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Critical Life Events and the Dynamics of Inequality: Risk, Vulnerability, and Cumulative Disadvantage

Programme Group Institutions, Inequalities, and Life Courses (IIL)

A research consortium led by Thomas Leopold, Associate Professor of Sociology, has been awarded € 1,5 million by the European Commission via an ERA-NET Cofund grant. The project will be situated within the programme group Institutions, Inequalities, and Life Courses and carried out as a transnational research programme involving three collaborating institutions: University of Oxford, Stockholm University, and University of Lausanne.

The project studies the impact of two critical life events – job loss and union dissolution – on the life trajectories of adults and their children. It examines two pathways through which these events may produce an accumulation of inequality over the life course: risk and vulnerability. Risk refers to social gradients in the likelihood of experiencing these events, whereas vulnerability refers to social gradients in the impact of these events on economic and noneconomic outcomes.


The project’s main objectives are to understand (1) how job loss and union dissolution contribute to the accumulation of disadvantage over the life course; (2) what mechanisms explain the (unequal) impact of these events; and (3) which work and family policies are effective in targeting these mechanisms in order to reduce inequality.

Work will be conducted within five research groups, all of which will apply comparable designs to the analysis of survey data and register data in five countries: Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The groups will develop a common theoretical framework that specifies shared research goals and ensures a high level of integration throughout the project’s three-year duration. The cohesion of the project across the participating institutions is fostered by a series of meetings and workshops in which all junior and senior members participate.

The Amsterdam team consists of Thomas Leopold, Thijs Bol, Matthijs Kalmijn, Herman van de Werfhorst, and two researchers (PhD/postdoc level) that will be recruited for the project start in September 2017.