Study title
Critical events and family configurations
Ref study 10641
Study language English
Contributing institutions
  • Social networks
  • Vulnerability
  • Family configurations
  • Critical events
  • Conjugal quality
Geographical space
This project is a follow-up study of the study "Social Stratification, Cohesion and Conflict in Contemporary Families", which was conducted 1998/1999 and 2004 and was founded by the FNS. The project intends to uncover how different broad family contexts react to critical events (illness, unemployment, etc.) and the impact on the vulnerability of couples and parent-child relationship. The de-standardization of the life course (Beck, 1992), creates many opportunities for critical events that influence the organization of families. We tackle the impact of non-normative events on the accumulation of disadvantages/advantages during the life course within family configurations. Family configurations are supposed to be an important mediator between critical events and the ability of couples and parents to cope with hardship. The research questions we focus on are the following: How does family support mediate the impact of non-normative events on conjugal ad parental vulnerability? Higher support by relatives or other family members helps to resists vulnerability. Furthermore, not only the amount of support is important for the conjugal and parent-child relationship, but also its structures.
How do family interference, family conflict and family ambivalence mediate the impact of non-normative events on couples and parents? Couples who feel controlled by their family and friends report a lower adaptability to critical events and thus develop poorer educational styles and conjugal relationship than others.
How do non-normative events impact on family configurations? Following the occurrence of non-normative events, we expect family configurations to change by recomposing their interdependencies according to the new balance of resources available to their members.
Family configurations of individuals facing non-normative events are more likely to host a conflict or an ambivalence than others, which contributes to the accumulation of disadvantages and the transmission of this accumulation to their children. Some of them, however, are able to develop compensation strategies that we wish to uncover.
To test our hypotheses and to answer our research question, the study "Social Stratification, Cohesion and Conflict in Contemporary Families" is used. Three waves of this study exist right now, which allows us to follow couples development within the last 13 years. Our questionnaire contains variables regarding critical events, vulnerability and family configurations. The research design is a combination of quantitative and qualitative research. Whereas the quantitative analyses focus on the development on the whole, the qualitative analyses target on specific couples out of the sample who discovered critical events during the last 13 years. The advantage of the qualitative part is that the focus can be put on specific events and how individuals and couples faced them, and furthermore, aspects which are not part of the questionnaire can be discovered during the interviews.
Methods (description)
The first two waves, which are used for the study, have already been conducted in 1998/1999 and 2004. The sample includes married and unmarried heterosexual couples living in Switzerland. The youngest partner had to be at least 20 years and the oldest one less than 70 years. The sample was drawn randomly using non-proportional stratified design based on the three major linguistic areas of Switzerland. Interviews were done by telephone. In wave one, 1534 couples could be interviewed (3068 interviews in total). In the second wave, 1089 women of the original wave (71%) were interviewed. Due to financial restrictions only women were interviewed and the questionnaire contained the module on conjugal conflicts and demographic characteristics. Before starting the interviews for the third wave, the questionnaire was revised. The length was reduced (from 1 hour to 30 minutes) and the focus was put on questions regarding family configurations and critical events and vulnerability. This work started in February 2011 and lasted till April 2011. The questionnaire is standardized and to a big extend the same questions than 1998 were used, so that we are able to compare them. Additional, a self-administrated questionnaire on time use was created. This questionnaire comprise two parts. First, a diary where participants are asked to fill in what they have done on a Saturday and with whom they spend their time. Second, participants were asked to answer questions regarding their perception of time of the day they described and in general. This data will allow us to to observe family interdependencies during various activities of the day. Sample: The aim was to interview the largest proportion of individuals from the 1534 couples who have participated in the first wave (1998), even if they are currently separated, divorced or widowed. If one partner indicated that he or she is separated or divorced from their partner of 1998 we asked for the contact information of the ex-partner to interview him as well. Also the new partners should be interviewed as well. Additionally, 200 new couples should be included into the third wave. These new couples are included to fill in the gap of young couples from the first wave, who are now 13 years older. Therefore the condition was that women are between 20 and 29 years and living together with a man not older than 39 years. To receive contact information, a demand was sent to the Statistical Office of Switzerland through Rachel Fasel, LIVES scientific officer. We asked for information about 1600 women. The sample criteria were: married or non-married heterosexual women living in Switzerland, representing on of the three major linguistic regions, between 20 and 29 years, living with a partner between 10 and 39 years and the partner agree to do the interview. conducting The field work started in May 2011. MIS trend was in charge of the realization of the field work. Contact letters were sent to all persons who already participated in the first wave in 1998. In this letter they were asked to participate once again. Few days after sending the contact letters the interviewers of MIS trend started to call the participants. In this call they should at least complete the contact questionnaire with basic information about the person and the couple. If possible they also started the main questionnaire. If the person was not able to do the main questionnaire immediately the task of the interviewers was to fix an appointment. Once the telephone interview was done the time-use questionnaire with 10 francs for every participant was sent. The people were asked to fill in the questionnaire and the time table and to send it back to MIS trend. 200 new couples should be interviewed as well. In the mid of June we received the contact information of the Statistical Office of Switzerland and MIS trend once again sent contact letters with the request to participate in our study. To increase the response rate of the 1998 participants another letter was sent to all persons who refused an interview at first time to convince them to participate and after that they were called again. This started at the beginning of July. The field work for the quantitative part is already finished and the data set of the telephone interviews is already available. First descriptive analyzes and comparisons are conducted right now to get an overview about the data sets and the distribution of the variables. The field work for the time use questionnaire is already finished and the data set will be available soon. Additional there will be qualitative interviews with some of the couples. Laura Bernardi and Vanessa Brandalesi are in charge of this part of the project. Field work will start in 2012.

Method: Qualitative interviews; Standardised interviews by telephone
Population, unit of observation: Standardised interviews by telephone: all participants from 1st wave (1534 couples) plus additional 200 new couples
Participant selection or sampling method: Standardised interviews by telephone: for the new couples: data from the Statistical Office of Switzerland, women between 20 and 29 years with a partner between 20 and 39 years
ize of sample/selections: Standardised interviews by telephone: couples from first wave plus 200 couples planned, realized: 721 couples of first wave, 24 couples where one partner was participant in the first wave and has a new partner now, 177 separated individuals without new partner at the moment, 182 couples of the new cohort
Survey design: Standardised interviews by telephone: Panel
Data collected by: Standardised interviews by telephone: MIS Trend; Qualitative interviews: Vanessa Brandalesi
Methods (instruments)
Replicated study No
Financed by
Ethical approval No
Study type
Data availability
Source (Updates) Web
Date created 08.12.2011
Date modified 08.12.2011
Start - End date 01.01.2011 - 28.12.2014