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Temporal and spatial analysis of social inequalities in Belgium and Luxemburg (DESTINY)

Research project TA/00/27A (Research action TA)

Persons :

  • Prof. dr.  EGGERICKX Thierry - Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/3/2008-31/12/2009
  • Prof. dr.  KESTELOOT Christian - Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/3/2008-31/12/2009
  • Dr.  GERBER Philippe - C. Et. Populations, Pauvreté et Politiques Socio-Economiques (CEPSINSTEAD)
    Not-financed foreign partner
    Duration: 1/3/2008-31/12/2009

Description :


Today, despite the improvement of the quality of life in Belgium and Luxemburg, social exclusion continues to exist and inequalities even increase. The risks of social relegation increase with instability of occupational careers, of family networks, as well as with restructuring of the welfare state. Finally, these social changes are the more violent that they are reinforced by a process of increasingly sharp separation of social groups in space.

This research proposal is based on the possibility to link the census data results of 1991 and 2001 in Belgium and similar data in Luxemburg at the individual level and concerns a multidisciplinary exploration of social inequalities. In order to do so, the social inequalities between individuals belonging to the active and post-active population, distinguished by age, gender and ethnicity (the three relevant characteristics on which one has no grip), will be analysed at each census date in the fields of household structure, housing and neighbourhood characteristics, education, employment, health and citizenship (social and political rights varying with nationality) . This will yield the definition of social groups at the lower end of the social continuum. Distinction between groups will be made on the grounds of level of precariousness, composition of precariousness (position in the fields under analysis) and age, gender and ethnicity.

The added value of the research stems from the fact that the database combines three characteristics: it covers (nearly) the whole population, it is available at the individual level and it is longitudinal. This enables to explore temporal and spatial dimensions of inequality in a comprehensive way.

The temporal dimension of the analysis involves a) a longitudinal analysis of both forward and backward changes in the positions of the individuals belonging to the social groups under consideration and b) an analysis of intra- and intergenerational change for the members of the households to which these selected individuals belong, again both forward and backward (intragenerational analysis compares life courses of partners who united or split during the intercensital period and of brothers and sisters).

The spatial dimension involves a) an exploration of neighbourhood effects (how far do the neighbourhood characteristics explain changes in the position of the individuals, including differences between the urban and the rural context and between different types of urban neighbourhoods), b) an analysis of residential mobility and its relation with changes in precariousness, c) a comparative analysis at the regional level (involving differences between industrial and tertiary regions, in economic decline or economic growth) and d) a comparative analysis at the "state" level (involving differences in welfare provision between the three Belgian Regions and Luxemburg).

The results of this exploratory analysis will be framed in the context of broader societal changes over the last decades as aging population, the second demographic transition (i.e. increasing diversification and instability of household structures), growing gender awareness, multiculturality and socio-spatial polarisation. These changes relate to the transition from intensive to flexible economic growth regimes, or from fordism to postfordism, which took place during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Therefore, the analysis of inequalities will be extended as much as possible to the 1970 and the 1981 census.

The whole analysis will be embedded in a theoretical framework based on the concept of mode of economic integration of Karl Polanyi. These modes of economic integration can be defined as the basic types of relations that people develop in order to secure access to their means of existence. Polanyi shows that besides autarky, only three such modes exist: reciprocity, redistribution and market exchange. These concepts are useful to understand poverty and inequality (defined as a lack of capacities to participate in one or more of these relation types), but also to characterise economic and political changes (reinforcing market exchange at the expense of (state) redistribution and reciprocity), to pinpoint the differences in welfare state provision between the States and Regions involved and to measure the potentials and constraints that spatial settings impose on these relations.

At the end of the project, the expected outcomes are:

• Understanding of changes in social inequality related to the transition of fordism to postfordism and the concomitant changes in welfare policies in Belgium and Luxemburg. This will be done within the Polanyian theoretical framework of modes of economic integration and will also take the processes of second demographic transition into account. The first two dimensions of change relate to the changing relations between market exchange and redistribution, the latter to social networks and reciprocity.

• Enrich the theoretical framework on the basis of the empirical results. Indeed these empirical results will help to identify intermediate concepts linking modes of economic integration with social inequalities in the fields under study. In other words we will be able to identify the key-relations or transitions in terms of education, employment, household form, housing residential environment, health, which open or foreclose access to means of existence (expressed here as up- or downward changes of social positions or being trapped in such a low position). The transition matrices calculated in the project will be crucial to predict the probabilities of stability, up- and downward social mobility regarding positions in terms of education, employment, housing, etc.). Moreover, the spatial dimension of the project enables us to understand the spatial structures of these relations. This knowledge is potentially crucial for better understanding the effects of social and territorial policies combating social inequalities. This is the way we intend to improve our understanding of the processes generating social inequalities in time and space.

• A better understanding of the interactions between the production of social inequalities and their spatial context. Space is seen here as the environment of individuals in terms of physical and social neighbourhood characteristics, including the position and the production conditions of that neighbourhood within the wider urban or regional context.

• A better understanding of the factors affecting transmission of social positions within and between generations.

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