Photo Hugues Siegenthaler

In Switzerland, inequalities in health trajectories do not increase

On December 12, 2013 in Geneva, Stéphane Cullati presented his doctoral thesis questioning the Cumulative Advantage/Disadvantage model, which he found to be less pertinent in Switzerland than in the United States. The theorist Dale Dannefer was present to discuss the issue.

Stéphane Cullati just gained his PhD in sociology for a dissertation in the article format addressing health trajectories of the adult population living in Switzerland. A systematic review was recently published in Advances in Life Course Research. The three other papers are empirical studies using the data of the Swiss Household Panel, with different samples and methods of analysis.

His doctoral thesis confirms the influence of socio-economic factors on health trajectories. However, "in the context of Switzerland, we also find limited support for the Cumulative Advantage and Disadvantage model, suggesting this model may not be applicable to the Swiss context", possibly because of "the Swiss labor market context and the Swiss health national policy".

During his public defense on December 12 at the Centre for Interfaculty Gerontology and Vulnerabilities Studies, Stéphane Cullati received warm congratulations from the five jury members, who nonetheless submitted several questions.

Prof. Dale Dannefer, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland (USA), said it was "an impressive dissertation and an excellent contribution to the litterature".

Within NCCR LIVES, Prof. Gilbert Ritschard described the work as "very clear", with  "advanced tools that are not easy to use". The thesis supervisor, Prof. Claudine Burton-Jeangros, also praised this contribution "at the intersection between epidemiology and social sciences", whose conclusions show that facing vulnerability, "compensation mechanisms exist".

Questions notably focused on the pertinence of self-reported health data in panel studies, and on the relatively short duration of the longitudinal follow-up (less than ten years for each of the empirical studies). So many topics to be further explored by Stéphane Cullati, who will join the International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health in London as from next Summer.

The NCCR LIVES sponsors the "Haut & Court" short film competition

The NCCR LIVES sponsors the "Haut & Court" short film competition

The UNIL-EPFL film clubs are organizing a competition of short subjects, with several prizes to be won. Two 600-franc awards will go to works produced on the theme "Bifurcations". They will be given out by the management of LIVES, a research center specialized in interdisciplinary study of life course, during the "Fécule" Festival on May 7, 2014.

The spring 2014 semester will have a cinematic focus at the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES). Largely based at the University of Lausanne, this research center has joined forces with the UNIL-EPFL film clubs to offer a season of screenings devoted to life course, an inexhaustible theme in cinema. As a bonus, the partnership will extend with the annual short film competition "Haut & Court", organized by the same film clubs, as part of the "Fécule" festival of university cultures.


The theme of the official competition is "Bifurcations", a very prevalent concept in the study of life course. It indicates those moments when a person's life changes direction due to a foreseen or unforeseen event. These forks in the road of life may appear in a family or professional setting. They can also be associated with migration or health, all of which are aspects of life of particular interest in the NCCR LIVES.

The deadline for submitting projects (short films of no more than 6 minutes) is April 18, 2014. A jury made up of film professionals and LIVES representatives will select two prizewinners, who will receive a check for 600 Swiss francs on the evening the submissions are screened, May 7 at Grange de Dorigny as part of the Fécule Festival. Another prize of 300 francs will be awarded for a third work in the "Free Subjects" category. Several in-kind prizes are also planned.

A season about life course

The series on life course will start on Wednesday, February 26, 2014, at the Le Capitole cinema in Lausanne, with a screening of Mr. Nobody by Jaco Van Dormael (2010), a science fiction movie tracing the life of a 118-year-old man who finds himself to be the last human on Earth. This kick-off – at a legendary theater in the city center – is organized by the UNIL-EPFL film clubs in collaboration with the Swiss National Film Archives. The theme of this series on life course will be introduced by Prof. Laura Bernardi, deputy director of the NCCR LIVES.

Subsequent screenings will be held every Wednesday from March 5 to May 28, alternating between EPFL and UNIL. The full program is in production and will be distributed soon. Researchers from the NCCR LIVES will be present at several of these evenings to show the link between the films and the research, and to discuss with the audience. Admission to all the events is free.



Photo Olivia Och

From principles to practice: Gender awareness sessions a great success

Virginia Valian, Professor of Psychology at the Hunter College of New York, and Denise Sekaquaptewa, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, were guests at the universities of Geneva and Lausanne from November 27 to 29, 2013. Their mission: to provide tools for promoting equality to the hierarchies of both institutions and to other relevant environments. This initiative of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES and the universities' equality offices is now also available in audio format.

Geneva airport, Monday morning, November 25. We are waiting for Virginia Valian, ready to hold up a small name sign. Suddenly a little lady in a long dark coat appears, pulling a suitcase on rollers. Based on the photo, it looks like her: But there's no time to hold up the sign — we have to catch up quickly. Despite her jetlag, this experienced researcher is already asking questions. A bit of rest in her hotel, and in the late morning, we start linking questions with answers.

This psychology professor has not come just to say what she knows. She comes to share knowledge, to exchange, but also to understand how the advancement of women works in Switzerland, in our institutions. We talk statistics, advancement stages in university careers, the Federal Equality Program, research, and equality action plans. She very quickly understands the complexity of our system. Always very curious, and above all, wishing to connect with her audience, she asks exactly who will be attending the first workshop scheduled in two day's time. She returns to her hotel with a pile of notes and documents to sift through.

On Tuesday November 26, it's Denise Sekaquaptewa who deplanes. Tall, thin, very composed; she also observes and asks questions. We go see the meeting room, prepare the next day's session, and talk about organization of the space, as well as about equality... They leave to put the finishing touches on their presentations.

High-level participation

Wednesday, November 27, 1:15 p.m., is zero hour in room 408 of the Uni Dufour building at the University of Geneva. Twenty-seven people are there: The entire chancellor's office, the deans or their representatives, some professors, including the co-director and some researchers from the NCCR LIVES, as well as some members of the intermediary staff, were all immersed in the subject.

The two speakers depict numerous examples in several research studies on perceptions of gender differences, as well as from their own experience promoting equality. The participants ask plenty of questions, and discuss a lot during their group work.

The next day, at the University of Lausanne (UNIL), in the Château de Dorigny room, 31 people answered the same call: a dean, many professors, including the director and vice director of the NCCR LIVES, and other members of the research centre. Once again, questions burst forth, and the morning is very interactive.

That evening, after a very enthusiastic introduction by the rector of UNIL and the vice -rector for Junior Faculty Development and Diversity – also a member of LIVES – Virginia Valian addresses a larger audience, the vast majority of them women. Her talk has the same title as her bestseller released in 1998: "Why So Slow?"…

Training the trainers

Finally, on Friday, November 29, still at Lausanne, it's time for the train-the-trainer workshop, led by the two US researchers. It was attended by 40 participants from all over Switzerland who are involved in equal opportunity programs at the university, federal or cantonal level. Tips are exchanged and contacts are cemented.

During this meeting, Denise Sekaquaptewa clarifies the style of working at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. For example, she mentions the Stride Committee of the ADVANCE program, made up of a dozen members from all departments, the department administrations, deans and other professors asked to serve on nomination committees. «We all had some previous commitment, but what we realized when we got together and started actually looking at the data and learning together, was that we didn’t understand, we didn’t really know what was going on, we really were quite naïve…»

What is the takeaway?

The two researchers reject some of the common explanations as to why women's careers stall.

  • Demographic inertia, which results in men always being on top and women on the bottom, but time will do its work.
    On the contrary, they say it is necessary to be proactive, because there are not enough women in the pipeline.
  • Unequal division of labor, in which women are overwhelmed and don't want to take on responsibilities.
    False, because women without family duties don't advance much better.
  • It is claimed that women are less interested in research, that women's interests quickly change...
    This judgment cannot be made without looking at the environment, sometimes very hostile, in which women researchers are trained.
  • Women don't know how to negotiate correctly, and that's why they don't break through.
    False, because even when women negotiate well, it is seen that women are listened to less, are less valued, and are penalized more than men.

Virginia Valian brings up the issue of "schemas", which she prefers to the term "stereotype", because it is a broader concept. Experimental studies prove that women themselves undervalue other women and pass negative judgments on those who stand out. Psychology also underscores that those who deny the existence of inequalities are also more likely to have a negative opinion of women's competencies.

According to Denise Sekaquaptewa, “Research also shows that we all – regardless of the social group we belong to - perceive and treat people differently based on their social groups (race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.). We are all subject to unconscious bias.” That is why women, as members of a minority, are observed more, perceived as different, and confined to conventional roles.

That is how small streams form large oceans of injustice: Fast accumulation of advantages allows men to progress faster in their careers, while women accumulate penalties.

Provide impetus

Both researchers believe that it is not stressed enough that mixed work teams succeed better. These advantages cannot be mentioned enough, and hierarchies must truly provide an impetus.

“We don’t have to feel guilty about gender schemes. We all have them (…) But we do have to take responsibility for change”, Virginia Valian proclaimed during her public talk, inviting male university staff to change some habits: Look at women when they speak, invite more women to give keynote lectures, and nominate them more often for awards. As for institutional administrations, keep data and setting up task force can already do plenty to advance awareness beyond simple goodwill.

Brigitte Mantilleri, Equal Opportunity Officer at the University of Geneva
(with EMC)

Project set up by the NCCR LIVES (Nicky Le Feuvre, Floriane Demont, Sylvie Burgnard, Emmanuelle Marendaz Colle), the Equal Opportunity Office of the University of Lausanne (Stefanie Brander, Carine Carvalho) and the Equal Opportunity Office of the University of Geneva (Brigitte Mantilleri, Olivia Och)

Award for a LIVES-master thesis on marital satisfaction in the long run at the University of Berne

Award for a LIVES-master thesis on marital satisfaction in the long run at the University of Berne

Since 2011, the advancement award of the Seniors' University of Berne has been conferred annually on particularly meritorious research in the field of age and ageing. This year, the CHF 10’000 prize goes to Jeanine Zwahlen for her master thesis "Marital satisfaction in long-term partnerships: A typological approach", realized within the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES under the supervision of Prof. Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello. The award ceremony will take place on the occasion of the Dies Academicus of the University of Berne on Saturday, December 7, 2013.

The goal of the thesis was to identify patterns in the quality of long-term married individuals still in their first marriage, a group not substantially empirically researched. Based on NCCR LIVES IP12 questionnaire data from 258 women and 236 men (494 individuals total), all of whom were married for at least 40 years, a cluster analysis revealed two groups: a satisfied and an unsatisfied group of partners. The two groups not only differ in interpersonal and intrapersonal resources, but also exhibit different values in health factors. Satisfied individuals in long-term marriages reported higher marital and sexual satisfaction, and furthermore reached higher scores in co-development in the relationship. Additionally, happily married individuals were characterized by lower scores in social loneliness, better psychological and physical health as well as low neuroticism and high scores in agreeableness.

Prof. Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, head of IP12 at the NCCR LIVES, said, “Jeanine Zwahlen’s master thesis is an excellent scientific achievement, which helps fill a research gap. I find it remarkable that a master student addressed this complex topic in the condensed form of a scientific paper that is so differentiated and informative."