Welfare state life courses: Social inequalities in the co-evolution of employment, health and critical life events (WELLIFE)

Social conditions, such as income, employment and family resources, matter for health, and health matters for participation in society, employment and economic well-being. These associations are well known. How welfare and labour market policies influence them in a life course perspective, is less studied and less understood. What policies foster labour market participation and self-provision among people with health limitations? To what extent is the welfare state able to buffer against detrimental health effects of critical life events? Can welfare policies prevent cumulative disadvantage and vicious circles of poor health and critical life events? What is the role of welfare policies in shaping social and gender inequalities in these associations?

The purpose of the proposed project is to contribute with new insights about these issues. The project will take full advantage of the unique register information on socioeconomic conditions, social security and health, available in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. These data will be utilised for studying these themes with a view both on changes over time and developments over the life course.

The WELLIFE project will highlight three themes. First, we will study whether social policy, including labour market policies, modifies the extent to which the onset of illness affect living conditions, in particular employment. Here, health data on cancer and hospitalisation will be used to indicate types of health shocks. Second, we investigate the role of social policy in the extent to which critical life events, such as job loss, divorce or health shocks within the close family, translate into poor health and worse living conditions for parents and children.

This part of the project will have a special interest in health and employment, but including other outcomes is important to understand the mechanisms at work. While these two objectives will provide new insights into the role of the welfare state in shaping the health-employment nexus, a key ambition is also to provide better understanding of the mechanisms at play in a life course perspective, as well gender and social inequality formation.

Therefore, the third objective is to analyse prevailing trajectories experienced by people who fall ill, lose their job, or experience divorce, etc. in different welfare settings.