Accumulation of resources and development of vulnerability over the life course

Leader: Eric Widmer
Support: Marie Baeriswyl

This cross-cutting issue emphasises the importance of the accumulation of social and economic as well as psychological and physiological resources over the course of life. Its analytical focus is the study of the long-term consequences of the accumulation and use of such resources on the development of vulnerability. It centres on the following themes:

1. The long-term effect of resources on vulnerability

This theme aims to understand the impact of resource accumulation on vulnerability. Many questions can be investigated to tackle this issue. They might include the following: How does a lack of accumulation of resources change the way in which individuals face the stress created by life transitions and non-normative events? How might prior achievements (relating to education, employment, family or health) prevent later stress by contributing to the constitution of reserves in multiple life-course domains? How unequally are such resources distributed across various populations (men/women, migrants/citizens, rich/poor, young/old, etc.)? How do resources and reserves make transitions more or less stressful for individuals? And how do employment patterns, family life and working conditions influence the accumulation of resources and reserves over the course of life?

2. The development of vulnerability as a life-long process

Vulnerability is conceptualised as a process that develops over the course of life. This theme aims to stimulate the study of the lifelong development of vulnerability via multi-dimensional process-oriented approaches to poverty, social isolation, poor health, etc. One promising way to look at the development of vulnerability is to examine the use of resources and reserves over the course of life.

3. Preventing vulnerability processes via social policies and interventions

Issues relating to the extent to which social interventions can help individuals to build up resources and reserves and hence weaken or eliminate vulnerability processes (vulnerabilisation) are also of particular interest for this CCI.


Cullati S, Kliegel M, Widmer E, “Development of reserves over the life course and onset of vulnerability in later Life”, Nature Human Behaviour, 2018, 2(8): 551-558. [Abstract]

Castrén, A.-M., Widmer, E.D. (2015). Insiders and outsiders in stepfamilies: Adults' and children's views on family boundaries. Current Sociology, 63(1), 35-56.

Gabriel, R., Oris, M., Studer, M., & Baeriswyl, M. (2015). The persistence of social stratification? A life course perspective on old-age poverty in Switzerland. Swiss Journal of Sociology, 41(3), 465-487.

Cullati, S., Rousseaux, E., Gabadinho, A., Courvoisier, D.S., Burton-Jeangros, C. (2014). Factors of change and cumulative factors in self-rated health trajectories: a systematic review. Advances in Life Course Research, 19, 14-27.

Levy, R., & Widmer, E.D., eds. (2013). Gendered life courses between individualization and standardization. A European approach applied to Switzerland. Lit, Verlag, Vienna. p. 393.

Oesch, D., & Baumann, I. (2015). Smooth transition or permanent exit? Evidence on job prospects of displaced industrial workers. Socio-Economic Review, 13(1), 101-123.

Ihle, A., Borella, E., Rahnfeld, M., Müller, S. R., Enge, S., Hacker, W., et al. (2015). The role of cognitive resources for subjective work ability and health in nursing. European Journal of Ageing, 12(2), 131-140.

Spahni, S., Morselli, D., Perrig-Chiello, P., & Bennett, K. (2015). Patterns of psychological adaptation to spousal bereavement in old age. Gerontology, 61(5), 456-468.