Image iStock © SondraP

Osmosis between social and life sciences proceeds in a book on health trajectories

First contribution to the Springer series Life Course Research and Social Policies to be published under Open access thanks to the support of the NCCR LIVES, the volume edited by Claudine Burton-Jeangros, Stéphane Cullati, Amanda Sacker, and David Blane provides a welcome theoretical framework as well as choice empirical examples and methodological inputs in a booming field of study, at the crossroads between social epidemiology and the sociology of health.

The same applies to social conditions and anti-inflammatory creams: they get under the skin and act on the body cells. The former last longer though, without always being as beneficial. This is what life course epidemiology teaches us in a collective book resulting from a collaboration between the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES and the International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (ICLS) at the University College London.

Published by LIVES members Prof. Claudine Burton-Jeangros and Dr. Stéphane Cullati from the University of Geneva, along with professors Amanda Sacker and David Blane, who are two authorities in the field at ICLS, this volume brings a fresh look at a still recent area of research by extending the scope of analysis to health in general. For up to now, publications on the subject had mostly addressed chronic diseases.

How does social and economic status produce class differences in terms of health and life expectancy? How, conversely, can health status during childhood later on influence schooling and occupational paths, as well as relationships? The editors’ introduction describes a promising and evolving field of study. They insist on the need for developing preventive policies that take into account all life domains.

The following chapters describe the state of research at the theoretical and empirical levels.

Obesity, scourge of modern times

Laura D. Howe, from the University of Bristol, in collaboration with Riz Firestone, Kate Tilling, and Debbie A. Lawlor, offers a review of the evidence regarding trajectories and transitions in childhood and adolescent obesity. Considered as “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization, obesity concerns 42 million children under the age of five, close to 31 million of these are living in developing countries. This scourge of modern times increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and social isolation in adult life.

“The study of child adiposity trajectories represents an area where we hope to be able, one day, to determine not only the age period during which children are more at risk of becoming and staying overweight, but also in which social and family conditions, and according to what biological predisposition,” Stéphane Cullati and Claudine Burton-Jeangros explained.

The smile as social marker

Another area where social and family environments are critical is oral health. That is the subject of another chapter by Anja Heilmann, from the University College London, with Georgios Tsakos and Richard G. Watt as co-authors. Teeth problems are a source of multiple difficulties and suffering in the short, middle, and long term. Education may prevent part of those, but treatment remains hardly accessible to the underprivileged. Moreover, it is far from being a priority for policy makers.

Other diseases occur independently of social conditions. That is the case of cystic fibrosis. Yet important differences will appear in the life course of the most favoured patients versus those who live in a deprived context, show David Taylor-Robinson, from the University of Liverpool, with Peter Diggle, Rosalind Smyth and Margaret Whitehead.

Calculate and predict inequalities

Among the nine contributions that compose the content of the book, three address important methodological issues, which arise for researchers willing to carry out longitudinal studies on health in a life course perspective. One chapter, written by a Geneva team linked to the NCCR LIVES, presents statistical models that include both stability and change. Paolo Ghisletta, Olivier Renaud, Nadège Jacot, and Delphine Courvoisier demonstrate how these methods allow analysis of the interaction between individuals and their context over time.

Asked about the challenges posed by life course epidemiology, Claudine Burton-Jeangros and Stéphane Cullati mentioned several limitations, which remain to be overcome: getting access to representative samples of the general population, and not only to sub-populations of patients; having longitudinal databases that are sufficiently rich in data on family, work, leisure, life conditions during childhood, health behaviours and status (including biomarkers); repeating these studies on new cohorts; encouraging the development of statistical models able to process large quantities of repeated data; and finally, collect also qualitative data through interviews with participants, in addition to quantitative data, in order to better capture the meaning that individuals give to their health trajectories, in relation to changes in their life conditions.

Protect family life

On the basis of current knowledge, both authors consider that social policy should better protect childhood and family life: “Ensure the best conditions for our kids, be it during intrauterine life, at birth, during early childhood and the early phases of mental and physical development, promote a good social integration during adolescence, all these factors represent key elements for a future healthy life. However, health promotion, which goes far beyond the sole sector of public health programmes, is not a priority, as the voting against a law on prevention recently showed in Switzerland”, they regret.

>> Burton-Jeangros, C., Cullati, S., Sacker, A., & Blane, D..  (2015). A life course perspective on health trajectories and transitions. Life course research and social policies (Vol. 4, p. 213). New York: Springer.

Available under Open access

Image iStock © zimmytws

Threats and opportunities facing single-parent families from a grass-roots perspective

In a report on the forum "Changing families and single parenthood: vulnerabilities and resources from the practioners' point of view", LIVES researchers document observations from the field made by professionals.

The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES - Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) and the Swiss Federation of single parent families organised on November 21, 2014 an exchange forum between social scientists and practitioners at the University of Lausanne on the question of single-parent families. The meeting’s report aimed at addressing weaknesses and threats, but also strengths and opportunities in relation to this type of household, is now available.

A focal point were also the recent changes and on-going debates in family law, particularly concerning parental authority and alimonies. Social workers, early childhood educators, legal experts, child psychiatrists, civil servants, and NGO representatives shared their knowledge and experience, drawn from their daily work on issues such as legal matters and tax problems, social policy and support facilities as well as the relationships between parents, children, and the extended families.

>> See the report in French

>> See the report in German

Educational Expansion, Partnership, and the Family: Special issue of the Swiss Journal of Sociology

Educational Expansion, Partnership, and the Family: Special issue of the Swiss Journal of Sociology

Publication is planned for November 2017. Guest editors: Rolf Becker (University of Bern), Ben Jann (University of Bern), Eric Widmer (University of Geneva & NCCR LIVES). Deadline for submitting abstracts: November 15, 2015.

Call for papers

Compared to other countries, the educational expansion in Switzerland was rather moderate in impact and less dynamical. However, longitudinal studies making use of a cohort design demonstrate that Switzerland did indeed catch up in terms of participation in education and the acquisition of higher education during the last decades. On the one hand, the educational expansion led to an unprecedented educational upgrading of the Swiss Population over generations. On the other hand, this process led to changes in the inequality of educational opportunities according to people’s social origin, ethnic background and gender. While the educational expansion was accompanied by changes in the occupational and class structure, familial and demographic processes also changed.

Based on official statistics for the historic period of the educational expansion since the 1960s, the pattern of declining marriage rates, an increase in the mean age of marriage, decreasing birth rates, a shift in age of the first child’s birth, and increasing divorce rates can be revealed. In other countries studies using a life course perspective could show empirically that the increase in the age of marriage as well as the age at first child’s birth is a consequence of cohorts remaining longer in the educational system. Hence, these cohorts postponed these decisions to later stages in life. Especially the increase in female employment as a consequence of the higher qualification of girls and women seems to be a driving force of this process. Furthermore, the educational expansion also contributed to the decrease in number of children per family. This is not only due to the increase in women’s participation in the labor market, but also to a shift in family conception and the aspirations toward designing one’s own life. Finally, the higher demands on partnership and marriage as a consequence of the educational expansion also led to a higher dynamic in terms of divorce, remarriage and other forms of cohabitation.

For the case of Switzerland, in contrast to other countries, it remains unclear to what extent these structural changes can be causally attributed to the educational expansion – both theoretically as well as empirically. Also, there are striking research gaps regarding the educational expansion’s consequences for familial and demographic processes and trends in time. Questions remain, such as: Did the educational expansion lead to more educational homogamy, strengthening therewith the social closure of partnership and marriage markets? Did dating agencies gain more importance in the course of the educational expansion? What are the consequences of the increasing educational homogamy for socialization processes and the educational opportunities of the younger generation? Did the stability of partnerships and marriages in- or decrease as a result of higher qualifications? Are childbirth simply postponed or did the educational expansion also lead to changes in the fertility and therewith the family structure? What is the potential impact of educational changes on the development of alternative family options (single-parent family, living apart-together couples, same sex couples, and so on). Do the rates of remarriage increase and does the likelihood to start a new partnership after a divorce or separation increasingly depend upon the partner’s education? How does increasing education change the ways spouses or partners interact together, but also with their children, in relation with gender and individualization issues? What are the differences between Switzerland and other modern nations in terms of these relational and demographical processes?

All these questions require answers from a dynamic longitudinal perspective of the life courses of successive birth cohorts. As these cohorts are the cultural promoters of the educational expansion, they can be perceived as the main actors of change within these familial and demographical processes. To answer the issues raised, the empirical reconstruction of these changes ideally requires time-continuous data which allow the application of panel, event-history or optimal matching models. In doing so, potential causal relations between the educational expansion on the one hand and the socio-structural changes of partnership, marriage, family formation, divorce, and remarriage on the other hand can be revealed – as well as their consequences for the further progress of the educational expansion. The special issue is intended to combine contributions that address the consequences of the educational expansion upon familial and demographic processes with adequate, modern methodological approaches and current longitudinal data for the case of Switzerland as well as other modern countries. In particular, historical and international comparisons considering Switzerland at least as a reference country are highly welcome.

Interested scholars are invited to submit a proposal to Rolf Becker ( no later than November 15, 2015. Your submission for the special issue should include the following:

  • name, email address, and affiliations of all the authors
  • title of the paper
  • abstract of around 450 words plus a short bibliography (topic, aim, theoretical perspective, empirical design, main/first results)

The guest editors will decide on the acceptance or rejection of the abstract until December 20, 2015.

Selected authors will be invited to submit a full paper (max. 8,000 words, 50,000 characters including tables, figures and references), which will be due on June 1st, 2016. The papers will go through the usual peer-review process of the Swiss Journal of Sociology. The proposal as well as the paper can be written in English, French or German. More information about the Swiss Journal of Sociology and the submission process are available in

For any queries, email

“The Future of Psychology”: congress of the Swiss Psychological Society in Geneva

“The Future of Psychology”: congress of the Swiss Psychological Society in Geneva

The 14th biannual congress of the SPS will take place at the University of Geneva (Uni Mail) on September 8-9, 2015. It is organised by a local team headed by Prof. Matthias Kliegel, a specialist of the psychology of aging and new head of NCCR LIVES IP213.

The conference intends to target current discussions, pioneering theories and extraordinary projects that could indicate the new pathways on which psychology might move forward in the near future. In that regard, the programme will focus on innovative topics in psychology. About 40 symposiums plus some workshops and paper or poster sessions will be carried out.

The keynote speakers will be Markus Heinrichs, from the University of Freiburg in Germany, and Mark A. McDaniel, from Washington University, in St. Louis, USA. Markus Heinrichs’ talk will address the mechanisms by which a certain hormone, i.e. neurohormone oxytocin (OT), contributes to human social behaviour, and how recent knowledge could enhance advances in the personalised treatment of psychopathological states. Mark McDaniel’s talk will combine recent advancements of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and educational psychology and focus on evidence-based techniques to improve instruction and student learning.

Several members of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will participate. They notably organised a symposium entitled “Studying vulnerability across the life course: An interdisciplinary project”. Chaired by Andreas Ihle and Delphine Fagot, this symposium aims to discuss LIVES’ most recent evidence on vulnerability and the process of vulnerabilisation, emphasising the interdisciplinary and multi-methodological inputs of this NCCR in a life course perspective.

Research on aging

In the first talk, Nora Dasoki will present a study investigating the interrelations and the influences that different temporalities, i.e. individual, social, and historical times, have on memories of happiness and vulnerability. This research, led with Davide Morselli and Dario Spini, shows that happy memories are linked to social expectations, no matter what age difference. Regarding vulnerability, individual time and historical context have both an impact and an interaction. The oldest elderly are less likely to remember their lives as vulnerable, except during the Second World War. For that period of time it is the younger elderly who report less vulnerability.

Two other communications will also draw on data from the Vivre-Leben-Vivere (VLV) study on Swiss elderly, which IP213 conducts at the Geneva Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability. Andreas Ihle will discuss the role of different life course determinants in middle adulthood for cognitive performance in old age. This research, in collaboration with Michel Oris, Delphine Fagot and Matthias Kliegel, shows significant links between educational background, health status, and engaging in professional and leisure activities with cognitive functioning in old age. Later on Fanny Vallet will present empirical evidence that frail elderly have more difficulties to recover after a stressful event. Her co-authors here are Olivier Desrichard, Delphine Fagot, and Dario Spini.

Within the framework of IP212 led by Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, Charikleia Lampraki will focus on continuity and social participation in the process of recovering from the loss of an intimate partner in the second half of life. Together with Davide Morselli and Dario Spini, this study assesses how active participation in social groups outside family or friends may support the coping process.

Psychology of work

Another team of psychologists work at NCCR LIVES within IP207 under the direction of Jérôme Rossier. During the symposium this project will be represented by Christian Maggiori, who will focus on the impact of personal resources and professional conditions on the relationship between personality dimensions and professional and general well-being.

Colleagues of his will intervene in other sessions. Claire Johnston will present a review of the literature on the relevance of career adaptability in early careers, and also talk about “Immigrants’ career resources”. Grégoire Bollmann will present “Does Smiling Really Make us Happier? A Cross-Lagged Examination of the Causal Relationships between Affective and Cognitive Components of Subjective Well-Being”. Michaela Knecht will talk about “Selection, Optimization, and Compensation as response to goal conflict and facilitation”. And there will be a poster session where Martin Tomasik will present “Multiple Goals From the Perspective of Optimal Foraging Theory”.

Life span and other topics

A further symposium will address “Social relations over the life span: challenges and rewards” and include LIVES researchers. Jeannette Brodbeck and colleagues investigated the longitudinal relationship between life events and casual sexual relationships (CSR) in emerging adulthood in Switzerland. Daniela Jopp and colleagues compared the role of social resources for life-satisfaction in German and Japanese people aged 65 to 84. Germans were more likely to live alone, but had more social contacts, more psychological strengths and life-satisfaction than Japanese. In the very old age, optimism was a strong predictor of life-satisfaction in both cultures.

During the symposium “Legitimizing ideologies in the context of gender and political issues”, chaired by Grégoire Bollmann and Oriane Sarrasin, Rachel Fasel will present “Does victimization threaten the belief in a just world?”. Based on the TRACES project, her talk will demonstrates how socioeconomic conditions and war victimization shattered the general just world beliefs of residents of former Yugoslav countries.

We should also mention some other interesting presentations by LIVES members during different sessions: Lavinia Gianettoni with “Professional aspirations of boys and girls: the impact of sexist ideologies”, and Oriane Sarrasin with “When support for gender equality and tolerance of the Muslim headscarf go hand in hand”.

The organiser's point of view

According Prof. Matthias Kliegel, “this congress will be an excellent platform to present the exciting interdisciplinary potential of LIVES to the national and international psychological community. With its important psychological component, LIVES is one of the light house research programmes in psychology in Switzerland and therefore perfectly suited in the spectrum suggested by the motto ‘The future of psychology’ chosen for this conference. Importantly for LIVES, the motto is targeted not only at current discussions, pioneering theories and extraordinary projects that could indicate the new pathways on which psychology might move forward in the near future. A second very important point concerns young researchers who will be the future of psychology in Switzerland and who are therefore particularly invited to participate actively at the conference. In that regard, this year's congress offers several special events that explicitly support young scientists’ development. Special measures taken are the two Young Academics Program symposia (Career Option Forum and PhD Skills) where also several LIVES members will actively participate.”