LIVES members on their way to the Population Association of America 2015 annual meeting in San Diego

LIVES members on their way to the Population Association of America 2015 annual meeting in San Diego

Researchers from the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will present a paper at the congress of the biggest society of demographers in the world from May 30 to May 2, 2015. Their topics cover mainly fertility, family, and immigration.

Among the thousands of researchers gathering for the 3-day event in the Californian city, a dozen collaborate with the NCCR LIVES. Here are the concerned presentations.

Session 17:

Sex, Fertility, and Well-Being

2. Parenthood and Psychological Well-Being: The Moderating Role of Lifestyle • Anne Roeters, Utrecht University; Jornt Mandemakers, Wageningen University; Marieke Voorpostel, Swiss Foundation for Research in the Social Sciences (FORS)

Session 55:

Data and Measurement Challenges in the Developing World - Field Validation Innovations

1. Fertility in Sub Saharan Africa: What Can We Learn from INDEPTH Sites? Clémentine Rossier, University of Geneva; Valérie Delaunay, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD); Pauline Adamopoulos, University of Geneva; Martin Bangha, INDEPTH Network

Session 60:

Immigration and Education

3. Educational Trajectories of the Children of Migrants in SwitzerlandAndrés Gomensoro, University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland; Laura Bernardi, University of Lausanne

Session 171:

Families, Health, and Well-Being

4. Lone Motherhood and Self-Reported Health in Switzerland: Does Paid Work Matter?Laura Bernardi, University of Lausanne; Emanuela Struffolino, University of Lausanne; Marieke Voorpostel, Swiss Foundation for Research in the Social Sciences (FORS)

Session 181:

Reproductive Health and Fertility over Time

4. The Fertility Decline in Sub-Saharan Africa: Who’s Next after the Elite?Clémentine Rossier, University of Geneva; Jamaica Corker, University of Geneva; Bruno D. Schoumaker, Université Catholique de Louvain.

Session 196:

Marriage Markets and Assortative Mating

4. Does the Internet Affect Assortative Mating? The Case of Educational, Racial and Religious EndogamyGina Potarca, University of Lausanne

Poster Session 1:

Marriage, Unions, Families, and Households

30. Diverse Family Formation Trajectories and Their Consequences for CoparentingAnette E. Fasang, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin; Eric D. Widmer, University of Geneva

Poster Session 3:

Fertility Intentions and Behaviors

8. Vulnerable Life Courses? How Do Women without Children Face Social Norms on Motherhood?Vanessa Brandalesi, University of Lausanne

35. The Predictability of Fertility Intentions for Subsequent Fertility Behavior in a Stable-Low Fertility ContextDoris Hanappi, University of California, Berkeley and University of Lausanne; Carl Mason, University of California, Berkeley

Poster Session 9:

Family Planning, Sexual Behavior, and Reproductive Health

20. How Do Policies and Religiosity and Impact Abortion Practices and Attitudes: A Case Study: Romania • Cristina Bradatan, Texas Tech University; Ruxandra Oana Ciobanu, University of Geneva

>> Conference website:

Image iStock © skynesher

Delaying the age of tracking does not facilitate educational pathways

When placed for a longer period in a common core syllabus system, the weakest students eventually experiment less smooth upper secondary trajectories. This is one of the unexpected conclusions of the doctoral thesis in socio-economics by Joëlle Latina, which she successfully defended on 13 April 2015 at the University of Geneva. This research drew upon administrative data from Geneva recording the transitions between compulsory education and post-compulsory training of all pupils in the canton for twelve years.

It is not always possible to use exhaustive data and benefit from a natural experiment, i.e. one not provoked artificially for research purposes. But this is the context in which Joëlle Latina, UAS research fellow at the Geneva Haute école de gestion, was able to work, in a project conducted by the Leading House in Education Economics of the University of Geneva, associated with the IP204 project within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES.

With the help of Professor José Ramirez, and with Yves Flückiger, future rector of the University of Geneva, as an additional thesis co-director, Joëlle Latina was able to access the administrative data of the canton of Geneva for almost 44,000 students, i.e. all young people who entered middle school from 1993 to 2004. The data paint a sociodemographic portrait of pupils from these twelve cohorts, and make it possible to analyse their educational routes for up to three years after they leave compulsory schooling.

This study confirms the effects of social reproduction on academic success. Non-francophone children with most recent immigration backgrounds, little social capital and less parental support, have more disrupted trajectories leading to fewer upper secondary level qualifications than more privileged students.

Tracking at age 12 or 13

The research provides original insight into a less well-charted area. The data make it possible to compare two types of schooling: streaming pupils into several levels from age 12, as was already commonplace in most establishments in the canton at the time, and tracking pupils one year later, as was practised by three establishments in Geneva until the inter-canton harmonisation of compulsory education put an end to the experiment in 2011.

This comparison lead to a finding which surprised Joëlle Latina and her thesis supervisors: delayed tracking was not beneficial to the low achievers; their likelihood of changing routes – sometimes even several times – in the three years following the end of compulsory education is 12 percentage points higher than that of those placed in a lower track one year earlier.

"While the literature points out that early tracking tends to increase school performance inequality, our results suggest that delaying tracking can reduce the smoothness of subsequent school transitions and particularly so for low ability students," states Joëlle Latina in her thesis.

Why these different pathways? According to Joëlle Latina, two theories could explain why the educational trajectories of weaker pupils have more ruptures and changes when they study alongside better-performing children for longer.

Social contrast and status characteristics

The theory of social contrast says that individuals tend to compare themselves to those around them and therefore to share the same aspirations. This could come to the detriment of students on the lower end of the ability distribution, who would find themselves unable to achieve their ambitions and be forced to change courses once they meet with failure.

According to the status characteristics theory, the confidence that individuals may or may not have in their own skills is influenced by common beliefs about the group to which they belong. Thus the prejudice that girls are less performing at maths leads them to underestimate themselves and to be less likely to study this subject than boys. Applied to the situation examined here, this phenomenon is said to encourage pupils who transfer early to pre-vocational schooling to belittle themselves, and those tracked at a later stage to overestimate themselves. For those who opt for academic studies without having all of the required potential, this false perception is said to lead to more referral errors.

Trajectories of varying smoothness

Joëlle Latina's thesis also examines other aspects of transitions between compulsory education and further educational pathways. She is particularly interested in the trajectories of apprentices and in route changes during the three years after leaving middle school. Again, social factors have a profound influence. Generally, the good students prefer the academic option to apprenticeships. However, when they opt for vocational training, high track students have smoother educational trajectories, with fewer changes.

Finally, she examines the transitions within vocational training between pure classroom education and apprenticeships, a type of transition which has not been studied in depth but which concerns around a fifth of young people in commercial training in Geneva. All other factors being equal, changing from business school to dual vocational education and training (VET) increases the likelihood of obtaining an upper secondary diploma; by contrast, the concerned people lose an average of one semester in the course of the changeover.

Implications for public policies

The researcher maintains that the horizontal permeability of the education system needs to be improved, so that changes can take place without loss of time, notably by validating crosscutting skills, as Germany is currently testing in its DECVET project.

As regards compulsory education, she recommends more specifically targeting disadvantaged groups, and improving counselling in order to avoid dead ends. She believes that better information on learning through internships is needed, and that more emphasis should be placed on contextualised (rather than abstract) skills when dealing with pupils not destined for academic studies.

A bright future

After the thesis defence, the five jury members praised Joëlle Latina's work as "far above average". She has shown a "solid methodology", according to Rainer Winkelmann, professor at the University of Zurich, and "has a bright future ahead of her", according to Yves Flückiger. In the immediate future, the young researcher intends to continue in the same research line by integrating longitudinal and comparative data.

>> Latina, Joëlle (2015). Upper secondary school transitions : an empirical analysis. Supervised by José V. Ramirez and Yves Flückiger. University of Geneva

Image iStock © byryo

How the AIDS virus taught them to live: "ordinary" women with extraordinary trajectories

For her thesis project at the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, Vanessa Fargnoli is investigating the life course of women who – on the surface – were unlikely HIV candidates. Around thirty interviews have been conducted over the last year. They point to new areas for analysis and show the incredible resilience of the women who took part in this research.

One day they learned that they were carriers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Most of them did not expect it at all. It was over fifteen years ago, thirty years ago for some. Since then they have been living with their condition; not healthy, not ill. Because since the advent of triple combination therapy, people no longer die of AIDS. Yet people are marked for life – in their daily lives, in their relationships and in terms of their identity – by the consequences of infection. This brutal realisation by women who were not drug users, sex workers or from countries where the pandemic is rife, is the focus of the in-depth interviews conducted by Vanessa Fargnoli, a sociologist from the University of Geneva, since 2014.

"A lot of work has already been done on high-risk groups. This has often taken the form of research into prevention. Yet women I have called "ordinary", although I dislike the word, are under-represented in the studies. They are not a public health priority, as they are not perceived as being potentially 'infectious'," explains the doctoral candidate.

Since the ethics committee of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) approved her project in December 2013, followed by the ethics committee of the University Hospital of the Canton of Vaud (CHUV) in May 2014, Vanessa Fargnoli has met with twenty-seven participants aged 34 to 69 from the most diverse backgrounds in terms of education, employment situation and family status. Around half of them have already been seen twice, with each interview lasting almost two hours.

"Each of these women has a different story. One took her husband to court, some wanted to have a child despite everything and some did not; the situations are incredibly varied," states the researcher. One of these women lost her job because of HIV, another decided to leave the disability insurance system and do all she can to get back to work. There are even two cases of "intentional" infection: one participant said that she was attempting a kind of suicide, another that her partner had refused to use protection out of love, in order to "share everything" with her.

"A relationship illness"

However, beyond these differences, a common thread emerges, which Vanessa Fargnoli had not expected to be so clearly present: almost all of these stories contain episodes of violence – physical, sexual or psychological – prior to infection. "It is known that certain traumas cause victims to lose respect for themselves. Are these predispositions the reason why these women did not protect themselves? That is a hypothesis to be tested. At this stage in any case, I already perceive AIDS as a 'relationship illness'," says the sociologist.

All the ingredients from the life course perspective are brought together in this research and will be drawn upon to move forward in the analysis: socio-historic context (new infection, new treatments), critical events (moment of infection, diagnosis, physical symptoms), accumulation of disadvantages and bifurcations (as regards love relationships, family, working life and, of course, health). Applied to AIDS, Vanessa Fargnoli's empirical, inductive approach smoothly combines theoretical paradigms: "lifelong development" (how identity is negotiated and constructed, what resources are mobilised), "linked lives" (particularly perceptible in the case of a disease contracted from others and having an impact on other people close to the sufferer), "agency" (i.e. the strategies used by the individuals concerned, consisting equally of avoidance and compensation).

"Paradoxical illness"

Vanessa Fargnoli believes that AIDS is not only a "relationship illness", but also a "paradoxical illness": "Being HIV-positive is both the worst and best thing that has happened to these women. It has forced them to start respecting themselves, and to take care of themselves; some of them have developed their spirituality enormously to cope with their situation," explains the researcher.

She believes that the paradox also arises from the fact that AIDS has lost its capacity for disruption at biological level, but not at the social level: it is no longer fatal, but is still perceived as dirty. Its victims are simultaneously invisible and stigmatised, normal and vulnerable. In addition, even if the virus is properly controlled, they still suffer enormously from the side effects of treatment – neurological problems, liver problems, metabolism problems. Finally, they are torn between guilt and secrecy on the one hand, and a desire to escape and share their experience on the other.

In addition, although they are themselves victims, many of the women questioned want to protect the man who infected them, or protect their loved ones by hiding or downplaying their condition. They refuse pity, and do not feel entitled to complain. Last but not least, the final paradox: their own children, teenagers or young adults who are all HIV-negative thanks to scientific progress, often do not systematically take the necessary precautions in their intimate relationships.

How to live

Vanessa Fargnoli says that several women were hesitant to share their experiences because they did not feel that they were a good example, seeing as they were getting along reasonably well, and that this did not fit in with the image circulated to encourage prevention. However, their story shows better than certain clichés how the risk affects everyone, and how living with HIV is no easy experience, even today.

"Perhaps there is a selection bias," she says, "but the women I met are all fighters. They discovered that the virus had made them more tolerant, more concerned for others, but also more demanding in their relationships." She cites as an example the experience of a former waitress, whose husband used to beat her with complete impunity and who, after being diagnosed, rebuilt her life via community associations and forged even stronger links with her family.

Vanessa Fargnoli concludes: "Even the woman who contracted AIDS deliberately in an attempt to destroy herself has ultimately succeeded in bringing meaning to her life. They all say that before HIV, their lives were worse. Surprisingly, some did not want the virus to be removed. It taught them how to live, not how to die."

“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)