A perfectly equal society, with no socio-economic hierarchy or disparities, would be utopian. However, in all countries, we observe significantly varying levels of inequalities that affect social uniformity, economic solidarity and political responsibility. Excessive inequalities undermine not only the stability of societies, but also the capacity of democracies to respond to new challenges and to find solutions. Strong, middle-class societies are facing increasing difficulties to uphold their own quality of life and resilience to unexpected shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Understanding these socio-economic inequalities can make our society stronger. This is precisely the research objective of Prof. Louis Chauvel, sociologist and professor at the University of Luxembourg, who aims to “identify the multiple elements of socio-economic fragility of various countries, to which Luxembourg may or may not be exposed.” In June 2012, he received the prestigious PEARL grant from the Luxembourg National Research Fund (joined by economist Prof. Conchita D’Ambrosio in 2013) and founded the Institute for Research on Socio-Economic Inequality.
In this context Prof. Chauvel mentions the American health system in which extremely high costs correlate with very poor, worrying and unsatisfactory outcomes. He specifies, “Our recent research revealed that the state of health of the bottom third of the population, and even the upper middle classes, is much poorer than their European counterparts of the same age. For much less money spent, Europe achieves much better outcomes.”
The middle classes in both America and Europe have a growing fear of “falling”, of losing their social status. At the same time, a growing economic gap is threatening the stability of the two societies. To understand and predict adverse social dynamics over time, or even prevent them, Prof. Louis Chauvel is following a pioneering multidimensional approach to social epidemiology.
Much like a physician, he identifies and compares symptoms, signs and co-morbidities of societies around the world using quantitative models. While sociological studies typically consider a limited number of factors, Prof. Louis Chauvel has the ambition of creating a global picture of the dynamics spanning generations.
His research encompasses numerous aspects such as wealth distribution, unemployment rates, health care and pension systems, or even diseases and suicide rates. These prove essential for identifying the best social configurations in terms of hygiene, demography, longevity and health of populations.
“Over the course of 2019, we did a lot of work on how multiple inequalities can have an extremely negative impact on the health status of populations,” states Prof. Louis Chauvel. The sociologist’s team has highlighted, in particular, the strong correlation between increasing social uncertainty and an increase in mortality, as well as co-morbidities, among populations faced with such socio-economic inequalities.
The work of Prof. Louis Chauvel’s team has been the subject of several books and some sixty scientific publications reporting on socio-economic fragilities and the transformation of generations dating back to the 1960s in more than 30 countries. By providing a general picture of the intergenerational sustainability of a social model, their methodology is already of great interest to policymakers.
“Government experts are increasingly using our models to understand the worsening of current social crises, as was the case for the French “yellow vest” protests,” illustrates Prof. Louis Chauvel, who was invited to the Palais de l’Elysée in March 2019 to discuss the issue with President Macron. Beyond the immediate emergencies of the COVID-19 pandemic, saving our society in the long term is a major concern for which Prof. Louis Chauvel’s research could provide a solid basis for making decisions.
This success story originates from the FNR 2019 Annual Report
PEARL – Attracting established leading researchers in strategically relevant areas for Luxembourg research
FNR CALL: 2012
DOMAIN: Humanities & Social Sciences
FNR COMMITTED: 2.48 MEUR