The accumulation of disadvantages: A critical assessment. Lecture, 7 November 2022

Fundación BBVA at Palacio del Marqués de Salamanca. Paseo de Recoletos, 10. Madrid

November 7, 2022


19.00 – 20.30 CEST

During the last decades, the theory of cumulative (dis)advantages has been one of the most influential in life course sociology. This theory stimulated many researchers on the construction of social and health inequalities in old age across the life course.
Recent syntheses have shown that accumulation of disadvantages and accumulation of advantages are not symmetric. In this lecture, prepared jointly with Marie Baeriswyl, Rainer Gabriel, Andreas Ihle, we focus on the former, on the “dark side”, on the disadvantaged, on the “bottom-of-the-pyramid”.
First, we insist on one dimension, income poverty in old age. Results achieved thanks to the Swiss NCCR LIVES are contrasted with the international literature. Everywhere, early-life conditions (family context, education) were decisive. Later in life, across adulthood, various welfare regimes governed the life courses. But as a rule, most limited the triggering processes associated to a low education. A modest safety net prevented the accumulation of disadvantages and resulted instead in a “cumulative continuity” at a low level. More recent analyses, however, have shown the limits of this stability: older adults who have been blue collars are more at risks of falling into poverty.
Second, to go beyond those syntheses, we want to make a step further toward an interdisciplinary approach of a minority group: we will draw the portrait of the older adults who did not benefit from the progresses in health and living conditions that have changed the realities of aging during the last decades. We do that through an integration of the researchers on the life course construction of socioeconomic inequalities with those devoted to the roots of interindividual variability in cognitive performances. We also calculate at which point a penalty (or deficit) in a given dimension is associated with other penalties, counting those who are simultaneously: income poor, congnitively underperforming, frail, without social participation, alone, etc.

Dr. Michel Oris

is a full professor at the School of Social Sciences, University of Geneva. Vice-Rector for Research and Human Resources from mid-2015 to mid-2018, he was previously the director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Gerontology and Vulnerability Studies and codirector of the Swiss National Centre of Competency in Research “LIVES. Overcoming Vulnerabilities. Life Course Perspectives.” He also founded the program of Socioeconomics and Demography at the University of Geneva. President of AIDELF (Association Internationale des Démographes de Langue Française), his research focuses on inequalities, with an emphasis on the living and health conditions of the elderly, injustices regarding death, and interactions between individual trajectories and the dynamics of social structures, between vulnerabilities and life courses.