Know personal networks to better identify vulnerable people

Know personal networks to better identify vulnerable people

Family solidarity remains at the heart of public policies, despite the "destandardization" of life courses. Indeed, networks of personal relationships have now diversified and rely namely on friends or colleagues. This is shown by the results of the Family tiMes study, which encourages the development of social and family policies that are more grounded in the reality of life trajectories and that would allow for better targeting of at-risk groups.

Individuals' social relationships are built up over transitions in life trajectories, such as parenthood, unemployment or an accident, and the duration of the different stages. In their article, researchers Gaëlle Aeby, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier and Eric D. Widmer show that contemporary life courses are subject to "de-strandardization" due to the uncertainty of the trajectories and reversibility of certain events, such as marriage or the choice of a profession. As a result, individual roles change and modify the structure of personal networks.  

The Family tiMes survey, which includes some 800 people born in the 1950s and 1970s, reveals that the network of "very important" people has an average of 4 members. Based on these data, the three researchers identify seven types of personal networks, four focused on family, and three on friends. The nuclear family (spouse and children) is thus at the centre of the relationships of individuals who have become parents in their twenties. On the other hand, networks that give pride of place to friendly ties are those of people who prefer a conjugal life (without children), who are single or who have experienced a marital breakdown. In these networks, friends play a key role as providers of emotional and material support.

Better identify at-risk groups

In Switzerland, solidarity standards, particularly for childcare, education funding or support for the elderly, are still strongly based on family and individual autonomy. In order to better identify groups at risk, public policies would benefit from targeting critical life events. They could thus adjust to the needs of each individual and take into account the hazards of contemporary family trajectories.