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)

Presentations
  • 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)

Presentations
  • 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.

27.05.2015

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: http://tinyurl.com/qbl3dkx

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.

Programme

(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: alp.pop@unibocconi.it.

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)

Photo Michel Barraz © ISS/UNIL

Kate Stovel: “Curiosity rests on acknowledging ignorance and declines with hierarchical positions”

Invited by the NCCR LIVES as a keynote speaker at the upcoming Congress of the Swiss Sociological Association, June 3-5, 2015 at the University of Lausanne, the American sociology professor will give a lecture on “The Social Structures of Curiosity”. She is a renowned expert of the network analysis and sequence analysis methods, which she used to observe how structures of relations shape individual behavior and what the temporal ordering of life course events says about the social reality.

Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, Director of the Center for Statistics in the Social Sciences, and North American Editor of the British Journal of Sociology, Katherine Stovel had a pioneering role in the development of methodologies that have become essential in the life course perspective. The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will be very pleased to welcome her on Friday 5 June during the 2015 Congress of the Swiss Sociological Association in Lausanne, and asked her a few questions in advance.

How do you link the general topic of the congress, which is “Collective Dynamics, Social (De) Regulation and Public Spheres” with your lecture on “The Social Structures of Curiosity”?
The 2015 congress has an important and broad theme that touches on many areas of active sociological research. My lecture will focus on how social structures impact curiosity, a topic that at first glance appears to be rather far removed from the general theme of the Congress. However, two clear and related consequences of the deregulation of institutions, and social life more generally, provide the backdrop for my interest in how social conditions shape curiosity. First, many social forces have contributed to a profound individualization of the life-course, and this individualization means that social psychological characteristics and processes – including openness to others and exploratory learning – are more important than ever in shaping individuals' experiences, and ultimately, the human capital embodied in a society. Second, the deterioration of collective values means that educational settings are increasingly oriented toward individual achievement, a trend that may have deleterious impacts on curiosity (as well as other forms of creative and expressive behavior). Finally, coupled with the social transformations that will be addressed at this congress, we have experienced massive changes in technology and access to information in the last decades. To date, much of the academic interest on the rise of virtual social networks and informationally-rich technologies has focused on their prospects for coordinating collective action, and for reducing the impact of geographical proximity on communication and interaction. Regrettably, in my opinion, far less attention has been paid to understanding the social and behavioral consequences of new information technologies on institutionally organized and self-directed exploration and discovery, and innovation.

In your abstract you say that “many observers have noted an apparent lack of curiosity in the contemporary world.” Could you mention a few examples?  Where and how did you empirically observe curiosity?
In my roles as professor and social observer, I have long been struck by instances of both astonishing curiosity, and surprising lack of curiosity. My academic interest in curiosity was first piqued by repeated experiences with undergraduate students who all too often appear profoundly un-curious about the world around them. Rather than expressing wonder or excitement about digging deeper, many students restrict their queries to a singularity: 'Is this going to be on the test?' As have many of my colleagues, I began to suspect that contemporary students were experiencing an educational environment filled with discrete and floating bits of information, and that they had a weakly constructed  ‘knowledge scaffold’ upon which to hang new information. Coupled with an intense emphasis on objective academic performance, this seemed to stunt their curiosity. My impression that curiosity was on the wane is echoed in the popular press, which frequently laments the diminished curiosity in successive generations.

According to your observations, what are the network and information structures that stimulate what you call “curiosity cascades”?
Formal investigations into the social structures that stimulate and sustain curiosity are still in the early phases. My own preliminary forays into this field are shaped by my intuition that curiosity cascades are related to both the level of clustering in a network, and the nature of hierarchy. Curiosity cascades should peak when networks (and knowledge structures) reflect a blend of density and sparseness. That is, when people interact primarily in dense networks, there is little cognitive space for exploration, and likely minimal social support for doing so. As networks become somewhat more expansive, individuals encounter unfamiliar situations and become more likely to initiate curiosity cascades in order to integrate new information into existing knowledge or experience. As a corollary, the connectivity of such blended networks should stimulate curiosity cascades in network partners. However, if networks are too expansive, the world may appear so unstructured that it is hard to make sense of at all. If they occur at all, curiosity cascades in sparse networks are likely to be deep rather than broad. In addition, because curiosity rests on acknowledging that one does not know something, ceteris paribus, curiosity declines with position in a hierarchy, as the relational imperatives of authority and prestige are frequently at odds with admitting ignorance.

You’ve studied social networks, labor market, adolescent sexuality, residential mobility, lynching in the Deep South, bank careers... What research line do you follow through all these issues?
While my research has addressed a number of seemingly disparate topics, my work is unified by a fundamental interest in how structures of relations shape individual behavior. Following in the well-developed tradition of relational network analysis, my work aims to take seriously both network structures and the relational imperatives associated with them (hence my interest in how hierarchy impacts curiosity, for instance). More broadly, I seek to understand how particular historical moments produce individuals who are embedded in sets of relations, how these relations structure actors’ understandings of the world, and, ultimately, the salience of the characteristics they may posses.

Network and sequence analysis seem to be your favorite methods. What do they respectively bring to the social sciences and how do you combine them?
I view network analysis as distinctly sociological, as it puts relations among actors at the forefront of inquiry. Rather than presuming that individuals are simply endowed with socially salient characteristics, a relational approach to sociology allows us to consider how structures of interactions – and the cultural meanings and cognitive processes associated with these relations – shape which characteristics matter, as well as how individuals navigate their social environments. Until recently, both data and methods limited network scholars' analyses to snapshots, even though most of us realized that networks are not static and that the dynamics of networks are as important as their structure. During this period of methodological stasis, I embraced sequence analysis, a method that promised to help identify both patterns in life course trajectories as well as the presence of institutionally sustained scripts. Such scripts are of particular interest to me, since in addition to directly guiding individuals' behavior they also play a role in generating observed network structures. 

You give a lot of importance to the notion of temporality, which is also an important principle in the life course approach that inspires us at LIVES. Could you give an example, drawn from your findings, of the way temporality impacts the social reality?
One of the key questions that has motivated my research over the past decades –and my original motivation for becoming a sociologist – is the thorny problem of how organizational and institutional dynamics affect different types of workers over the course of their careers. Whereas it has long been recognized that organizational constraints limit career outcomes for workers, modeling the precise nature of these relationships has proven difficult in part because of the intersection of multiple temporal processes across a variety of relevant structures. And yet understanding the relationship between organizational change and the prospective prospects of workers is of great importance, especially as economic restructuring disrupts career ladders. My work on this topic emphasizes the multi-level nature of these dynamic interactions, and has yielded considerable insight into how competing incentives at the micro-level may produce unexpected, and sometimes durable, macro-level structures. I have addressed these issues explicitly within three research projects: a study of historical employment patterns at Lloyds Bank that exposed the dual emergence of modern institutions and modern career structures, an NSF-funded study of information asymmetries and the dynamics of labor market segregation and in a current project on economic restructuring and geographic mobility among young adults. In this most recent project, we revisit themes I addressed in earlier work on geographic migration and on how macro-changes affect career structures by asking the question:  How do young people navigate the transition to adulthood in the wake of the 2008 “Great Recession”? While pundits and parents alike have noted the renewed tendency for young people to reside with their parents, large numbers of young adults continue to strike out on their own. In this project, we use a life course perspective and data derived from the NLYS-97 cohort to investigate the relationship between searching for a job and geographic mobility in the periods before, during, and after the Great Recession. The project is particularly innovative in that we combine a sequence analysis that allows us to precisely measure the temporal ordering of job searching, employment, and migration with event history models of migration. Our most surprising finding to date is that among this sample of young adults, there is no discernable temporal coupling of job search and migration. That is, geographic moves neither directly precede, nor directly follow, job searches. While we are continuing to refine both our analysis and our thinking about this result, we suspect that this cohort of young adults may engage in migration – especially to urban areas – as a lifestyle choice more than an employment strategy.

>> Abstracts of keynote presentations

LIVES members on their way to the Population Association of America 2015 annual meeting in San Diego

LIVES members on their way to the Population Association of America 2015 annual meeting in San Diego

Researchers from the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will present a paper at the congress of the biggest society of demographers in the world from May 30 to May 2, 2015. Their topics cover mainly fertility, family, and immigration.

Among the thousands of researchers gathering for the 3-day event in the Californian city, a dozen collaborate with the NCCR LIVES. Here are the concerned presentations.

Session 17:

Sex, Fertility, and Well-Being

2. Parenthood and Psychological Well-Being: The Moderating Role of Lifestyle • Anne Roeters, Utrecht University; Jornt Mandemakers, Wageningen University; Marieke Voorpostel, Swiss Foundation for Research in the Social Sciences (FORS)

Session 55:

Data and Measurement Challenges in the Developing World - Field Validation Innovations

1. Fertility in Sub Saharan Africa: What Can We Learn from INDEPTH Sites? Clémentine Rossier, University of Geneva; Valérie Delaunay, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD); Pauline Adamopoulos, University of Geneva; Martin Bangha, INDEPTH Network

Session 60:

Immigration and Education

3. Educational Trajectories of the Children of Migrants in SwitzerlandAndrés Gomensoro, University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland; Laura Bernardi, University of Lausanne

Session 171:

Families, Health, and Well-Being

4. Lone Motherhood and Self-Reported Health in Switzerland: Does Paid Work Matter?Laura Bernardi, University of Lausanne; Emanuela Struffolino, University of Lausanne; Marieke Voorpostel, Swiss Foundation for Research in the Social Sciences (FORS)

Session 181:

Reproductive Health and Fertility over Time

4. The Fertility Decline in Sub-Saharan Africa: Who’s Next after the Elite?Clémentine Rossier, University of Geneva; Jamaica Corker, University of Geneva; Bruno D. Schoumaker, Université Catholique de Louvain.

Session 196:

Marriage Markets and Assortative Mating

4. Does the Internet Affect Assortative Mating? The Case of Educational, Racial and Religious EndogamyGina Potarca, University of Lausanne

Poster Session 1:

Marriage, Unions, Families, and Households

30. Diverse Family Formation Trajectories and Their Consequences for CoparentingAnette E. Fasang, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin; Eric D. Widmer, University of Geneva

Poster Session 3:

Fertility Intentions and Behaviors

8. Vulnerable Life Courses? How Do Women without Children Face Social Norms on Motherhood?Vanessa Brandalesi, University of Lausanne

35. The Predictability of Fertility Intentions for Subsequent Fertility Behavior in a Stable-Low Fertility ContextDoris Hanappi, University of California, Berkeley and University of Lausanne; Carl Mason, University of California, Berkeley

Poster Session 9:

Family Planning, Sexual Behavior, and Reproductive Health

20. How Do Policies and Religiosity and Impact Abortion Practices and Attitudes: A Case Study: Romania • Cristina Bradatan, Texas Tech University; Ruxandra Oana Ciobanu, University of Geneva

>> Conference website: http://paa2015.princeton.edu/

Image iStock © skynesher

Delaying the age of tracking does not facilitate educational pathways

When placed for a longer period in a common core syllabus system, the weakest students eventually experiment less smooth upper secondary trajectories. This is one of the unexpected conclusions of the doctoral thesis in socio-economics by Joëlle Latina, which she successfully defended on 13 April 2015 at the University of Geneva. This research drew upon administrative data from Geneva recording the transitions between compulsory education and post-compulsory training of all pupils in the canton for twelve years.

It is not always possible to use exhaustive data and benefit from a natural experiment, i.e. one not provoked artificially for research purposes. But this is the context in which Joëlle Latina, UAS research fellow at the Geneva Haute école de gestion, was able to work, in a project conducted by the Leading House in Education Economics of the University of Geneva, associated with the IP204 project within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES.

With the help of Professor José Ramirez, and with Yves Flückiger, future rector of the University of Geneva, as an additional thesis co-director, Joëlle Latina was able to access the administrative data of the canton of Geneva for almost 44,000 students, i.e. all young people who entered middle school from 1993 to 2004. The data paint a sociodemographic portrait of pupils from these twelve cohorts, and make it possible to analyse their educational routes for up to three years after they leave compulsory schooling.

This study confirms the effects of social reproduction on academic success. Non-francophone children with most recent immigration backgrounds, little social capital and less parental support, have more disrupted trajectories leading to fewer upper secondary level qualifications than more privileged students.

Tracking at age 12 or 13

The research provides original insight into a less well-charted area. The data make it possible to compare two types of schooling: streaming pupils into several levels from age 12, as was already commonplace in most establishments in the canton at the time, and tracking pupils one year later, as was practised by three establishments in Geneva until the inter-canton harmonisation of compulsory education put an end to the experiment in 2011.

This comparison lead to a finding which surprised Joëlle Latina and her thesis supervisors: delayed tracking was not beneficial to the low achievers; their likelihood of changing routes – sometimes even several times – in the three years following the end of compulsory education is 12 percentage points higher than that of those placed in a lower track one year earlier.

"While the literature points out that early tracking tends to increase school performance inequality, our results suggest that delaying tracking can reduce the smoothness of subsequent school transitions and particularly so for low ability students," states Joëlle Latina in her thesis.

Why these different pathways? According to Joëlle Latina, two theories could explain why the educational trajectories of weaker pupils have more ruptures and changes when they study alongside better-performing children for longer.

Social contrast and status characteristics

The theory of social contrast says that individuals tend to compare themselves to those around them and therefore to share the same aspirations. This could come to the detriment of students on the lower end of the ability distribution, who would find themselves unable to achieve their ambitions and be forced to change courses once they meet with failure.

According to the status characteristics theory, the confidence that individuals may or may not have in their own skills is influenced by common beliefs about the group to which they belong. Thus the prejudice that girls are less performing at maths leads them to underestimate themselves and to be less likely to study this subject than boys. Applied to the situation examined here, this phenomenon is said to encourage pupils who transfer early to pre-vocational schooling to belittle themselves, and those tracked at a later stage to overestimate themselves. For those who opt for academic studies without having all of the required potential, this false perception is said to lead to more referral errors.

Trajectories of varying smoothness

Joëlle Latina's thesis also examines other aspects of transitions between compulsory education and further educational pathways. She is particularly interested in the trajectories of apprentices and in route changes during the three years after leaving middle school. Again, social factors have a profound influence. Generally, the good students prefer the academic option to apprenticeships. However, when they opt for vocational training, high track students have smoother educational trajectories, with fewer changes.

Finally, she examines the transitions within vocational training between pure classroom education and apprenticeships, a type of transition which has not been studied in depth but which concerns around a fifth of young people in commercial training in Geneva. All other factors being equal, changing from business school to dual vocational education and training (VET) increases the likelihood of obtaining an upper secondary diploma; by contrast, the concerned people lose an average of one semester in the course of the changeover.

Implications for public policies

The researcher maintains that the horizontal permeability of the education system needs to be improved, so that changes can take place without loss of time, notably by validating crosscutting skills, as Germany is currently testing in its DECVET project.

As regards compulsory education, she recommends more specifically targeting disadvantaged groups, and improving counselling in order to avoid dead ends. She believes that better information on learning through internships is needed, and that more emphasis should be placed on contextualised (rather than abstract) skills when dealing with pupils not destined for academic studies.

A bright future

After the thesis defence, the five jury members praised Joëlle Latina's work as "far above average". She has shown a "solid methodology", according to Rainer Winkelmann, professor at the University of Zurich, and "has a bright future ahead of her", according to Yves Flückiger. In the immediate future, the young researcher intends to continue in the same research line by integrating longitudinal and comparative data.

>> Latina, Joëlle (2015). Upper secondary school transitions : an empirical analysis. Supervised by José V. Ramirez and Yves Flückiger. University of Geneva

Image iStock © byryo

How the AIDS virus taught them to live: "ordinary" women with extraordinary trajectories

For her thesis project at the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, Vanessa Fargnoli is investigating the life course of women who – on the surface – were unlikely HIV candidates. Around thirty interviews have been conducted over the last year. They point to new areas for analysis and show the incredible resilience of the women who took part in this research.

One day they learned that they were carriers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Most of them did not expect it at all. It was over fifteen years ago, thirty years ago for some. Since then they have been living with their condition; not healthy, not ill. Because since the advent of triple combination therapy, people no longer die of AIDS. Yet people are marked for life – in their daily lives, in their relationships and in terms of their identity – by the consequences of infection. This brutal realisation by women who were not drug users, sex workers or from countries where the pandemic is rife, is the focus of the in-depth interviews conducted by Vanessa Fargnoli, a sociologist from the University of Geneva, since 2014.

"A lot of work has already been done on high-risk groups. This has often taken the form of research into prevention. Yet women I have called "ordinary", although I dislike the word, are under-represented in the studies. They are not a public health priority, as they are not perceived as being potentially 'infectious'," explains the doctoral candidate.

Since the ethics committee of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) approved her project in December 2013, followed by the ethics committee of the University Hospital of the Canton of Vaud (CHUV) in May 2014, Vanessa Fargnoli has met with twenty-seven participants aged 34 to 69 from the most diverse backgrounds in terms of education, employment situation and family status. Around half of them have already been seen twice, with each interview lasting almost two hours.

"Each of these women has a different story. One took her husband to court, some wanted to have a child despite everything and some did not; the situations are incredibly varied," states the researcher. One of these women lost her job because of HIV, another decided to leave the disability insurance system and do all she can to get back to work. There are even two cases of "intentional" infection: one participant said that she was attempting a kind of suicide, another that her partner had refused to use protection out of love, in order to "share everything" with her.

"A relationship illness"

However, beyond these differences, a common thread emerges, which Vanessa Fargnoli had not expected to be so clearly present: almost all of these stories contain episodes of violence – physical, sexual or psychological – prior to infection. "It is known that certain traumas cause victims to lose respect for themselves. Are these predispositions the reason why these women did not protect themselves? That is a hypothesis to be tested. At this stage in any case, I already perceive AIDS as a 'relationship illness'," says the sociologist.

All the ingredients from the life course perspective are brought together in this research and will be drawn upon to move forward in the analysis: socio-historic context (new infection, new treatments), critical events (moment of infection, diagnosis, physical symptoms), accumulation of disadvantages and bifurcations (as regards love relationships, family, working life and, of course, health). Applied to AIDS, Vanessa Fargnoli's empirical, inductive approach smoothly combines theoretical paradigms: "lifelong development" (how identity is negotiated and constructed, what resources are mobilised), "linked lives" (particularly perceptible in the case of a disease contracted from others and having an impact on other people close to the sufferer), "agency" (i.e. the strategies used by the individuals concerned, consisting equally of avoidance and compensation).

"Paradoxical illness"

Vanessa Fargnoli believes that AIDS is not only a "relationship illness", but also a "paradoxical illness": "Being HIV-positive is both the worst and best thing that has happened to these women. It has forced them to start respecting themselves, and to take care of themselves; some of them have developed their spirituality enormously to cope with their situation," explains the researcher.

She believes that the paradox also arises from the fact that AIDS has lost its capacity for disruption at biological level, but not at the social level: it is no longer fatal, but is still perceived as dirty. Its victims are simultaneously invisible and stigmatised, normal and vulnerable. In addition, even if the virus is properly controlled, they still suffer enormously from the side effects of treatment – neurological problems, liver problems, metabolism problems. Finally, they are torn between guilt and secrecy on the one hand, and a desire to escape and share their experience on the other.

In addition, although they are themselves victims, many of the women questioned want to protect the man who infected them, or protect their loved ones by hiding or downplaying their condition. They refuse pity, and do not feel entitled to complain. Last but not least, the final paradox: their own children, teenagers or young adults who are all HIV-negative thanks to scientific progress, often do not systematically take the necessary precautions in their intimate relationships.

How to live

Vanessa Fargnoli says that several women were hesitant to share their experiences because they did not feel that they were a good example, seeing as they were getting along reasonably well, and that this did not fit in with the image circulated to encourage prevention. However, their story shows better than certain clichés how the risk affects everyone, and how living with HIV is no easy experience, even today.

"Perhaps there is a selection bias," she says, "but the women I met are all fighters. They discovered that the virus had made them more tolerant, more concerned for others, but also more demanding in their relationships." She cites as an example the experience of a former waitress, whose husband used to beat her with complete impunity and who, after being diagnosed, rebuilt her life via community associations and forged even stronger links with her family.

Vanessa Fargnoli concludes: "Even the woman who contracted AIDS deliberately in an attempt to destroy herself has ultimately succeeded in bringing meaning to her life. They all say that before HIV, their lives were worse. Surprisingly, some did not want the virus to be removed. It taught them how to live, not how to die."

“Life Course, Inequalities and Social Policy”: one of the new orientations of UNIL masters

“Life Course, Inequalities and Social Policy”: one of the new orientations of UNIL masters

The life course perspective figures prominently in the new Master study plan of the social sciences at the University of Lausanne. Refocused on four orientations instead of seven, it aims at increasing employability among graduates. Around 20 NCCR LIVES researchers will be involved in the teaching, starting with the next academic year. Applications are opened until April 30, 2015.

The redesign of the Master’s degree in social sciences at the University of Lausanne has come to a conclusion. From September 2015 onwards, holders of a Bachelor’s degree who want to pursue studies up to the next grade may choose between four completely retaught orientations.

The four specific orientations are: “Life course, Inequalities and Social Policy”, “Human Rights, Diversity and Globalisation”, “Culture, Communication and Media”, “Body, Science and Society”.

LIVES researchers will teach in all four orientations, though predominantly in the first one.

A qualifying education

According to the general objective of the new study plan, “The programmed teachings enable students to acquire additional skills necessary to start careers in social, cultural, political or sanitary institutions and in the research, communication and services sector.”

In the past, one of the seven orientations of the previous Master’s degree in social sciences was already addressing the issue of life course. However, it suffered from a weak image in terms of career prospect. “We used to receive mainly people targeting a research position with one or two also aiming for a career in human resources. The fact that life course, inequalities and social policy are now joined together will make it more attractive to students seeking a career in civil service,” said senior lecturer Jean-Marie Le Goff, responsible person for the previous education programme in the social sciences and a member of the Teaching Commission Bureau that worked on the reform.

Himself a member of a project team within the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, Jean-Marie Le Goff will notably be in charge, with another LIVES member, senior lecturer Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, of a research workshop called “Social Dynamics I”, which will be compulsory in both orientations “Life Course, Inequalities and Social Policy” and “Human Rights, Diversity and Globalisation”.

The four orientations of the new Master’s degree will be taught with a common core during the first semester, including two methodological courses and three thematic teachings focusing on transversal themes. Starting with the second semester, students will be able to follow the orientation of their choice with a set of compulsory and optional courses. They will also be entitled to do a professional traineeship during the third semester, before the finalisation of their Master’s thesis during the fourth and final semester.

Research conducted at the UNIL Social Sciences Institute, including LIVES projects on the topic of vulnerability, will feed the specific orientations.

>> See the Master programme flyer (in French)

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"Ageing and Empowerment. Between Resources and Vulnerabilities": REIACTIS 2016 conference

The 5th international conference of the International Network on Age, Citizenship and Socio-Economic Integration (REIACTIS) intends to explore the dynamics of resources and vulnerabilities from the perspective that older people can maintain or acquire agency throughout their life trajectories. The event will take place from February 10 to 12, 2016 at the University of Lausanne. It is organised by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Westen Switzerland (HES-SO) and the NCCR LIVES. Deadline for the submission of contributions is April 30, 2015.

Participants will examine and question the pertinence of concepts most frequently used to portray and analyse processes at work during the life course. This includes such concepts as integration, exclusion, socialization, déprise or “selective letting go” and empowerment whether they be used in the context of an examination of the public sphere (employment and training opportunities, active use of democratic rights, social participation and involvement in the voluntary sector), the private domain (family, couple or neighbourhood relations, etc.) or the articulation between public and private areas (notably institutional life). In pursuing these debates the conference organizers encourage contributors to re-examine the definitions of resources and vulnerabilities as related to ageing. How should these be approached so as to respect individual decisions and principles of justice and solidarity in the various periods and contexts of the life course? How can differential dynamics of vulnerabilities and resources be explained? What part do gender, generation, social and/or “ethnic” background play in these dynamics? How do the economic context, public policies (e.g. access to health services and home care) or social representations (such as ageism) shape empowerment throughout the different stages of ageing? The multidirectional exchanges expected during this 5th international conference will enable participants to get a better grasp of the ways in which ageing can simultaneously bring about loss of power, forms of emancipations, vulnerabilities and new resources.

Set up as an exchange platform on issues such as citizen participation and social integration of ageing people, the REIACTIS network has been promoting pluralistic analyses focusing on cultural and anthropological traditions, social and health institutions as well personal experiences in a globalized environment. Since 2006 the network joins researchers, professionals and older citizens and fosters exchanges between various actors interested in dealing with issues of ageing whether this be as an object of study or as a field of intervention. In keeping with the international and multidisciplinary approach inherent to REIACTIS since its foundation, the 5th conference in Lausanne will provide an opportunity to open the debate on research and practices from a wide variety of national and regional contexts.

The originality of the 2016 conference lies in the presentation of papers which tackle the controversial question of age-related vulnerabilities by linking it at the micro-, meso- or macro-social level to such counterpoints as resources and empowerment. The aim is to view ageing populations in their diversity and ability to manage their own lives, remain socially, economically and politically integrated and build individual and/or collective resistance strategies. The conference will also offer an opportunity to identify and call into question the forms and conditions of emancipatory social innovation (through new modalities of information and communication as well as through the support offered to learning, training,  self-education and expression processes). Moreover, the conference will allow for an examination of the part played by national, regional or local social movements in influencing political decision-making. In a comparative perspective, we invite to look at the ways in which different economic contexts (growth in certain Asian and African countries and, conversely, economic crisis in a number of European countries) lead to the implementation of new public policies or the revision of existing ones which weaken and/or strengthen certain categories of older people. More specifically, issues examined will be structured along three main themes:

1) Empowerment viewed through the lens of social innovation and collective action

Older people’s agency is linked to the types of solidarity and integration they are able to mobilize (e.g. family solidarity, neighbourhood and community relationships or voluntary involvement) and the ability of individuals and social groups to make their voice heard and define their own needs through such different forms of collective action as social movements, citizen’s organizations, support groups or coalitions seeking to influence decision-making processes at various levels of administrative structures. Thus these types of solidarity and the various forms of collectives linked to age and ageing shed light not only on needs and expectations of older people but also on the resources that these ageing individuals and social groups use.

In a context of budgetary restrictions, changing economic models, family re-composition and growing numbers of age-related dependency, national and international authorities (EU, OECD, UN) currently call for social innovation to sustain the development of ageing policies. This theme will provide an opportunity to focus on new perceived needs or alternatively on failings revealed by collective action and exemplified by new types of solidarity at the individual level (combating isolation) or societal level (compensating for inadequate social service provision). This theme will also broach questions on the modes and limits of the innovation that these collectives demonstrate, for instance through new types of service organizations or through the ability to put new issues on the agenda. Indeed, practiced publicly or privately, such collectives demonstrate solidarities exhibiting many signs of (or protections against) vulnerabilities.

2) Public intervention and reconfigurations of older people’s citizenship

The ability of individuals to cope with ageing depends on the capacity of public policies and service professionals to implement programmes and measures that can adequately help sustain people through economic, social and political dynamics. National, regional and also local social policies and intervention programmes play a part in defining the contours of citizenship. Civil, political and social rights as well as access to these rights and the capacity to exercise them are determined and given concrete significance by these very policies and programmes. In Western countries public policies and social interventions seem to focus on a goal of active citizenship for older people, favouring the personalization of support, the autonomy of individuals and free choice of services. Here one may refer to new forms of social/health interventions focusing less on care than on support, to the development of technology that transforms the ways in which dependency is experienced or to the new forms of housing and of urban planning geared towards the social integration and the quality of life of older people. These policies may in turn create constraints, exclusions, inequalities or new vulnerabilities. Thus the competencies required to use, understand, know about or even find financing for various types of assistance, technological tools or service arrangements are socially available in highly unequal ways. Similarly, many of the reforms implemented in Europe and elsewhere during the recent economic crisis have direct implications for certain groups of elderly people (loss of rights to benefits, termination of assistance and support programmes, higher insecurity, etc.).

This theme opens the floor to questions that inquire about the ways in which various forms of public action and social intervention play a role in the redefinition of older people’s citizen participation. How and with what mechanism are maps of social exclusion and inclusion currently drawn in terms of social, employment and health policies linked to age? Public intervention and links to citizen participation may be examined through the instruments used (be they technical, architectural, institutional, etc.), the populations they target, the range of actors concerned (public, market-oriented, non-profit) or the modes of intervention they deploy. In a comparative approach, the role of new reference frameworks and the concepts associated with reforms such as New Public Management, the goal of efficiency or even the very terminology of empowerment may equally be analysed.

3) Adaptation and socialization in the ageing life course

In some configurations ageing can be associated with loss of self-determination as well as with decreases in social, economic and political power. How do (older) individuals deal with a world in constant evolution? Do shifts in orientation towards the family, self, economy and politics make certain ageing populations more fragile? How do older people prepare for grief and the transitions, crises and opportunities they face? This theme will focus on gaining a better understanding of the characteristics or the mechanisms that lead certain (older) individuals to live better than others through societal changes and/or changes in personal situations (in terms of health, economic resources, social relations, etc.). An analysis of these processes should help gain in-depth knowledge on age-related vulnerabilities and the means these require to get to terms with them. In a more general way this theme will provide an opportunity to reflect on the notion of socialization, specifically the dispositions and competences obtained along the life course that pertain to ageing. If all (older) individuals can be viewed by and large as the product of successive and/or simultaneous socialization experiences, and if social vulnerability is the result of a disjunction between socializing experiences and the contexts of actions, is it then still appropriate to speak of socialization processes in old age?

Proposals for communications

For the conference three types of contributions may be proposed:

  1. Oral communications: they will take place within sessions organized along the three themes presented above;
  2. Posters: they will be exhibited and presented during a special session;
  3. Symposiums (panel sessions): they will be proposed by authors and should focus on a specific issue identified as pertinent for the conference and its themes. These panel sessions should be comprised of three or four contributions by researchers from different countries or working on different national settings. Altogether communications should last 90 minutes. The format of these panel sessions is purposely left open, but session leaders will be encouraged to organize them in a way that will promote exchanges with the public. Panel session proposals should include the following: names and affiliations of panel leaders, symposium title, abstract, names, e-mail addresses and affiliations of proposed speakers, and issues on which contributions will focus.

Proposals for contributions, posters and symposiums may be submitted in French, English or Spanish.

Proposals of no more than 3000 characters in length should be submitted by April 30, 2015, with an indication, where appropriate, of the theme to which they are associated.

All proposals must be directly submitted through the Conference web site www.reiactis2016.ch

The full texts of accepted communications must be sent to the organizers by November 30, 2015, so that they can be transmitted to the moderators.

Communications may be held in French, English or Spanish. However, the availability of simultaneous translation cannot be guaranteed for all sessions.

Timetable

  • Deadline for submission of proposed contributions: April 30, 2015
  • Notification of acceptation/refusal of contribution proposals: July15, 2015
  • Deadline for the submission of the contributions: November 30, 2015.

Conference venue

University of Lausanne, Amphimax Building, Sorge, 1015 Lausanne

http://www.unil.ch/ci/fr/home/menuinst/bienvenue/plan-dacces.html

Organizing committee

Jean-François BICKEL, Michèle GUIGNARD, Valérie HUGENTOBLER, Rosita KORNFELD, Alexandre LAMBELET, Barbara LUCAS, Pascal MAEDER, Christian MAGGIORI, Dario SPINI, Daniel THOMAS, Jean-Philippe VIRIOT-DURANDAL, Peter VOLL.

Scientific committee

A scientific committee composed of internationally recognized experts will review proposals.

For a complete list of committee members, see: Reiactis2016_conseil_scientifique

Contact address for the 2016 REIACTIS Conference: reiactis2016@eesp.ch

Image iStock © Robert Crum

Is active ageing an attainable ideal for the underprivileged?

In her doctoral thesis defended on 26 February 2015 within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES (NCCR LIVES) at the University of Geneva, Laure Kaeser deals with "the contemporary norms of ageing through the lens of a life course perspective", taking elderly economic migrants as case study. Following a fascinating investigation into the interplay between migrant trajectories and the host country’s retirement policy, she recommends taking into account the range of different forms of ageing and calls for democratising access to resources.

Senior citizens in Switzerland may also be migrants. This fact has not escaped the notice of the research team involved in the Vivre-Leben-Vivere (VLV; English: Living) study carried out by the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability (acronym CIGEV in French) at the University of Geneva. The NCCR LIVES is supporting the study, in which several doctoral students are involved.

Due to their age, background and socio-economic status, low-skilled foreign nationals aged over 65 are difficult to reach, still fairly unfamiliar to researchers and largely overlooked in social policy-making. For this reason, the VLV study collected data on 365 retired people in Basel and Geneva who were natives from Italy, Spain and Portugal – the three main countries of origin of former immigrant workers in sectors such as construction, manufacturing and cleaning. Laure Kaeser chose to base her work on this sample, drawn from a wider set of 3,600 respondents surveyed in the VLV project.

An ambivalent and normative concept

The young sociologist observes how gerontology on the one hand and the policies of the modern welfare state on the other play a part in helping to construct and promote the 'active ageing' model, based on the notion that older people enjoy a better quality of life and cost the state less if they remain empowered. However, she notes that this concept is ambivalent and has a normative aspect to it. She considers whether the idea of 'ageing well', conveyed by the image of 'active senior citizens', excludes people whose individual life course has not allowed them to amass the necessary resources. By encouraging older people to work longer, keep themselves physically and mentally fit, maintain their networks and make themselves useful, this discourse risks contributing to the further marginalisation of the most vulnerable and least integrated. And as a matter of fact, the data gathered by the VLV project clearly show that migrants are overrepresented among those at the bottom of the scale in terms of health, material resources and education.

By studying the data from the life course perspective Laure Kaeser has been able to link migratory, occupational, family and health trajectories and analyse their interplay with the institutional reality of the host country. It has led her to examine the weight of the historical and social context on these lifes (e.g. how episodes of xenophobia have left their mark…), the timing of the immigration process and the way in which social values and norms have been internalised (or not, as the case may be) by individuals caught between different reference frameworks. Laure Kaeser’s research thus shows that the notion of active ageing has strong ethnocentric connotations and is most applicable to those who are most privileged culturally, socially and economically. And since relationships of power play a role here, the author also examines questions concerning the articulation of background and age with gender. She thus observes significant differences between men and women in terms of this generation’s limitations and opportunities.

What is activity?

"Why would a man spend all day in front of the television instead of getting out and about ? Is he tired ? ill ? isolated? Conversely, is the one who prefers to do DIY or go to the pub trying to occupy his time or is it because he feels that his wife wants him 'out from under her feet'? And would he choose to spend his time like this if he had the means to travel? Does it make sense to encourage migrants to go hiking if it is something they never did before they retired?", questioned Laure Kaeser during an interview a few days before her thesis defence, in order to point out some of the stereotypes surrounding migrant activity vs. inactivity.

One of the merits of her dissertation is in the conclusion, where she reflects on the role and responsibilities of academia. She devoted a whole chapter to the difficulties encountered by the VLV team when trying to recruit participants with a migrant background. These problems are of great significance in this line of questioning, since many migrants tended to mistrust the people collecting data for the study, associating them with state officials. Indeed, the author admits that there is a risk that research could be instrumentalised and used to produce prescriptive guidelines. It is a slippery slope from a holistic concept of active ageing to a productivist one that aims only to save money.

Laure Kaeser states that she took the approach of a researcher actively involved in society, concerned to "bring scientific progress into the public debate" and to give "a voice to people who have no voice", particularly via discursive spaces that include all senior citizens.

Supporting democratic ageing

At the end of her thesis, she sets out several approaches to overcoming the ambivalence in the active ageing model – something that is supposed to be empowering but is actually restrictive. Several of them involve ideas which have already been put forward elsewhere, favouring a more egalitarian pension system. Above all, she calls for "democratic ageing that allows for different forms of ageing and has as its social ideal the democratisation of access to economic, cultural and social capital throughout the entire life course."

Her thesis ends with the following phrase: "The strength of a people is measured by the wellbeing of its weakest members." This a return to fundamental values, since this powerful idea is nothing less than the preamble to the Swiss Constitution.

Examiners’ comments

At Laure Kaeser’s thesis defence, the jury members noted her "deep commitment to her work, her ability to take into account criticism in order to improve her conclusion, the talent with which she defended her views and her aptitude for bringing about collaborations," reports Prof. Michel Oris, one of her supervisors.

This research has, in fact, enabled Laure Kaeser to really make the most of the LIVES network. This can be seen in the way in which she has built on the collaborative effort that comprised the VLV study, in her theoretical construct that makes way for a certain interdisciplinarity and, above all, in the fact that she has co-written several articles with other young researchers, benefiting from their theoretical and methodological skills, as she underlined.

Having earned a DAS (Diploma of Advanced Studies) in public administration alongside her doctorate, Laure Kaeser is now well-equipped to commit herself in society. A month ago she began an exploratory study for the Canton of Vaud regarding the trajectories of people on social benefits.

>> Kaeser, Laure (2015). Personnes âgées issues de la migration et vieilissement actif. Interroger les normes contemporaines du veillissement au prisme des parcours de vie (Elderly people with a migrant background and active ageing. Examining the contemporary norms of ageing through the lens of a life course perspective). Supervised by Claudio Bolzman and Michel Oris. University of Geneva.

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People with a “bonding identity” cope better with structural disadvantage

In a paper published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, NCCR LIVES PhD candidate at the University of Lausanne, Mouna Bakouri, demonstrates how individuals from socially disadvantaged populations who define themselves as connected to a group are better prepared to deal with barriers encountered in their life-course. Their self-esteem is indeed less harmed as a result of stronger sense of efficacy. Her findings call for renewed integration policies.

Social psychology has already shown the strength of group identification to reduce the feeling of social devaluation. In her paper published online on 12 February 2015 Mouna Bakouri goes further and argues for the “empowering role of bonding identities” when facing barriers to one’s life projects. She suggests that these bonds stem not only from collective identities bound to ethnic origin or occupational status, but also from relational identities based on family and friends. Comparing individuals who consider these kinds of identities as most important in their self-definition with individuals who chose a more personal self-definition (like a personality trait or activity), Mouna Bakouri observed that connectedness has a buffering effect on efficacy beliefs and against life-course stressors.

Transition periods often highlight structural constraints. This is particularly the case between adolescence and adulthood and during integration into the labour market. Mouna Bakouri’s study focused on 365 individuals in Switzerland aged 15 to 30. This sample was composed of young employees, apprentices, and pre-apprentices who were still looking for an apprenticeship at the end of their compulsory schooling. A majority of pre-apprentices had an immigrant background versus only 11% of the employees, reflecting the structural hardship faced by non-nationals in the transition to work.

The participants were invited to complete a questionnaire which addressed their financial worries, level of self-esteem, perceived coping efficacy, perceived barriers and project appraisals. Using an adapted version of the “Who Am I” questionnaire, the survey also collected data on the participants’ most meaningful definition of their identity, which was then coded in order to distinguish between individuals with a bonded self and those with an un-bonded self.

The first hypothesis was that participants from socially disadvantaged groups perceive higher barriers. This was especially true for people with financial worries, pre-apprentices and foreigners; age and gender showed no effect. The second hypothesis was that perceived barriers negatively impact self-esteem. This model was significant, regardless of professional status, nationality or level of financial worries. The third hypothesis is at the core of Mouna Bakouri’s paper: when perceived barriers are high, people with a bonded self proved to maintain a significantly better self-esteem than individuals who defined themselves at a personal level. This may be explained by the fourth and last hypothesis, whose model was also successfully tested: the positive role of bonding identities in protecting self-esteem is linked to an enhanced belief in coping efficacy.

“The existence of social bonds, independent of the source of those bonds, seems to be a key resilience factor when one’s capacity of action is structurally constrained”, Mouna Bakouri concludes. She adds that the results of this study “have a crucial implication for interventions with youth aimed at strengthening their sense of agency and efficacy to negotiate critical life-course transitions.” This contradicts the “liberal credo” of individualism, suggesting that interventions “should work with group identities and not against them.”

>> Mouna Bakouri, Christian Staerklé (2015). Coping with Structural Disadvantage: Overcoming Negative Effects of Perceived Barriers through Bonding Identities. British Journal of Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

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"Collective Dynamics, Social (De-)Regulation and Public Spheres": SSS 2015 congress

The call for paper proposals has been launched regarding the 39 workshops of the Swiss Sociological Association annual congress, which will take place at the University of Lausanne on June 3-5, 2015. Deadline for submissions is March 13. Many NCCR LIVES researchers are involved in the organisation of the congress and the workshops.

Current processes of individualization and deregulation are nevertheless accompanied by unprecedented forms of collective action, where new norms are potentially created. "Sociological investigation into the processes of social fragmentation should therefore be articulated with the study of new and diverse forms of social cohesion, and with the examination of new instances of social regulation, both on the microsocial scale of intimate relationships, social networks and the life course, and on the more macrosocial scale of the social groups that attempt to impose new identity, cultural or religious landmarks in the public sphere", as the congress website states.

Keynote speakers will be Katherine Stovel (University of Washington), Luc Boltanski (Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociaes - EHESS, Paris), Sighard Neckel (Institut für Sozialforschung an der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt), and Jacques Commaille (École normale supérieure de Cachan).

NCCR LIVES members Felix Bühlmann, Farinaz Fassa Recrosio, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Nicky Le Feuvre, Muriel Surdez are part of the scientific committee.

Other LIVES researchers are also involved in the organisation of the workshops No 1, 2, 3, 7, 16, 26, 34: Isabelle Zinn, Jean-Michel Bonvin, Jean-Pierre Tabin, Marc Perrenoud, Claudine Burton-Jeangros, Marieke Voorpostel, Laura Bernardi.

>> See the call for paper proposals of the 39 workshops (deadline for submission: 13 March)

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To study vulnerability in the life course, repeated observations over time are necessary

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has just awarded 14.5 million francs to the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES for a second four-year phase. Thanks to this vote of confidence, the teams of the Universities of Lausanne, Geneva, Berne and Zurich will be able to continue the longitudinal studies which were initiated in the first phase. This is an essential follow-up in order to obtain quality scientific outputs.

Allocating 100% of the first phase of funding (2011-2014) for the new period which is starting now, the SNSF indicated in its letter of 23 January 2015 that the NCCR LIVES evaluation had led to a "clearly positive result".

Getting longitudinal data is essential in the case of LIVES. It means repeating the same studies several times on the same population samples, to see how they evolve. Of the centre's nine projects, several are based on quantitative panel data, which require significant human and financial resources to gather, process, analyse and follow up data from several thousand individuals.

Vulnerable populations

As regards the IP201 project, led by Prof. Dario Spini, director of the NCCR LIVES at the University of Lausanne, the SNSF funding will make it possible to continue collecting data from young adults who grew up in Switzerland, with an over-representation of people born of foreign parents. Another aspect, in collaboration with the Canton of Vaud, investigates people on low income. These two oversampling cases are part of the third sample of the Swiss Household Panel.

"This data will enable us to complete our understanding of life trajectories of two vulnerable populations that were difficult to analyse until now. In both cases, we need this information in order to understand how these people are integrated in the Swiss society", explained Dario Spini.

Career path

In order to investigate further the aspect of occupational integration, the IP207 project, led by Prof. Jérôme Rossier at the University of Lausanne, in collaboration with a team from the University of Zurich, intends to repeat seven times its questionnaire launched in 2012 on people with and without employment. The first three waves are finished and there are still four to come.

"The professional world has become globalised and is less stable. Individuals change jobs more and more frequently, on average every three years for people new to the labour market. To properly understand the psychological, social and environmental resources that individuals use to manage their occupational path, their career and their life, a longitudinal approach is indispensable", said Jérôme Rossier.

Old age

At the University of Geneva, the IP213 team, led by Prof. Michel Oris, co-director of the NCCR LIVES, studies old age. There as well, a longitudinal approach is necessary, he explains: "Ageing is a process, not a state. Individuals become fragile, or even become dependent; but others preserve their resources. It is necessary to measure these inequalities between individuals, look at their causes in the life course and, most crucially, scrutinise the alchemy of personal well-being. And only the people themselves can reveal this to us."

Over 3,000 people aged 65+ living in five cantons of Switzerland were thus questioned at length in 2011-2012 on their life course; this survey will be repeated in 2016 and completes other data collected for several years by the Interfaculty centre for gerontology and vulnerability studies (CIGEV).

Relationships

Another LIVES team, based at the University of Berne and led by Prof. Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello in the framework of the IP212, is looking further into a more specific aspect of ageing: close relationships in the second half of life. Two waves of enquiries were conducted in 2012 and 2014, and a third will take place in 2016.

"Loss of important relationships is an inevitable challenge when ageing, however the large individual differences in coping are still not well understood. IP212 supplies longitudinal data on the various paths of psychological adaptation to divorce or bereavement and seeks to identify resources and possibilities of psychosocial prevention and intervention. These data are not only a scientific desiderata but also of utmost public health relevance", asserted the project leader.

Developing social policies

Ultimately, the whole purpose of the studies conducted by the NCCR LIVES is to identify how to overcome economic, social and psychological vulnerability in order to stimulate reflection on social policy development.

To do this, significant resources have been allocated for four years and will continue to be invested, in collaboration with the partner universities and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland. The strength of the NCCR LIVES is that it combines the skills of several social science disciplines and the contributions of several methods. The nine projects in the second phase, in addition to gathering the longitudinal data, also look at other types of quantitative and qualitative data, for example to understand the evolution of family structures, explore gender issues, observe the world of work and better identify the role of the welfare state.

For science in general and Switzerland in particular, it is a priceless opportunity to bring together within the same programme all of these empirical elements, with the aim of better understanding the dynamics of stress and resources, by articulating a multidimensional approach (across life domains) with a multi-level approach (in social and institutional interactions) and a multidirectional approach (over time). 

>> To find out more on the LIVES research projects 

8th International Conference of Panel Data Users in Switzerland, Lausanne

The 8th International Conference of Panel Data Users in Switzerland will take place in 2015 on June 1 and 2 at the University of Lausanne. Sessions will be dedicated to a wide variety of topics: health and quality of life, labour market and education, inequality and poverty, family gender and generations, politics and attitudes, life course analysis, ethnic minorities and migration, and survey methodology.

The Swiss Center of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS welcomes all contributions based on longitudinal data, such as the “Swiss Household Panel” (SHP), the “Transition from Education to Employment” (TREE), the “Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe” (SHARE), the “Swiss Survey of Children and Youth” (COCON) or other longitudinal datasets.

As the SHP is a member of the Cross National Equivalent File (CNEF), FORS especially welcomes presentations comparing Switzerland with other countries participating in the CNEF. Please note that the language of the conference is English.

Deadline for abstracts for the conference is January 31, 2015.

The conference is interdisciplinary and welcomes participants from all areas of the social sciences.

Please submit your abstract to swisspanel@fors.unil.ch. Include the name, email address, and affiliations of all the authors, the name of the person who will be presenting the paper, the title of the presentation, and an abstract of around 250 (max. 500) words. Please indicate the topic to which your paper belongs.

Keynote speakers:

  • Matthijs Kalmijn (Professor of Sociology, University of Amsterdam)
  • Markus Prior (Associate Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton University)
  • Marco Fattore (Assistant Professor of Statistics and Quantitative Methods, University of Milano-Bicocca)

Sessions:

  • Family, gender and generations (Prof. Matthijs Kalmijn)
  • Politics and attitudes (Prof. Markus Prior)
  • Health and quality of life (Prof. Christian Suter)
  • Inequality and poverty (Dr. Robin Tillmann)
  • Labour market and education (Prof. Daniel Oesch)
  • Life course analysis (Prof. Laura Bernardi)
  • Ethnic minorities and migration (Dr. Eva Green)
  • Survey methodology (Dr. Oliver Lipps)
Photo sjo © iStock

Migrants live longer. This epidemiological paradox is also true in Switzerland

There are several reasons why foreigners and nationals are not equal in the face of death, according to Jonathan Zufferey's thesis, which he successfully defended at the University of Geneva on 15 December 2014. He will be able to continue this research over the next four years at the National Centre of Competence in Research On the Move.

In most industrialised countries, immigrant populations enjoy greater longevity than natives. And yet, people of foreign origin are often part of the most disadvantaged socio-economic classes, which are usually more exposed to mortality risks.

This epidemiological paradox is the focus of Jonathan Zufferey's doctoral thesis, which he has applied to Switzerland, using data from the Swiss National Cohort, based on the 1990 and 2000 censuses and on all deaths in Switzerland between 1990 and 2008. Conducted as part of the IP14 of the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES with professors Michel Oris and Gilbert Ritschard of the University of Geneva as supervisors, this research was doubly relevant, as it dealt jointly with migration and inequality, two essential problems of the social sciences in general, and of LIVES in particular.

Jonathan Zufferey began by taking a closer look at the concept of foreigner in Switzerland, which covers a range of very different realities, depending on whether we are talking about first-generation migrants or subsequent generation migrants, and according to country of origin and status. However, it shows that all categories combined (with the exception of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, who are not included in the data), people of foreign origin generally die later than the Swiss. Among men, only foreigners from Eastern Europe die earlier than Swiss citizens. As far as women are concerned, immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe die earlier on average than Swiss women. However, the vast majority of immigrants come from southern or western Europe, and the tendency to die later is very marked in all these nationalities.

The same applies for causes of death: Jonathan Zufferey has discovered that foreigners seem to have a better resistance to risks than the Swiss. There is no overwhelming reason which explains this paradox. Among these causes, suicide appears to be rare across the board, as all foreign-born populations are at a lower risk of suicide.

Importance of bias

The results are particularly robust, as they are based on census data covering the whole resident population. By contrast, the existence of explanatory factors linked to bias cannot be ruled out.

In the United States and in European countries, research has already come up with several hypotheses in this regard to explain the phenomenon. Selection biases may occur when migrants enter and leave the country: so only the most resistant would attempt migration and remain long-term; the weakest would be less likely to attempt to migrate and are more likely to leave the country in the event of difficulties. Another bias could be linked to the data itself, if foreigners leave the country without notifying the authorities of their departure, which to some extent would make them statistically "immortal".

However, Jonathan Zufferey notes that the mortality differential also remains among the second generation, making the selection bias insufficient to fully explain the phenomenon.

Context and culture

The researcher thus also examines other lines of inquiry, such as the spatio-social context, providing a detailed analysis of mortality according to living environment. He observes that in the working-class areas, the longevity of foreigners remains greater than that of the Swiss. When these areas have associational, voluntary or community activities, the impact on health seems to be positive for nationals but remains neutral for immigrants.

Jonathan Zufferey's research shows that analysis should focus on intersections of the social structure by identifying the interactions which express accumulations or compensations of risk factors. By using data mining methods, he observes that it is in the most vulnerable social positions that the mortality gap between migrants and natives is the most marked.

In his conclusions, Jonathan Zufferey favours "an accumulation of explanatory factors" and partially credits the selection bias idea, although he states this is difficult to calculate. He develops the idea of a certain "migration culture", expressed via positive character traits, with "more open-mindedness" and "more drive" among those who attempt the adventure of migration and in their descendants. These people would seem to have a certain advantage when faced with risks, compared to the Swiss-born population.

Jury's comments

The thesis jury commended Jonathan Zufferey's "impressive work", the "scientific rigour", the "richness of the empirical approach" and the "ability to express his ideas clearly".

In response to professors Patrick Deboosere, of Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and Philippe Wanner, of the University of Geneva, who sought social policy recommendations, the doctoral researcher stated that Switzerland, due to its absence of ethnic ghettoes, could be a model for other countries. However, he underlined that mortality was just one public health indicator among others, and not necessarily the most nuanced, mainly because his study had not been able to take into account particularly vulnerable populations such as asylum seekers or illegal immigrants.

For his thesis directors, Jonathan Zufferey is an ideal example of these social science students "without an initial background in econometrics or statistics who go on to produce magisterial results", stated Prof. Gilbert Ritschard. The researcher thus gave "a wonderful illustration of an interdisciplinary demography", praised Prof. Michel Oris, adding that "the purpose of science is to advance, not give end points".

The research will continue straight away, as Jonathan Zufferey has already been taken on as a post-doctorate researcher for four years by the new National centre of competence in research On the Move. His future research will focus on the internal mobility of migrants, but he will also have access to unseen data which will enable the "salmon bias" to be controlled, i.e. how many foreigners go back to their home country to die. "Switzerland will be the first country to be able to conduct such research", enthused the young new doctor.

Image iStock © EllysaHo

Discussing job insecurity and occupational change, PhD student got confidence and a position

Emily Murphy is about to leave the NCCR LIVES after four years in IP4 – “Economic inequalities: Towards pathways out of vulnerability”. The prestigious European Sociological Review has already published one of the four papers that compose her thesis and a well-known life course specialist from the University of Zurich just hired her.

In the course of the last twenty years, over 20 per cent of people who had been working in declining occupations in Great Britain, Germany and Switzerland became re-employed in a growing kind of occupation. What types of workers are most likely to leave occupations that have declined, and what are the most likely destinations of these exits?

These are some of the questions LIVES PhD Candidate Emily Murphy answered in a paper-based thesis, which she presented in October 2014 at her dissertation colloquium prior to the public defense set for March 2015. Worth mentioning, one article out of her four-part research has been published in the European Sociological Review, not an easy thing to attain for a junior researcher1.

Trying to make Emily Murphy speak about her successes is quite challenging. Fortunately others counterbalance: her supervisor Prof. Daniel Oesch admires the scientific qualities of his doctoral student. “She’s really good at analysing data, she reads a lot and her writing is crystal clear”, he says.

Decline of traditional production occupations

Drawing on panel and census data from UK, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland going back to the seventies, Emily Murphy observed that the last decades were marked by the decline of several traditional production occupations in the industrial and agriculture sectors, especially for men.

Technological change is not the sole agent of change, she argues. Internationalisation and the institutional conditions matter a lot. The entry of women on the job market, and in particular higher educated women, a rise in immigration and the development of occupations in service areas (care, retail and information technology) have been important contributors to structural change.

Gender and status inequalities

Growing occupations do not necessarily mean better jobs, Emily Murphy warns. Women are more likely than men from declining occupations to move towards growing occupations, such as health semi-professionals, but low-paid growing occupations is the most probable destination, which can be as housekeepers, or food or sales service workers. Male production workers in the industrial and agricultural sectors are at higher risk of unemployment than female clerks to become unemployed in Great Britain and Germany, less so in Switzerland where the most probable route is towards low-paid growing occupations.

Emily Murphy shows that gender and status inequalities remain highly salient. The observation that women in the lowest of service occupations seldom experience upward mobility is especially true for female immigrants, despite the fact that a larger share of migrant workers may have higher education compared to natives engaged in the same low-paid jobs. Another concern is the fact that occupations where the share of female labour is above 60% offer workers lower wages; where women make up the majority of workers in an occupation, individual wages will fall.

Need for life-long training

One important finding is that low and medium-wage clerks, however, are better able to adapt their skills to the requirements of growing occupations. “They seem to experience easier transitions in terms of what is required, for the job seems closer to those jobs that are growing”, Emily Murphy says.

This leads to the main policy implication of her thesis, which is the need for life-long training, especially for workers from the production sector, who would need to develop new skills in order to adapt to the evolving job market. “It’s an aspect worth researching further”, she thinks.

A promising career

Besides having published in a prestigious journal, Emily Murphy’s other exploit is to have been hired as a post-doc researcher even before becoming a doctor… Since September, she has been commuting between Lausanne and the University of Zurich, where the Sociology Department offered her two positions.

Famous researcher Marlis Buchmann took her into the team of the Swiss Survey on Children and Youth (COCON), whose next wave of data collection is about to start in 2015 with the youngest cohort now aged 15 (they were 6 years old in 2006 at the beginning of the project).

As of next year, Emily Murphy will also take part in the Swiss Stellenmarkt-Monitor (SMM) project, with the aim of looking at changes in job requirements and employer practices demanded in the recruitment process, drawing from a data set going back to the 1950s.

Her analytical skills will certainly do wonders there. On the personal side, staying in Switzerland will allow her to keep on skiing, which she discovered by moving from Ireland. Going down and up the slopes should not frighten her in any domain.

  • 1. Murphy, E. (2014). Workers' movement out of declining occupations in Great Britain, Germany and Switzerland. European Sociological Review, 2014 30: 685-701.
Image iStock courtesy of Promotion Santé Suisse

The National Conference on Health Promotion puts life course research under the microscope

Seven LIVES researchers, five of whom are project leaders, will speak at a coming annual meeting of health professionals on 29 January 2015 in Lucerne. Fully dedicated to the subject of life trajectories, this day organised by "Promotion Santé Suisse" will include a series of plenary and sub-plenary lectures, as well as workshops and exhibition stands, including one run by the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, which promises to be interactive.

"Life course studies may not be a new concept, but their application in the field of health is a much more recent development. The aim of this approach is to shed light on the close interactions between individuals' health and the physical and socio-economic environments in which they are born, grow up and live", states the programme of the 16th National Conference on Health Promotion, which will take place on 29 January 2015 at the "Messe" venue in Lucerne.

The organisation "Promotion Santé Suisse" has dedicated this year's conference to the topic of "Life-Long Health Promotion", and has invited several members of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES - Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) to speak about research they have conducted and share these social sciences findings with the world of medicine.

The Director of the NCCR LIVES, Professor Dario Spini, will be speaking in the first plenary session, with a presentation entitled Health dynamics throughout life: an avenue for prevention? He will be followed by Dr. Stéphane Cullati, who will be discussing Life and health trajectories in Switzerland: what are the consequences for health promotion?

During the sub-plenary session on elderly persons, Professor Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, head of IP12, will speak about Separation in later life: repercussions and adaptation models in the event of divorce or widowhood, and Professor Claudio Bolzman, head of IP2, will discuss the health of elderly migrants.

The other sub-plenary discussions include a focus on Family configurations and socio-affective functioning in childhood and adolescence with Professor Eric Widmer, a sociologist and head of IP8. In the part focusing on adult life, the head of IP7, Professor Jérôme Rossier, and a member of his team, Professor Alexandra M. Freund, will explore the psychological dimension in order to draw a link between work and well-being on the one hand, and between motivation and health on the other.

"Only a multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral approach will enable us to find solutions. (...) The aim of this kind of integrated and multidisciplinary approach is to make the health system more effective," say Barbara Weil, of the Swiss Medical Association, and Catherine Favre Kruit, of Promotion Santé Suisse, in their overview of the conference in the most recent edition of the Swiss Medical Journal.

Those participating in this day-long event are invited to pay a visit to the NCCR LIVES stand, which will be providing a fun introduction to a tool used in life course research: the life calendar. This tool, which serves to map individual biographical trajectories, makes it possible to analyse the links between health and other life domains such as family and work.

Photo iStock © eelnosiva

The couple, surprise and omnipresent guest at the Forum on single parenthood

Some thirty professionals from the social sector gathered on Friday 21 November 2014 at the University of Lausanne, at the invitation of the National Center of Competence in Research LIVES and the Swiss Federation of single-parent families. Given the rise in separations and the increasing number of broken homes, the event's objectives were to identify public policy challenges and areas for research. The exchanges were fruitful, and the common thread running through the whole day was that although it takes two people to make a child, the same is true for separation...

In what ways do single-parent families work differently, and how are the relationships different, compared with traditional families? What resources do these homes – which in the past were considered as atypical but today are on the increase – need most? What legal, fiscal and social weaknesses can be observed with regard to single-parent families in the Swiss system? These are some of the issues that were debated at the exchange forum on Changing family and single-parenthood : the practitioners' point of view, which was held in Lausanne at the end of November.

Some thirty representatives of state services, aid agencies, parents' groups and structures specialising in childhood and the family responded to the call of the National Center of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) and the Swiss Federation for single-parent families (SVAMV/FSFM). In the morning there was a series of discussions in small groups of professional attendees working in broadly the same areas, followed in the afternoon by debates of the differing points of view on various issues, before the plenary summing-up and conclusions session. The event highlighted "valuable suggestions" for future research, NCCR LIVES deputy director Prof. Laura Bernardi said.

The discussions were led by NCCR LIVES researchers and monitored by observers with a view to producing a detailed report for 2015 on the valuable experiences and reflections of professionals working with single-parent families.

The event focused on three areas: relationships, resources and public policies, with many links between and problems common to all three areas.

DEFICIENCIES AND STRONG POINTS

Among the issues affecting single-parent families, participants highlighted the lack of resources in terms of income, time, social links, information and access to training. Isolation, feelings of failure and educational problems were other difficulties faced. But these homes also have strong points: they offer more models and references to their children than "traditional" families – in which conflicts also exist, as one participant pointed out, although there isn't always the freedom for family members to say what they think...

Throughout the day, there were many discussions on the stages before and after the break-up of a couple, which is perceived as the funding act of a single-parent home. "It's not at the time of the divorce that things must be settled", said Nicole Baur, Delegate for equal opportunities from the canton of Neuchâtel. She pointed out that women pay a very high price at the time of separation for their insufficient inclusion in the labour market, which, in Switzerland, is largely due to lack of childcare and a tax system which works against couples who both work.

The participants mentioned how the financial insecurity which then weighs on single-parent families also heavily affects non-custodial parents (i.e. fathers, in most cases). Because while those who pay child maintenance can offset this cost against their tax until the children reach the age of majority, they cannot claim state aid, as their basic needs are in principle being met. "Alimony-paying fathers are actually the only ones who receive no help", underlined Doris Agazzi, SVAMV/FSFM coordinator for French-speaking Switzerland.

Although financial matters are the cause of many conflicts, "the biggest problems don't always occur when money is short", states Nadia Rosset, family mediation specialist, reflecting the opinion of Antoine Hartmann, legal expert at the Protestant social centre (CSP): "Once the parental couple has been disassociated from the loving couple, it becomes easier to reach agreement. Those who talk to each other manage very well", he said, adding later: "When a relationship breaks down, it is necessary to wait for the dust to settle. This depends on the force of the break and the sensitivity to dust. (...) The problem is when there's constant conflict." However, notes Carmen Religieux, an independent psychologist and member of the SVAMV/FSFM committee, "conflict is also a way of maintaining the link…"

LEGAL PROBLEMS

It's therefore impossible not to talk about couples, especially this year, when the new law on joint parental authority has come into force. "It was designed for ex-partners who get on", remarked Caroline Alvarez, of the Vaud child protection department. "It increases open warfare", stated Thomas Riedi, chairman of the Vaud association of single-parent and blended families (AFMR). All the professionals present agreed that, although joint parental authority may be the best solution as far as the child's interest is concerned, it risks opening the floodgates to legal proceedings when the official authorities and courts are already overloaded.

Deficiencies in the legal system came up several times as a major cause for concern: slowness in dealing with cases, lack of tools to enforce decisions, lack of judges' training in family problems and mediation, and crucially the lack of a family court which would have sole jurisdiction, as exists in Germany. In Switzerland, the role is divided between justices of the peace and district courts.

A NEED TO LINK UP

When concluding, the idea of "linking up" became clear to sum up the basic needs of single-parent families: first of all, there is a need for places where children can be cared for and their development encouraged so that parents can work – this is a crucial bridge towards financial independence and social integration; places for parents to talk, share experiences and receive support are also needed – "to talk about their difficulties", and also "to help them realise that there are different experiences out there; something you find intolerable may be acceptable elsewhere", says Nicole Pletscher, a collaborator at the CSP. The difficulties of migrant families, who have no support from extended family and are less well-equipped to deal with the administrative procedures, are an example of situations where the need to "link up" is particularly pressing.

In the same vein, access to and financial assistance with mediation should be improved, according to several participants. "There are fewer missed maintenance payments when the agreement has been drawn up in a process of mediation than when it has been ordered by the courts”, stated Patrick Robinson, from the French-speaking parent group of organisations (CROP).

WORK-FAMILY BALANCE

The recommendations of this forum will be published in full. We can already see that it will mostly be a matter of harmonising recovery assistance at the federal level, progress in child maintenance and taxation. Proposals will also include a better balance between family and working life, with changes to working hours to be implemented in a less "gendered" way than at present, so that both parents are involved more equally in both areas of life, both before and after the break-up. "Parental training" ideas (on how sex education is delivered at school) and of "preventing separations" were also mentioned.

AREAS FOR RESEARCH

Ultimately, the participants believe that several studies will be necessary to better define the strategies to be developed to help single-parent families: qualitative analysis of the differences in the well-being of children according to the custody options; quantitative comparison of the time devoted to the family and the time spent working in single-parent homes; observe the effect of maintenance payments on pauperisation; or study retrospectively the life course of adult children of divorced parents.

"The problems of single-parent families are the same as those encountered in other families, but they arise earlier and their effects are felt more strongly", declared Serena Giudicetti, a member of the Ticino branch of the FSFM. This sentiment of normality and urgency could be a good watchword going forward...

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