Life course mechanisms of vulnerability in old age – IP3

This research project focuses on life-course mechanisms of stress and stress regulation in old age and the role of reserve build-up and activation in a multi-domain approach (education, work, family, leisure and welfare regimes). Vulnerability is proposed to be the result of insufficient reserve build-up across the life course in various domains, linked with inefficient reserve activation in situations of stress, in the context of insufficient systemic (e.g. welfare state) measures to offset or prevent negative outcomes.

In LIVES interdisciplinary approach, reserves are described as a dynamic function, latent capacity, that build up across the life course and indicates the main available capacity to maintain the functionality of a physiological, cognitive, or social system after receiving a shock or a stressor. They are needed for protection against damage or stress, to delay or change the processes of decline in well-being, mental and physical health, economic status or social participation across old age.

IP3–Ageing focuses its studies to tackle two research gaps:

  1. Longitudinal and experimental research designs.
  2. Activation of reserves in stress situations, both in controlled settings and in measurements-burst designs in everyday life.

Research questions

How are reserves built up in various domains across the entire life course to buffer against stress effects in old age?

The concept of multi-domain reserves is examined as a potentially powerful interdisciplinary explanatory construct that may be used to better understand long-term trajectories into vulnerability in old age. From a life-course perspective, we consider these dynamics as starting in childhood, across the whole adult life course and into old age. Vulnerability is related to a lack of reserves in multiple domains when facing episodes of stress such as unemployment, retirement, major health problems or bereavement. We aim to delineate those episodes across the life course, and combine and interrelate different domains. Gender differences or social stratification are also considered as principal moderators.

How are multi-domain reserves activated in situations of stress by older adults and how do they interact?

This second project focuses on reserve activation in situations of stress. Older adults may be more prone to negative stress effects on their cognitive health than younger ones as a result of a lack of reserves. We aim to examine how reserve levels are activated in situations of stress and whether this differs between men and women. 


Prof. Matthias Kliegel (University of Geneva)
Prof. Jürgen Maurer (University of Lausanne)
  • UNIGE: Olivier Desrichard, Paolo Ghisletta, Michel Oris, Eric Widmer
  • HES-SO (Fribourg): Jean-François Bickel, Christian Maggiori
Researchers and post-docs
  • UNIGE: Marie Baeriswyl, Nicola Ballhausen, Oana Ciobanu, Delphine Fagot, David Framorando, Myriam Girardin, Andreas Ihle, Emilie Joly-Burra, Sarah Ludwig-Dehm, Sascha Zuber 
Doctoral students
  • UNIGE: Morgane Kuenzi, Greta Mikneviciute, Siboney Minko, Rojin Sadeghi, Julia Sauter, Rose Van der Linden, Iuna Dones
  • HES-SO (Fribourg): François Geiser


Other publications

Cheval, B., Chabert, C., Orsholits, D., Sieber, S., Guessous, I., Blane, D., et al.. (2019). Disadvantaged early-life socioeconomic circumstances are associated with low respiratory function in older Age. The Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 74, 1134–1140. doi:10.1093/gerona/gly177
Bolzman, C. A., & Bridji, S.. (2019). Older immigrants living in Switzerland and ambivalence related to return around the retirement period. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 60, 14–36. doi:10.1177/0020715218824634
Ballhausen, N., Kliegel, M., & Rimmele, U.. (2019). Stress and prospective memory: What is the role of cortisol?. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 161, 169–174. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2019.04.010
Ciobanu, R. Oana. (2019). The role of super-diversity in shaping the perception of and services for older migrants. Journal of Aging Studies, 50, 100792. doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2019.100792
Rossier, C. (2019). Introduction. In C. Rossier, Soura, A., & Duthé, G. (Eds.), Inégalités de santé à Ouagadougou. Résultats d’un observatoire de population urbain au Burkina Faso (INED., pp. 11–36). Paris, France: INED. Retrieved from
Bolzman, C. (2019). Quels liens entre recherche et travail social ? : L’exemple des études sur l’âge et la migration. In M. Battaglini, Fretz, S., Nada, E., & Ossipow, L. (Eds.), Enquêter, former, publier au cœur de la cité (1st Editionst ed., pp. 27–43). Genève: Éditions ies. Retrieved from
PDF icon Chapter (PDF) (505.56 KB)
Baeriswyl, M. (2018). L’engagement collectif des aînés au prisme du genre : évolutions et enjeux. Gerontologie et societe, vol. 40 / n° 157, 53–78. doi:10.3917/gs1.157.0053
PDF icon Article (PDF) (2.36 MB)
Baumann, I., Altwicker-Hámori, S., Juvalta, S., Baer, N., Frick, U., & Rüesch, P.. (2018). Employment prospects of young adults with mental disorders. Swiss Journal of Sociology, 44, 259–280. doi:10.1515/sjs-2018-0012
PDF icon Article (PDF) (851.28 KB)
Masotti, B. (2018). Demander (ou pas) l’aide à domicile au grand âge. L’agency des personnes âgées. Gérontologie et société, 40, 79–95. doi:10.3917/gs1.157.0079
PDF icon Article (PDF) (1.27 MB)
Baumann, I. (2018). Barrieren für die arbeitsmarktpartizipation älterer arbeitnehmender. Angewandte Gerontologie, 3(4), 20–22. doi:10.1024/2297-5160/a000063
PDF icon Article (PDF) (213.27 KB)
Peter, J., & Kliegel, M.. (2018). The age-prospective memory paradox: Is it about motivation?. Clinical and Translational Neuroscience. doi:10.1177/2514183X18807103
PDF icon Article (PDF) (396.62 KB)
Lerch, M., & Oris, M.. (2018). Mortality during heat episodes in Switzerland: A story of vulnerability. In P. Puschmann & Riswick, T. (Eds.), Building bridges: scholars, history and historical demography; a Festschrift in honor of Professor Theo Engelen (Valkhof Pers., pp. 626–646). Nijmegen, Netherlands: Valkhof Pers.
PDF icon Chapter (PDF) (2.9 MB)