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


This project studies the impact of two critical life events – job loss and union dissolution – on the life trajectories of adults and their children. We distinguish between 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.

Our main objectives are to understand (1) how job loss and union dissolution contribute to the accumulation of (dis)advantage 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.

Consistent with the aims of the DIAL call, the proposed research will shed light on the causal links between critical life events and the dynamics of inequality. It will also inform policies that promote the life chances and well-being of disadvantaged groups in society.

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. Our data will link adults to their children.

We will create academic and policy impact by ongoing dissemination through journal articles, a special issue, conference presentations, and outreach activities to national and European policymakers and other stakeholders.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. T. Leopold

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen, Amsterdam Centre for Inequality Studies

Team members

B. Hogendoorn, M. van Scheppingen


01/09/2017 to 31/08/2020