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To study vulnerability in the life course, repeated observations over time are necessary

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has just awarded 14.5 million francs to the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES for a second four-year phase. Thanks to this vote of confidence, the teams of the Universities of Lausanne, Geneva, Berne and Zurich will be able to continue the longitudinal studies which were initiated in the first phase. This is an essential follow-up in order to obtain quality scientific outputs.

Allocating 100% of the first phase of funding (2011-2014) for the new period which is starting now, the SNSF indicated in its letter of 23 January 2015 that the NCCR LIVES evaluation had led to a "clearly positive result".

Getting longitudinal data is essential in the case of LIVES. It means repeating the same studies several times on the same population samples, to see how they evolve. Of the centre's nine projects, several are based on quantitative panel data, which require significant human and financial resources to gather, process, analyse and follow up data from several thousand individuals.

Vulnerable populations

As regards the IP201 project, led by Prof. Dario Spini, director of the NCCR LIVES at the University of Lausanne, the SNSF funding will make it possible to continue collecting data from young adults who grew up in Switzerland, with an over-representation of people born of foreign parents. Another aspect, in collaboration with the Canton of Vaud, investigates people on low income. These two oversampling cases are part of the third sample of the Swiss Household Panel.

"This data will enable us to complete our understanding of life trajectories of two vulnerable populations that were difficult to analyse until now. In both cases, we need this information in order to understand how these people are integrated in the Swiss society", explained Dario Spini.

Career path

In order to investigate further the aspect of occupational integration, the IP207 project, led by Prof. Jérôme Rossier at the University of Lausanne, in collaboration with a team from the University of Zurich, intends to repeat seven times its questionnaire launched in 2012 on people with and without employment. The first three waves are finished and there are still four to come.

"The professional world has become globalised and is less stable. Individuals change jobs more and more frequently, on average every three years for people new to the labour market. To properly understand the psychological, social and environmental resources that individuals use to manage their occupational path, their career and their life, a longitudinal approach is indispensable", said Jérôme Rossier.

Old age

At the University of Geneva, the IP213 team, led by Prof. Michel Oris, co-director of the NCCR LIVES, studies old age. There as well, a longitudinal approach is necessary, he explains: "Ageing is a process, not a state. Individuals become fragile, or even become dependent; but others preserve their resources. It is necessary to measure these inequalities between individuals, look at their causes in the life course and, most crucially, scrutinise the alchemy of personal well-being. And only the people themselves can reveal this to us."

Over 3,000 people aged 65+ living in five cantons of Switzerland were thus questioned at length in 2011-2012 on their life course; this survey will be repeated in 2016 and completes other data collected for several years by the Interfaculty centre for gerontology and vulnerability studies (CIGEV).


Another LIVES team, based at the University of Berne and led by Prof. Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello in the framework of the IP212, is looking further into a more specific aspect of ageing: close relationships in the second half of life. Two waves of enquiries were conducted in 2012 and 2014, and a third will take place in 2016.

"Loss of important relationships is an inevitable challenge when ageing, however the large individual differences in coping are still not well understood. IP212 supplies longitudinal data on the various paths of psychological adaptation to divorce or bereavement and seeks to identify resources and possibilities of psychosocial prevention and intervention. These data are not only a scientific desiderata but also of utmost public health relevance", asserted the project leader.

Developing social policies

Ultimately, the whole purpose of the studies conducted by the NCCR LIVES is to identify how to overcome economic, social and psychological vulnerability in order to stimulate reflection on social policy development.

To do this, significant resources have been allocated for four years and will continue to be invested, in collaboration with the partner universities and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland. The strength of the NCCR LIVES is that it combines the skills of several social science disciplines and the contributions of several methods. The nine projects in the second phase, in addition to gathering the longitudinal data, also look at other types of quantitative and qualitative data, for example to understand the evolution of family structures, explore gender issues, observe the world of work and better identify the role of the welfare state.

For science in general and Switzerland in particular, it is a priceless opportunity to bring together within the same programme all of these empirical elements, with the aim of better understanding the dynamics of stress and resources, by articulating a multidimensional approach (across life domains) with a multi-level approach (in social and institutional interactions) and a multidirectional approach (over time). 

>> To find out more on the LIVES research projects