Life Course Winter School 2016

Life Course Winter School 2016

The program of the 3rd Winter School on Life Course is set.

When and where?


  • Deadline : December 10, 2015
  • Required: motivation letter, resume, thesis project abstract
  • Tuition: 500 CHF (= 480 EUR or 520 USD), accommodation included
  • Contact: Delphine Fagot, LIVES Doctoral Program Officer,



Loss of a partner – a life-course perspective

How to preserve cognitive health in old age?

  • Laura Bernardi
    University of Lausanne

  • Pasqualina Perrig Chiello
    University of Bern

  • Betina Hollstein
    University of Bremen

  • Matthias Kliegel
    University of Geneva

  • Andreas Ihle
    University of Geneva

  • David Bunce
    University of Leeds

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

Breakups and losses in intimate partnerships are among the most stressful live events with a high potential of vulnerabilization. This workshop explores life course after death, separation, or divorce. In particular it examines the social and psychological consequences of partnership changes due to critical events by taking into account in the role of biographical markers, especially marital/partnership history.

The rise in divorce and separation has contributed to the banalization of the status of living alone and lone parent; at the same time the reduction of mortality reduces the chances of becoming a widow before old age and contributed to the rise in the a-normativity of such states. On the one hand, changes in the prevalence of critical events like separation and death go hand in hand with changes in the way in which such events impact the life courses for different cohorts. On the other hand, psychological distress might occur at any historical time and for each cohort, even though to different degree or forms. We are interested how social isolation, re-partnering, psychological and physical health, professional changes, (re)entering education vary by age, gender, socio-economic status and cohorts. We want to shed light on whether the effects of critical events are sensitive to their timing in the life course, and how the duration since the event accounts form the direction and strength of its impact. These are some of the issues we will address at the workshop.

The workshop aims to advance the theoretical and empirical study of the vulnerability in the life course created by the critical transition occasioned by the loss of a partner. We will provide substantive and methodological expertise in the analysis of interdependent processes over the life course, considering both objective and subjective dimensions. On the one hand, we will draw on the major theoretical frames addressing losses from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (Demography, Sociology and Psychology). On the other hand we will be using novel LIVES datasets as well as national retrospective family surveys. We are going to rely on advanced quantitative and qualitative approaches in the analyses of survey data and interview data. Participants interested in the quantitative analyses are requested to be familiar with a statistical package for data analyses (e.g. STATA, SPSS, or R). Participants interested in the qualitative analysis are requested to be familiar with at least one software for CAQDAS (e.g. NVIVO, ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA) and to read and understand French or German (interviews’ language). It is also possible to bring own data for analysis. The readings, discussions, and data analysis performed during the workshop aim at designing and developing one or more common papers, which will be formulated during the workshop and produced during the following months.

2. How to preserve cognitive health in old age?

Vulnerability to age-related deficits in fundamental abilities such as cognitive health is one of the most important challenges in the western world where human longevity has dramatically increased over the last 100 years. The relevance of intact cognition for everyday life functioning and well-being is crucial. Thus, one of the fundamental challenges for gerontological research is how to maintain and promote cognitive health in old age. A remarkable finding in this context is that some individuals are more susceptible to severe cognitive impairments while others are able to maintain a relatively high level of cognitive functioning, even in very old age. Hence, it is necessary to identify and understand the predictors of how interindividual differences in cognitive resources and in vulnerability to cognitive decline emerge.

In this workshop, we will address this hot topic by investigating the role of several key factors such as cognitive reserve (i.e., intellectual activities during childhood and the adult lifespan), health variables, personality, motivation, and contextual determinants for explaining the enormous interindividual differences in cognitive health in old age.

The main purposes of this workshop are: (1) to promote and strengthen the collaborations between young and senior researchers coming from different countries and (2) to allow PhD candidates increasing their scientific skills by conducting all main steps of an empirical article. Thereby, with advice and support from the supervisors, participants will contribute to the literature review, formulating the research questions, statistical analyses, and writing the manuscript. Participants of the workshop are expected to be experienced in scientific writing in English, familiar with main theories of the psychology of aging and have used statistical packages for data analysis (e.g., R or SPSS). While data sets for data analyses and paper writing projects will be provided, participants are welcome to bring their own data addressing the above mentioned core theme.

Organized by a consortium of 5 research centers

Steering Commitee

  • Laura Bernardi, University of Lausanne
  • Delphine Fagot, University of Geneva
  • Walter Heinz, University of Bremen
  • Johan Lundberg, Umeå University
  • Julie McMullin, Western University
  • Michel Oris, University of Geneva
  • Richard Settersten, Oregon State University
  • Dario Spini, University of Lausanne
  • Eric Widmer, University of Geneva