thinks that research should however go further: "I could definitely dedicate my whole career to this subject", he said during his viva on 21 May.

"A fundamental point of reference"

Carlo Giovani Camarda, a member of the jury and researcher at the Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) in Paris, stated that this thesis will be a “fundamental point of reference".

The other members of the jury also noted the "boldness", "innovation" and "interdisciplinarity" of the thesis. "You have the ability to make complicated things simpler," said France Meslé, Director of Research at INED.

Adrien Remund will have many more opportunities to exchange with these two specialists over the coming months, as he has already obtained an early postdoc grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation, which will enable him to spend some time at their prestigious institution.

>> Remund, Adrien (2015). Jeunesses vulnérables ? Mesures, composantes et causes de la surmortalité des jeunes adultes. Supervised by Michel Oris. University of Geneva.

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research: joint workshop NCCR On the Move & NCCR LIVES

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research: joint workshop NCCR On the Move & NCCR LIVES

The Workshop “Factorial survey designs in labor market research” took place on 21 May 2015 at the University of Lausanne. The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research "On the Move" was the main organiser. Their post-doc researcher Flavia Fossati, based at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne, prepared a short report of the event.

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research. An Epilogue.


The Workshop “Factorial survey designs in labor market research” took place on 21 May 2015 at the University of Lausanne.

Our four guests, Prof. Katrin Auspurg (Goethe University Frankfurt), Prof. Marc Gurgand (Paris School of Economics), Prof. Dominik Hangartner (London School of Economics) and Andreas Scheck (Goethe University Frankfurt), presented their recent work on survey experiments. Moreover, our three local research teams (Integration through Active Labor Market Policies and Discrimination as an Obstacle to Social Cohesion of the NCCR – On the Move as well as Education and Employment of the NCCR LIVES) had the possibility to present their planned experimental designs. Besides lively discussions on the different presentations, all research teams obtained valuable feedbacks on their specific projects from both speakers and the audience.

In particular, we discussed pivotal issues such as how to best address low response rates and social desirability biases, how to validate experimental data with behavioral benchmarks and – last but not least – whether conjoint analyses, choice experiments or vignette studies perform best.

The attendance of 25 national and international guests from three different disciplines (sociology, political science and economics) allowed us to network and establish new professional contacts. The discussion benefitted a lot from the researchers’ interdisciplinarity, which opened new perspectives on the various questions.

Flavia Fossati, NCCR – On the Move, PostDoc on the project Integration through Active Labor Market Policies

Virtual special issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology with a LIVES paper in it

The British Journal of Social Psychology has selected 9 works to feature in a special virtual issue to coincide with the International Society of Political Psychology annual conference in San Diego (July 2015). NCCR LIVES PhD Candidate Mouna Bakouri is among the authors.

The link allows free access to the selected papers for a period of four months:

Mouna Bakouri's article was reported in a news on our website last February: People with a “bonding identity” cope better with structural disadvantage

Content of the special virtual issue of the BJSP to coincide with ISPP Conference in San Diego, 3rd-6th July 2015

Introduction to the Virtual Issue
Karen Douglas & Nick Hopkins

Making good theory practical: Five lessons for an Applied Social Identity Approach to challenges of organizational, health, and clinical psychology
S. Alexander Haslam

When threats foreign turn domestic: Two ways for distant realistic intergroup threats to carry over into local intolerance
Thijs Bouman, Martijn van Zomeren & Sabine Otten

Longing for the country's good old days: National nostalgia, autochthony beliefs, and opposition to Muslim expressive rights
Anouk Smeekes, Maykel Verkuyten & Borja Martinovic

Denunciation and the construction of norms in group conflict: Examples from an Al-Qaeda-supporting group
W. M. L. Finlay

Coping with structural disadvantage: Overcoming negative effects of perceived barriers through bonding identities
Mouna Bakouri & Christian Staerklé

Tweeting about sexism: The well-being benefits of a social media collective action
Mindi D. Foster

Acting in solidarity: Testing an extended dual pathway model of collective action by bystander group members
Rim Saab, Nicole Tausch, Russell Spears & Wing-Yee Cheung

The repertoire of resistance: Non-compliance with directives in Milgram's ‘obedience’ experiments
Matthew M. Hollander

Labelling and discrimination: Do homophobic epithets undermine fair distribution of resources?
Fabio Fasoli, Anne Maass & Andrea Carnaghi

The Alpine Population Conference (Alp-Pop 2016) in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland

The Alpine Population Conference (Alp-Pop 2016) in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland

Alp-Pop brings together scholars interested in population issues across several disciplines, including demography, economics, epidemiology, political science, sociology and psychology. The conference emphasizes empirical rigor and innovation over a given topic or geographical area, and meets the challenges of interdisciplinary and international audiences.


(on-line on January 2016)

Call for papers

(on-line on May 2015)

We welcome submissions on all population issues (e.g. population and health, migration, families and the welfare state; population and economic development/institutions, well-being, etc.). We particularly encourage submissions that take a life course perspective and/or address social inequalities. Submissions of original papers or extended abstracts are invited by August 15, 2015, and submitters will be notified of acceptance within a couple of weeks. Submissions and inquiries should be addressed via email to:

The confirmed Ski-note speakers for the 2016 Conference are Daniel Hamermesh (Royal Holloway – University of London and University of Texas – Austin) and Elizabeth Thomson (SUDA, Stockholm University and University of Wisconsin – Madison).

Alp-Pop scholars confer both formally and informally. A traditional conference program (paper and poster presentations) mixes with group activities in a world-class winter resort. The conference location, the Hotel du Golf, is very close to the ski slopes of Villars and was chosen for its proximity to both Geneva and Torino/Milano.

Participants are expected to seek their own funding. However, the organizers can provide some support for Ph.D. students. Applications for juniors’ funding support should be clearly indicated in the submissions. Special-rate rooms have been reserved at the conference hotel with arrival on January 26 and departure on January 29 (the conference will end late morning). Participants will receive information on how to reach Villars and regular updates on the conference.

If there is demand, we will also aim to organize child care. Please indicate in your application if you intend to bring children along to the conference, as well as their ages.

Organizing committee: Arnstein Aassve (Bocconi University), Laura Bernardi (University of Lausanne), Michele Pellizzari (University of Geneva) and Domenico Tabasso (University of Geneva)

Institutions: The Carlo F. Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics at Bocconi University and the Swiss National Center for Competence in Research LIVES (University of Lausanne and University of Geneva)