“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.


  • 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


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).


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)


  • 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)
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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.


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…"


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.


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).


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.


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...

Cover image courtesy of Cambridge University Press

Combining qualitative and quantitative data: LIVES input in workshop and book

A 2-day workshop will take place on February 9-10, 2015 at Bielefeld University. Alongside with researchers in Germany, NCCR LIVES deputy director Laura Bernardi is part of the organisers. She’s also one of the authors of a chapter on mixed methods in an edited book recently published by Cambridge University Press.

“Good mixed methods research is based on knowledge about the two methodological approaches and about the methodological, theoretical, and analytic challenges specific to integrating various logical approaches to research”: the workshop Beyond methodological dualism: Combining qualitative and quantitative data organised at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZIF) of Bielefeld University next February promises to explore the potential of mixing methods on the basis of concrete studies in the fields of labour market, social inequality, family, and migration. Supported by the German Institute for Employment Research (IAB), the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), and the Swiss National Centre for Competence in Research LIVES, it will combine plenary lectures with methodological and thematic workshops.

Prof. Laura Bernardi, NCCR LIVES deputy director, proposes a session on family. She has extensive experience in mixed methods, which she now applies to her research on lone parents in Switzerland. When working at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany (2003-2009), she researched the influence of social networks on individuals’ fertility choices using mixed methods.

This research1 questioned partners in couples born in East and West Germany who had graduated from school in the early nineties. It is summarised in a chapter of the book Mixed Methods Social Networks Research, Design and Applications released recently with Cambridge University Press. This paper shows how the qualitative approach enriches the quantitative data, which alone could not describe aspects like individual perceptions, experiences, family organisation as well as social mechanisms of support, learning, pressure and contagion at play in childbearing decisions.

Nevertheless the quantitative approach helped build a typology of networks and brought a structural perspective. The authors underline the challenge of overcoming epistemological arguments that often oppose qualitative and quantitative researchers. “The process of negotiating these interests to find a good solution for designing the mixed method study should not be underestimated”, they warn. At the same time, they advocate for the “unique strengths” of mixed methods, which make the challenge worthwhile.

Within the NCCR LIVES, several projects use mixed methods on topics like family, migration, work and ageing. Some of LIVES researchers will speak about their experience at the Bielefeld workshop: Emanuela Struffolino with Transition to lone parenthood and employment trajectories: a mixed methods approach, Andrés Gomensoro with Educational pathways of the children of migrants between trajectories and narrations, and Marthe Nicolet with When the family of the deceased says ‘thank you’: Quantitative and content analysis of death notices in Wallis (Switzerland).

  • 1. Bernardi, L., Keim, S., Klärner, A. (2014). Social Networks, Social Influence, and Fertility in Germany: Challenges and Benefits of Applying a Parallel Mixed Methods Design. In Dominguez, S. & Hollstein, B., Mixed Methods Social Networks Research. Design and Applications (p. 121-152). Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.
SLLS President Elizabeth Cooksey and LIVES PhD Candidate Ignacio Madero-Cabib

International conference on life course in Lausanne rewards a NCCR LIVES PhD candidate

Ignacio Madero-Cabib won a prize for one of the three best posters during the annual conference of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (SLLS), which happened at the University of Lausanne from October 9 to 11, 2014. The Swiss National Centre for Competence in Research LIVES was the local organiser of this congress, which included about 200 presentations, over 40 posters and two keynote lectures, notably by Prof. Giuliano Bonoli's from the University of Lausanne.

The President of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (SLLS), Elizabeh Cooksey, professor of social demography at the Ohio State University, and other members of the SLLS executive committee remitted three certificates for the best posters among the fourty or so presented during the 5th annual SLLS conference, which the NCCR LIVES hosted this year at the University of Lausanne.

  • Jennifer Tork, from the University of Bielefeld, Germany, for Overcoming the risk of low levels of education by the ability of resilience
  • Julie Falcon, who after a PhD at the University of Lausanne was a visiting scholar at Standford University (USA) and is now based at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB), for Transitions from school to work in time of crisis: Do younger generations really face worse career prospects than older ones at labour-market entry? 
  • Ignacio Madero Cabib, NCCR LIVES PhD candidate at the University of Lausanne, who recently spent a semester at the WZB too, for Life course determinants of retirees' subjective and objective well-being in Switzerland and Germany, which he did with Prof. Anette Fasang from the Humboldt University in Berlin.

The conference brought together almost 300 delegates coming from 23 countries, around 5 parallel sessions including about 200 presentations. The theme this year was Lives in Translation: Life Course Research and Social Policies, with focuses on health, education, employment, poverty, family, childhood, old age, migration, gender, addictions, religiosity and methods. A pre-conference methodological workshop also took place on October 8, which LIVES members animated.

There were two keynote lectures. Giuliano Bonoli, professor of social policy at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) and member of LIVES IP4 at the University of Lausanne, gave the opening lecture on The Social Investment Strategy: Social Policies in a Life Course Perspective. Using data from different studies, including some led by his team, he showed the limits but also the promises of social investment. Preschool programmes, for instance, which we know positively impact further school performance, mainly benefit to the middle class: that is the famous "Matthew effect". Nevertheless social policies provide access to childcare support to deprived people, for instance, through reduced fees. Prof. Bonoli called for further research on this question.

The other keynote speaker was Kathleen Kiernan, professor of social policy and demography at the University of York (UK). Drawing from the UK Millenium Cohort Study data, she talked about the impact of family environment on young children and showed that poverty negatively impacts cognitive and behaviour skills below age 5. But, she said, to improve both dimensions "parental warmth is more important than wealth".

Throughout the 3-day conference participants issued many tweets using the hashtag to hightlight both the conference’s scientific content and the social events, some of which ended late at night...

Photo Michelle Gibson © iStock

Social policies at the centre of debates during the third Conference on Poverty

On October 2 and 3, 2014 over 250 people gathered at the University of Lausanne to reflect on policies aimed at reducing precariousness. Sponsored by the Canton de Vaud, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland (HES-SO), the University of Lausanne, the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS and the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, the third edition of the biennal Conference on poverty brought together representatives from federal and local governments, NGOs, foundations and researchers.

Walter Schmid set the stage for the conference, which was structured in 8 lectures and 13 workshops. The former president of the Swiss Conference of Social Services’ Institutions (SKOS/CSIAS) held a passionate opening speech on Switzerland’s minimum welfare benefits. According to him, these are currently at risk of being undermined. In recent years, asylum seekers have seen assistance cut to the bare minimum and in cantons such as Berne the minimum welfare benefit has been cut by ten per cent. Should this trend continue, Walter Schmid warned that Switzerland’s complex and fragmented welfare system is bound to turn into a two-tiered system whereby an ever more rising number of people would receive considerably less than the existing minimum welfare benefit, currently set at 60 per cent of the Swiss median income.


But what justifies the maintenance of such welfare expenses? In one way or another, most conference lectures offered answers to this question. For Walter Schmid the response was clear: basic human rights as set forth in Article 12 of the Federal Constitution guarantee the “right to assistance and care, and to the financial means required for a decent standard of living” for people in need.

Peter Sommerfeld from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland also referred to the Federal Constitution, but offered a somewhat different view. Discussing the role of social work in combatting poverty, he justifies anti-poverty policies as a form of social justice derived from the constitutionally enshrined claim to individual wellbeing. Thus, following Peter Sommerfeld, who draws on the capability approach, poverty must be understood as a deficiency in wellbeing, which might best be remedied by focusing on the capabilities of the individual rather than using numerical values such as the median income as the basis for work to alleviate poverty.

Away from ethical considerations, Jacques Donzelot from the University of Paris X Nanterre turned the audience’s attention to the history of anti-poverty policies, pointing out that two intrinsically intertwined motives have always been shaping social policies and specifically anti-poverty policies: charity and social control. This holds true for the pre-modern system of philanthropy and patronage, the insurance-based social security system in industrial societies or the current policies against social exclusion and disintegration which, Jacques Donzelot claimed, nowadays sustain social cohesion with a view to mobilise society against the outside world.


It remains an open question whether Jacques Donzelot had French society in mind when referring to the defensive character of social-cohesion policies. That said, the conference clearly showed the diversity of people affected by poverty and policies involved in combating poverty. Professor at the Haute école de travail social et de la santé - EESP Lausanne (HES·SO) Morgane Kuehni’s lecture unveiled the diversity of people lumped together in the category of the working poor with some feeling outraged and ashamed about their living conditions, other resigned and yet others feeling no remorse.

Professor at the University of Fribourg Monica Budowksi and Director of the Swiss Household Panel at FORS Robin Tillmann showed this diversity in quite different ways by demonstrating the difficulties social scientists encounter when they seek to analyse and quantify poverty. The latter varies in scope depending on the methods and indicators that researchers use to conduct their studies.

The string of 13 workshops most obviously showed the diversity of people and policies related to poverty. Included were such broad topics as indebtedness, aid in kind, poverty in young and old age, housing, health and employment. Other topics were more specific such as case management or cooperation between Switzerland’s many public welfare agencies. All of these workshops started with presentations held by a researcher and a practitioner, followed by an open discussion allowing for an exchange of ideas, experience and knowledge and thereby fostering contacts across professional fields and academic disciplines.


Not surprisingly, translated into actual policies, this diversity requires action on a broad front. Bea Cantillon from the University of Antwerp provided a rationale for such a broad policy programme by presenting the social investment perspective to the conference.

Pointing out the loss of power of purchase among increasing segments of Swiss society, Pierre-Yves Maillard, State Councillor of the Canton de Vaud, went into the nuts and bolts of anti-poverty policies and advocated in his presentation of the canton’s anti-poverty strategy a range of specific policies along with the known and institutionalised insurance schemes covering health, disability or old age. As he explained, the Canton of Vaud has put into place subsidies for families, students, affordable housing and health care as well as schemes for unemployed young adults and women. Moreover, according to Maillard, the canton also embarked on a programme aimed at the prevention of poverty, sponsoring projects in schools and early-childhood education.

Director of the Swiss Programme for preventing and combating poverty at the Federal Office of Social Insurances Gabriela Felder presented the programme, which was launched in 2014, and yet again demonstrated the great diversity in scope, approach and implementation when dealing with issues of poverty. As she explained, the programme will develop multiple projects along four axes, namely: access for children and young adults to education; social and professional integration; general living conditions; and the monitoring of the measures taken. Planned until 2018, the programme will be allocated a budget of 9 million francs – some of which will hopefully alleviate poverty.

Pascal Maeder, NCCR LIVES Knowledge Transfer Officer

Find the programme

"Children’s Rights and the Capability Approach: Challenges and Prospects"

"Children’s Rights and the Capability Approach: Challenges and Prospects"

Daniel Stoecklin (Kurt Bösch Institute) and Jean-Michel Bonvin (HETS-EESP & NCCR LIVES) are editors of a new volume published by Springer, including a chapter written by Stephan Dahmen (HETS-EESP & NCCR LIVES).

This volume addresses the conditions allowing the transformation of specific children’s rights into capabilities in settings as different as children’s parliaments, organised leisure activities, contexts of vulnerability, children in care. It addresses theoretical questions linked to children’s agency and reflexivity, education, the life cycle perspective, child participation, evolving capabilities, and citizenship.

It highlights important issues that have to be taken into account for the implementation of human rights and the development of peoples’ capabilities. The focus on children’s capabilities along a rights-based approach is an inspiring perspective that researchers and practitioners in the field of human rights would like to deepen.

Children’s Rights and the Capability Approach. Challenges and Prospects contains contributions from two members of the CESCAP (Haute école de travail social et de la santé - EESP Lausanne, HES-SO) and of the LIVES Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research IP5: Jean-Michel Bonvin and Stephan Dahmen.

  • Stoecklin, D., & Bonvin, J.-M. (Eds.). (2014). Children’s Rights and the Capability Approach. Challenges and Prospects. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Dahmen, S. (2014). The Theoretical Orthodoxy of Children’s and Youth Agency and Its Contradictions: Moving from Normative Thresholds to a Situated Assessment of Children’s and Youth Lives. In D. Stoecklin & J.-M. Bonvin (Eds.), Children’s Rights and the Capability Approach. Challenges and Prospects (pp. 153-173). Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Stoecklin, D., & Bonvin, J.-M. (2014). Cross-Fertilizing Children’s Rights and the Capability Approach. The Example of the Right to Be Heard in Organized Leisure. In D. Stoecklin & J.-M. Bonvin (Eds.), Children’s Rights and the Capability Approach. Challenges and Prospects (pp. 131-152). Dordrecht: Springer.
Scholars from Latin Europe inaugurate new association of historical demography

Scholars from Latin Europe inaugurate new association of historical demography

The NCCR LIVES co-director Michel Oris is member of the scientific and organising committees of the inaugural conference to create the European Society of Historical Demography, promoted by the Société de Démographie Historique (SDH), the Asociación de Demografía Histórica (ADEH) and the Società Italiana di Demografia Storica (SIDeS). The conference will take place in Alghero-Sassari (Sardinia, Italy) on 25-27 September 2014.

The new society will be established to foster co-operation between scholars engaged or interested in historical demography studies in Europe, and stimulate interest in population matters in the European Union scientific programmes and agencies as well as among governments, national and international organisations, and the general public.

During the Alghero Conference, several LIVES members will present a paper:

Aline Duvoisin and Sylvie Burgnard from the University of Geneva will present “Childless women during the baby boom in Switzerland” during the session “Qualitative and mixed approaches of fertility behaviours” on September 25, chaired by Michel Oris, also leader of LIVES IP13.

On September 26, Rainer Gabriel and Michel Oris from the University of Geneva will present “A life course perspective on poverty in old-age Switzerland” during the session “Life Course approaches in historical demography” chaired by Gilbert Ritschard.

Gilbert Ritschard, head of LIVES IP14 and professor at the University of Geneva, will present “Promises and requirements of recent development in sequence analysis” during the session “Life course and the transformation of historical demography”.

Michel Oris will also chair a session on “Internal and international migrations” on September 27.

See the conference website: www.eshd.eu

Inequalities in modern societies and families in the 21st century: symposium and public lecture

Inequalities in modern societies and families in the 21st century: symposium and public lecture

The Geneva School of Social Science and the Geneva School of Economics and Management, in collaboration with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), organise a day-long symposium on inequalities in modern societies with many key players on September 25, 2014. This event will be followed in the evening by a public lecture on the evolution of family forms by Gøsta Esping-Andersen, renowned professor of sociology at the University of Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

The rector of Geneva University, Jean-Dominique Vassalli, with Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch (Head of SECO), will do the openings of the symposium. The vice-rector Yves Flückiger, Cyril Muller of the World Bank, Didier Chambovey (SECO), Pierre Maudet (Chief of Department of Economics and Security, Geneva), Jean-Nathanaël Karakash (Chief of Department of Economics and Social Action, Neuchâtel) and many other prestigious members of the political and academic world will be also present.

Prof. Gosta Esping-Andersen, who will deliver the opening lecture of the 2014-2015 academic year at 7pm, will take part in the morning session panel of the symposium. Prof. Jean-Michel Bonvin and Prof. Michele Pellizzari, both members of the NCCR LIVES, will chair and conclude the afternoon session panel.

This event is organised by the University of Geneva and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) with the support of the NCCR LIVES and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Registration deadline: September 24 at inequalities-2014@unige.ch

Couverture du livre "Adultes aînés, les oubliés de la formation" aux éditions Antipodes

We still need to learn after 65: a fact which is starting to be understood

A round table supported by the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES on 18 September 2014 in Lausanne brought together several participants form the political, academic, economic and community spheres to discuss education for older people, to coincide with the launch of the book by Roland J. Campiche and Afi Sika Kuzeawu. Although the participants agreed on the urgent need, they found it difficult to agree on the steps to be taken.

"I admit that this book shook my certainties a bit: its premises should have been obvious, but they had not yet struck me, and they still haven't been understood by everyone", said Guy Parmelin, national UDC adviser. The round table was held on Thursday 18 September at the Continental Hotel in Lausanne and was organised by the NCCR LIVES in partnership with the Swiss federation of universities of the third age, the Leenaards foundation and the Champ-Soleil foundation. Almost 80 people attended.

Chaired by the journalist Manuela Salvi, the debate saw wide consensus on the increasing importance of older people in society. "Together, they make up the biggest kindergarten force in Switzerland", said Roland J. Campiche, who presented his latest work, published by éditions Antipodes: Older adults, left behind by education [1].


Honorary professor of the University of Lausanne, Roland J. Campiche also mentioned the contribution older people make to community activities, their influence on votes and in town council, pointing out that in Switzerland, half of people surveyed would like to work for longer. "Nevertheless, it's as if after retirement, people are put in a no-man's land when it comes to education". The sociologist claims that this denial is evidenced by the fact that the recent laws on universities and ongoing training do not say a word about education for older people.

Several participants referred to this need to learn new things: to find their way in an increasingly digital world, to be able to help very elderly relatives, to prevent degeneration, as "the brain wears out when it's not in use", according to the neurologist Yves Dunant, to fight the depression which affects individuals going through life's major transitions – adolescence andretirement, and for which the costs could be even higher than the cost of Alzheimer's disease. They could even "be used as a source of indigenous labour after the electroshock of 9 February", according to the deliberately provocative suggestion of socialist council of states representative Géraldine Savary (referring to the results of the Swiss immigration referendum), who said that she was "convinced that this discussion will arise".


However, the participants could not agree on how this could be achieved. By introducing public funding? Creating legal bases? And which organisations should be established or protected? In his book, Roland J. Campiche calls for official recognition of the role played by universities of the third age, along with financial support from the State, which he puts at 500,000 francs per year. "We should also point out that this would bring a return on investment; it's a language that the politicians understand", suggested a person from the audience.

However, some people are concerned by the "elitist" nature of universities of the third age, pointing out that there are other sources of education, and even training, available for older people: associations or foundations (Pro-SenectuteForce nouvelle, FAAG), universités populaires, Migros courses, etc.


Roland J. Campiche challenged "the myth of an inaccessible university", stating that students at universities of the third age came from all walks of life. But he admitted that a new form of pedagogy needs to develop, "peers by peers", which is more interactive, and values the skills of older adults, and which could even "breathe new life into the whole education system".

Finally, a few suggestions were made by the participants: reduce the health costs of older people in education, campaign for a national research programme on the issue, professionalise voluntary training, consider education as a human project "from birth to death", encourage intergenerational exchange...

"Young retirees involved in education are still a minority, but it is proven that one or two years more or less education throughout a lifetime have major effects on longevity", according to sociologist François Höpflinger.

600,000 baby boomers will retire in the next few years. "Time is needed between the observation and the implementation. That's why lobbying is needed", said Guy Parmelin, now a firm supporter of the cause. He will soon have a tool to help him lobby his German-speaking colleagues: the book by Roland J. Campiche and Afi Sika Kuzeawu will be published next year in German by éditions Seismo.

[1] Adultes aînés: les oubliés de la formation (Older adults, left behind by education) by Roland J. Campiche and Afi Sika Kuzeawu with the collaboration of Jacques Lanares, Sandrine Morante, Denis Berthiaume, éditions Antipodes, Lausanne, 2014


M. Oris and G. Ritschard: Sequence Analysis and Transition to Adulthood

New publication brings together "big names in the small field" of a promising method

The Lake Geneva region has become crucial in the development of sequence analysis, a method that is currently enjoying rapid growth in the social sciences. Researchers from the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES at the universities of Lausanne and Geneva who specialise in life course research are among the key players in sequence analysis development. Their latest advances have been brought together in a new book edited by Philippe Blanchard, Felix Bühlmann and Jacques-Antoine Gauthier and published by Springer.

Why are some people likely to find themselves in a situation of vulnerability while others are not? Until a few years ago, social scientists were unable to answer this question, because the only models they had were synchronic ones, which looked at individuals at a specific moment in time and did not allow a longitudinal perspective. The development of life course studies, which are, by definition, diachronic and interdisciplinary in nature, led to an increased interest in processes. Such studies largely borrowed methods from the "hard" sciences, particularly genetic biology and bioinformatics, to represent sequences of states and events statistically.

Sequence analysis thus allows researchers to construct typologies of individual trajectories concerning topics such as family configurations, professional careers and employability, major life transitions such as entering adulthood, parenthood, and retirement as well as trajectories for migration, health and ageing. This method has also spread beyond the field of sociology and is used for research in the areas of developmental psychology, history, demographics and political science.

The different applications of sequence analysis have now become the subject of a book, which is based on a joint editorial project by the universities of Lausanne and Geneva. Advances in Sequence Analysis: Theory, Method, Applications is the second volume in a series published by Springer on life course and social policy research. The series is being supervised by the three members of the NCCR LIVES board of directors: Dario Spini, Michel Oris and Laura Bernardi.

A project born between Lausanne and Geneva

In 2012 the Lausanne conference on sequence analysis (LaCOSA) was held in Lausanne, bringing together around thirty individuals from around the world who were experienced in using this method. They included renowned researchers such as Cees Elzinga, Brendan Halpin and Anette Fasang. The conference was organised by Philippe Blanchard from the Institute of Political and International Studies and Felix Bühlmann and Jacques-Antoine Gauthier from the Institute of Social Sciences, both members of the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. A third of the participants and several speakers were also linked to LIVES, notably Professor Gilbert Ritschard’s team from the University of Geneva, who developed the sequence analysis tool TraMineR, which provides a genuine benchmark for specialists.

"Compared to other methods, sequence analysis is used by a relatively small community," explains Felix Bühlmann. "That is how we managed to persuade big names in this small field to attend the conference and then contribute to a joint publication."

Conceptual Innovations

"This book’s strength is based on an apparent weakness: the method and the thematic areas described are rarely mentioned in scientific journals because such publications require a certain format that is not very compatible with the conceptual and visual innovations provided by sequence analysis," says Felix Bühlmann.

For Jacques-Antoine Gautier, "the diversity of the contributions in this book brings about a more assertive methodological community and provides a space for original reflection on the nature of sequence analysis and its place in the social sciences."

At the NCCR LIVES, several studies on different groups of vulnerable people are based on sequence analysis, since it makes it possible to reduce the complexity of individual trajectories and increase the readability of stages and transitions that shape life courses.

Meanwhile, this method is continuing to make waves: the leading sequence analysis specialists at LIVES will share their knowledge with researchers from around the world at a methodological workshop on 8 October 2014. The event will precede the annual conference of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (SLLS), which will be held at the University of Lausanne this year.

Exchange forum on “The changing family and single parenthood”: The practitioners' point of view

Exchange forum on “The changing family and single parenthood”: The practitioners' point of view

On November 21, 2014 at the University of Lausanne, organised by the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES) and the Swiss Federation of Lone Parent Families.

This one-day event will bring together stakeholders from several fields of action around the matter of sole parenthood and its different forms, complex realities which concern a growing number of families in Switzerland, addressing many questions and calling for comprehensive answers.

The NCCR LIVES, supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, started a study in 2012 about the development of new forms of such families. The research team focused, until now, on the trajectories of lone parent families who are registered in panel data, and on the viewpoints of the concerned parents, which were recorded during in-depth interviews. The team now wishes to listen to the practitioners, so as to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that exist in the framework of related aid schemes.

The Swiss Federation of Lone Parent Families, which happens to be celebrating this year its 30th anniversary, is sharing this concern. It is involved, among other things, in the formulation of concrete family policy measures in order to improve the situation of lone parents and their children. The federation is a member of the Pro Familia Switzerland umbrella organisation.

The forum

In the first part of the forum, focus groups will be organised by occupational sectors: lawyers, social workers, early childhood practitioners, teachers, child psychiatrists, representatives of the public authorities and of non-governmental organisations will discuss among themselves about a series of questions, respectively chaired by a researcher.

We will address issues that are at the core of family functioning, like the different forms of family and normativity; parental and intergenerational relations; social policy, law and taxation; employment and work life balance.

The second part of the forum will deepen these issues by crossing perspectives of the occupational sectors. A synthesis will conclude these exchanges, which will provide basis for further reflection relating to the development of social policy and possible research input.


  • Swiss Federation of Lone Parent Families: Anna Hausherr, Danielle Estermann
  • NCCR LIVES: Laura Bernardi, Pascal Maeder, Ornella Larenza, Emmanuelle Marendaz Colle
  • Contact: communication@lives-nccr.ch


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