PS = Social Democratic Party / UDC = Swiss People's Party

Workers’ move to the Swiss People’s Party came a decade after their shift away from socialism

In a new article for the journal Social Change in Switzerland, Line Rennwald and Adrian Zimmermann examine the development of the blue-collar vote in Switzerland between 1971 and 2011. Based on data from ten electoral surveys, the authors show that the Swiss People's Party has been able to fill a gap since the 1990s, after four consecutive parliamentary terms in which the Social Democratic Party lost influence among the working classes.

The article by Line Rennwald and Adrian Zimmermann presents the first systematic analysis of all electoral surveys between 1971 and 2011. Their analysis makes it possible to retrace the steps that led to the divorce between the Social Democratic Party and a significant part of the blue-collar electorate.

Two distinct processes

The authors highlight two distinct processes: firstly a weakening of support from workers for the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s; then the dramatic rise of the Swiss People's Party among this electorate from 1995 onwards. Between the two, and especially at the federal elections of 1987 and 1991, the blue-collar vote was marked by high levels of abstention, which the authors identify as the key stage in the loosening of ties to the Social Democratic Party.

The proportion of workers who voted for the Social Democratic Party decreased from 38% in 1975 to 16% in 2011. At this point, nearly 40% of workers voted for the Swiss People's Party, compared to 8% in 1975. While the Social Democratic Party has lost blue-collar votes in all of Switzerland's linguistic regions, it secures more support among the working classes of the French-speaking cantons.

Changes in the policy programmes

The authors mainly explain these changes with the development of the parties' policy programmes. While the Social Democratic Party has taken up the issues relating to the "new social movements" such as environmentalism, feminism and pacifism, the Swiss People's Party has focused its activity on the subjects of immigration policy and sovereignty in the face of Europe. The populist stance of the Swiss People's Party on these issues has succeeded in uniting the working classes – even though they have little to gain from this party's ultraliberal positions in terms of economic policy.

>> Line Rennwald et Adrian Zimmermann. (2016). Le vote ouvrier en Suisse, 1971-2011. / Der Wahlentscheid der Arbeiter in der Schweiz, 1971-2011.
Social Change in Switzerland No 4. Retrieved from

Contact: Dr. Line Rennwald, +41 79 761 32 81,

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

An informal setting to talk about population issues in an interdisciplinary way

An informal setting to talk about population issues in an interdisciplinary way

The 6th edition of the Alpine Population Conference (Alp-Pop 2016) took place in the village of Villars-sur-Ollon in the Swiss Alps from January 26 to 29, 2016. Organised by the Carlo F. Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics at Bocconi University (Italy) and the Swiss National Centre for Competence in Research LIVES, it brought together above 30 delegates from 12 countries sharing interest in the social sciences and a taste for a certain “art de vivre”.

“This is a special conference for many reasons”, said Prof. Laura Bernardi, NCCR LIVES deputy director, at the opening of the Alp-Pop 2016 Conference on Tuesday January 26. First, population studies presented here stem from many academic fields including demography, economics, political science, sociology and psychology. Second, there is time for formal and informal discussions during and in-between sessions including the long breaks reserved for skiing, walking, trekking or just enjoying the spa facilities of the venue in Villars-sur-Ollon.

The organisers had announced that the conference would “emphasize empirical rigor and innovation over a given topic or geographical area.” That was actually the case, with presentations such as “Political Islam, Marriage and Fertility: Evidence from a Natural Experiment” (Francesco Billari, University of Oxford), “A new tool for old questions: A sequence analysis multistate model of women’s employment trajectories before and after the German reunification” (Matthias Studer, University of Geneva), “Does vocational training give a head start and a lousy end? Life-course employment and earnings of vocational versus general education” (Daniel Oesch, University of Lausanne), to name but a few.

There was also a poster session with six more junior researchers like Florence Rossignon, who showed “Different pathways out of the parental home: A gender perspective”, and Gina Potarca, who presented “The occurrence, Timing, and Stability of Mixed Unions in Switzerland”. Both are doctoral and post-doctoral fellows at the NCCR LIVES.

International and interdisciplinary

Many delegates came from Switzerland, Italy, UK, USA, and different countries from Northern Europe. But there were also participants from more remote regions. Arlette Simo Fotso (University Cheikh Anta Diop) presented a study on the “Cost of child disability for parents’ labour market participation in Cameroon”, and Elsa El Hachem-Kirby (Lebanese University) talked about the “Migrants’ contribution to prosperity and development: Lebanese entrepreneurs in Brazil – from rags to riches”. This session gave rise to a very rich discussion between sociologists and economists, as Luca Piccoli (University of Balearic Island) gave the third talk on “Intrahousehold distribution in migrant-sending families”.

“Ski-note” speakers were Elizabeth Thomson (sociologist, University of Stockholm and University of Wisconsin – Madison), and Daniel Hamermesh (economist, Royal Holloway University of London and University of Texas at Austin). The titles of their lectures were respectively “Cohabitation and Family Complexity in Europe”, and “Should there be an Economics of Time Use? Is there?” Again, a lively discussion on interdisciplinarity ensued after Dan's talk.

That was the second year the NCCR LIVES co-organises an Alp-Pop conference with the Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics. This event was created in 2011 together with the Max Planck Institute, which withdrew two years ago. Some participants have become real afficionados: "The scientific quality is always excellent here”, one said.

 >> Full programme

Call for Project Proposals on Life Course and Vulnerability

The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES invites research project proposals on the theme of Vulnerability and the Life Course to be submitted. Proposals from professors, researchers and post-doctoral students working for Swiss Universities, Swiss school of higher education, Swiss research institutes and the NCCR LIVES are welcome. Two to three 3-year projects ranging from 200’000 to 300’000 CHF will be granted for the whole project. Project proposals which are interdisciplinary or are using longitudinal data are especially welcome.

*** The call is closed ***


Research proposals should focus on one of the following topics, which are directly inspired from the cross-cutting issues of the NCCR LIVES:

Topic 1 - Dynamics of stress and resources across life domains:
Projects related to this topic should aim at understanding the permeability between stresses and resources across different life domains such as family, employment, migration trajectories, and psychological well-being. They should examine the short-term impact of critical events and transitions on individuals and how individuals adapt to these.

Topic 2 - Dynamics of stress and resources in social interaction:
This theme encourages submissions which look at the dynamics of stress and resources among interdependent individuals within family or between peers, and between individuals and their normative context. The focus is on understanding individual vulnerability in context, at different levels of analysis.

Topic 3 - Dynamics of stress and resources over time:
Proposals targeting this topics should be related to the exploration of the long-term processes of accumulation of advantages and disadvantages over time. The long-term consequences of earlier life-course conditions and the occurrence and succession of life-course hazards and vulnerability states are central to this topic.

Conditions of Participation

  1. ­Scholars from any academic disciplines working for a Swiss research institution are invited to apply (note that the principal investigator cannot ask money for him/herself).
  2. The overall project budget should range from 200’000 CHF to 300’000 CHF.
  3. ­Projects should not exceed three years.


Each project proposal will be peer-reviewed by a committee composed of international scholars. Based on the ranking of this committee, the Direction of the NCCR LIVES will make a decision on the number of projects to be funded. The successful projects are expected to begin being funded by September 1, 2016.

Documents to submit

You are required to provide the following information in English:

  1. The application form which shall be completed online.
  2. Your project description (max. 4000 words).
  3. Your CV.
  4. A publication list (please underline your five main publications related to the project proposal).


You are invited to submit your proposal before April 29, 2016. Should you have any questions, please send an e-mail to

Posters from LIVES-CIGEV at the Swiss National Gerontology Congress

Posters from LIVES-CIGEV at the Swiss National Gerontology Congress

Researchers from the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, based at the Interfaculty Centre of Gerontology and Vulnerability Studies (CIGEV) of the University of Geneva, will present posters on their research during the next biennial congress of the Swiss Society of Gerontology in Freibourg (CH) on January 29.

The Swiss National Gerontology Congress will take place from January 28 to 29, 2016 at the University of Freiburg on the topic of “age @ technology”.

Twelve heads of renowned national and international research teams have been invited to present their current projects and results together with their teams. This poster session will give a global overview of gerontological research.

Professors Michel Oris’ and Matthias Kliegel’s selection, both leaders of IP213 within NCCR LIVES, is listed below.

  • Siboney Minko: Les croyances et les pratiques religieuses chez les personnes âgées issues de l’immigration espagnole à Genève
  • Oana Ciobanu & Marie Baeriswyl: Comparing the support model for ageing natives and migrants in Switzerland
  • Marthe Nicolet: When the family of the deceased said thank you. Death notices in Geneva and Valais
  • Rainer Gabriel: Poverty in old-age: Three decades of progress, but not for everyone
  • Andreas Ihle (& Michel Oris, Delphine Fagot, Christian Maggiori, Matthias Kliegel): The association of educational attainment, cognitive level of job, and leisure activities during the course of adulthood with cognitive performance in old age: The role of openness to experience
  • Delphine Fagot (& Christian Chicherio, Cédric T. Albinet, Nathalie André, Michel Audiffren): The impact of physical activity and gender on intra-individual variability in inhibitory performance in older adults
  • Fanny Vallet (& Olivier Desrichard, Delphine Fagot, Dario Spini): The clinical meaning of different levels of memory complaint: a study on the VLV Swiss sample

>> More about the Congress

>> Full list of the posters




Photo iStock © selimaksan

Transition from working life to retirement tends to change or even to fade, sociologists observe

The last issue of the Swiss Journal of Sociology addresses the transformations of retirement policies. Edited by René Knüsel, Jean-François Bickel, François Höpflinger, and Béatrice Vatron-Steiner, it presents a broad overview of the issues and tensions around retirement policies in Switzerland and also by comparison in other European countries.

This special issue on pension policy seeks to develop a broad perspective on actual and planned changes in this particularly sensitive area of social policy and, more generally, of population management. The reforms announced in Switzerland in particular will have important consequences for future generations of retirees. But changes are already underway and the transition from working life to retirement tends to change or even to fade. The same retired status is envolving, since the principles of activation, recommended for all persons for the benefit of state intervention, now also apply to pensioners. The use of concepts like “seniors at work” or “professionally active retirees” shows the relativity of these limits.

Among the seven articles following the editors' introduction, three are authored by researchers who have a link with the NCCR LIVES. Here are their titles and abstracts.

Subjective Well-being: The Impact of the Transition to Retirement in Switzerland

By Boris Wernli, Valérie-Anne Ryser, and Carmen Borrat-Besson

Based on the Swiss Households Panel Dataset (SHP) and in a life course perspective, this article aims at documenting the timing of the transition to retirement and its impact on the life satisfaction of seniors. The results demonstrate that workers with the most difficult working conditions present more difficulties to manage this life transition and its consequent change in social roles. These results show the need to possess personal resources, notably the ability to take on new social roles, to anticipate, prepare, and, finally, cope, when the time has come, with this major life transition.
Confronting Active Ageing with Empirical Evidence: A Structural Equation ModelApproach. The Case of Older Migrants Living in Switzerland

By Laure Kaeser and Jonathan Zufferey

This article discusses the relationship between contemporary norms and actual practice in relation to ageing, by comparing Swiss policy ambitions for active ageing with the living conditions of older people. It focuses on older migrants, who are overrepresented among disadvantaged populations. The results are derived from the survey «Vivre/Leben/Vivere» which deals with the living conditions of individuals aged 65 and above. Using a structural equation model, the article identifies configurations of activities and their explanatory factors, in order to better understand the determinants which structure the access to active ageing. The conclusion is that the notion of active ageing does not embrace the diversity of older people’s activities, and neglects socioeconomic inequalities at retirement.
The Persistence of Social Stratification? A Life Course Perspective on Poverty in Old-Age in Switzerland

By Rainer Gabriel, Michel Oris, Matthias Studer, and Marie Baeriswyl

The aim of this article is to investigate the factors underlying old-age poverty, with particular emphasis on its construction along the life course. We focus on the question whether the inclusion of life course information could account forsocial and gender differences in old-age poverty in Switzerland. Our
results suggest that the most determining factor is a person’s initial human capital, corresponding to a traditional social stratification framework. We were not able to detect any significant influence of work, family or relationship trajectories. Gender differences seem due mostly to the long-term impact of educational differences.


>> René Knüsel, Jean-François Bickel, François Höpflinger, Béatrice Vatron-Steiner (Eds.). (2015). Transformations of retirement policies. Swiss Journal of Sociology. 41 (3), Special Issue.

Participate in the Winter School on Life Course and maybe publish a peer-reviewed paper?

Participate in the Winter School on Life Course and maybe publish a peer-reviewed paper?

Doctoral candidates can apply until December 10, 2015 to the 3rd Winter School on Life Course, which is organised by the NCCR LIVES in collaboration with Oregon State University (USA), University of Bremen (Germany), Western University (Canada), and Umeå University (Sweden). A previous edition of this winter school resulted in an article that was published in the European Sociological Review this year.

“Normative Climates of Parenthood across Europe: Judging Voluntary Childlessness and Working Parents” was published recently in the European Sociological Review, two years after the LIVES Winter School on Life Course where this paper had been initiated. Instructors Richard A. Settersten, Véronique Eicher, and Dario Spini had spent a week in 2013 in the Swiss Alps with Sandra Penic, Stephanie Glaeser, and Aude Martenot. All of those three were still doctoral students at the time. The collaborative work was launched during the workshop “Perceptions of the life course in Europe: Age, gender and generation norms”.

The next Winter School on Life Course will take place from February 27 to March 5, 2016, again at the Hotel des Sources (photo) in Les Diablerets, a cute little village up in the mountains. This third edition will feature two workshops with the following instructors:

1. Loss of a partner – a life-course perspective

  • Laura Bernardi, professor of life course and demography at the University of Lausanne
  • Pasqualina Perrig Chiello, professor of psychology at the University of Berne
  • Betina Hollstein, professor of sociology at the University of Bremen      

2. How to preserve cognitive health in old age?

  • Matthias Kliegel, professor of psychology at the University of Geneva
  • Andreas Ihle, senior researcher and lecturer at the University of Geneva
  • David Bunce, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Leeds

These interdisciplinary workshops will occur in small groups of 6 to 8 students. The experts will lead each of these research workshops with the aim of preparing collaborative articles through a process of learning by doing.

There are still a few places left, reason why the application deadline has been extended until December 10, 2015. For more details on the workshops, information about the venue and the costs as well as the registration procedure, please consult

Swiss Society for Research in Education's Annual Conference 2016 : "Where does school stop?..."

Swiss Society for Research in Education's Annual Conference 2016 : "Where does school stop?..."

"Where does school stop? Transformations and shifts of educational boundaries" is the title of the next annual conference of the SSRE from June 29 to July 1, 2016 at the University of Lausanne. The deadline of the call for papers is set on January 31, 2016. Among the proposed topics, "Transitions and orientations" and "Lifelong learning" could be of interest to scholars specialising in life course studies. The NCCR LIVES is one of the sponsors.

The prolonging of education in general and the development of lifelong learning have moved the traditional boundaries in education. New forms of teaching and learning are becoming part of everyday practices and relationships. Bodies of knowledge themselves are transformed or challenged through public debates about social issues. Nowadays, societal challenges, which are shaking up debates on citizenship, the use of technology and environmental issues, are also evident in school. As a consequence, the boundaries between education, everyday life and professional activity are transformed, moved and blurred.

The annual conference of the Swiss Society for Research in Education (SSRE) aims to question and discuss the main challenges inherent in these changes. Researchers are invited to propose a contribution with a specific focus on the following themes:

  1. The relation between training/education, everyday life and professional life (school-family relationships, integration and inclusion processes, prevention programmes, education on sensitive social issues, etc.)
  2. Education policies (transformation of educational organisations and programmes, political and institutional challenges in relation to education and training, debates on citizenship education, vocational training and unemployment, etc.)
  3. The transformation of educational professions (changes in the training of trainers or in educational provision and materials, health and safety at work, etc.)
  4. Transitions and orientations (in school; between school and vocational training or professional life; between professional life and retirement; inequality processes and practices of differentiation; redefinition of identity, etc.)
  5. Lifelong learning (the contribution of longitudinal studies, the challenges of continuing professional development, life stories, etc.)
  6. Material mediations (the role of mediation tools and objects, media, image and ICT, electronic games and social networks, etc.)

Beyond these themes, researchers will be invited to submit proposals about research projects in progress and pertaining to all domains of educational science. The conference languages are French, German, Italian and English.

Call for papers

Whereas the keynotes address the conference theme, all other contributions focus on a variety of themes from all areas of educational research.

For your submission please select ssre 2016 – submission
January 31, 2016
Presentation formats : Individual paper, Symposium and Poster

Themes of the conference

  • The relation between training/education, everyday life and professional life
  • Education policies
  • The transformation of educational professions
  • Transitions and orientations
  • Lifelong learning
  • Material mediations
  • Other

>> Conference website

Special Tribute to Valeria Solesin, a PhD Student in Paris killed on Friday 13th in the Bataclan theater

Special Tribute to Valeria Solesin, a PhD Student in Paris killed on Friday 13th in the Bataclan theater

By NCCR LIVES deputy director Laura Bernardi, who met her a few hours before the tragedy during a meeting at the French National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED).

Valeria Solesin, a doctoral student at INED in Paris, is among the victims of Friday 13th November 2015 in the Bataclan theatre. I met her on that very day when she asked me to be part of the scientific committee of a congress of young researchers she wanted to organise in September 2016. A few hours later her past and her future, her life, have been blown away by the absurdity of the terrorist attack.

Valeria was one of those young Italian students who left home to pursue her dream, to be able to study and work on what she thought would be a useful and meaningful domain: ensuring equal opportunities for mothers at work. Something that her killers cannot accept and maybe cannot even understand. Valeria was also a convinced pacifist and an active member of the NGO Emergency, who provides assistance to the civil victims of wars, in times when attacks to civilians multiply.

These few lines are here to thank her for both her research work and her civic engagement, both examples of the kind of agency and resilience we need when we are made vulnerable.

Laura Bernardi

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