Clife and WELLIFE


This project facilitates the investigation of welfare, health and employment in the Nordic countries by aiming to establish a register-based comparative dataset that is to be made available to social scientists within public health and welfare research. The project title, Contingent Life Courses, reflects that people’s lives and life chances are structured by important features of the social context, and notably, the welfare state. The database will enable rigorous analyses of how life courses are shaped by social policy, and assessments of the importance of social policy and welfare reform for health, welfare and social inequality in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

An attractive feature of the proposed database is that it will make possible comparative research on the living conditions and life courses of marginal social groups and how these groups are affected by social policy. Marginal groups, such as school drop-outs, adolescents in poor health or who live in poor or socially disadvantaged households, long-term social assistance recipients, lone mothers, cancer survivors and immigrants, are all small groups that are often difficult to reach, identify and analyse in conventional comparative survey data. Using comparative national register data will hence bring the trajectories and conditions of such marginal groups to light.

Simultaneously, the data will allow studying important population trends such as the development of health inequality, labour market exclusion, use of welfare benefits and social mobility patterns, in a comparative perspective. Nordic register data are pivotal to such an aim, as survey data may be biased or have incomplete time-series, and national register-based studies may not be sufficiently comparable. The higher prevalence and variance in social policy reforms obtained by assembling data from four different national settings constitute a much richer set of data than could have been obtained for one single country.

In sum, the project represents a promising and ground-breaking initiative that - if successful - will foster novel research and scientific excellence, and significantly improve the position of Nordic social scientists and public health researchers internationally. Furthermore, the knowledge that can be produced from the C-LIFE project will be of significant value for policy makers, and may also serve as an instrument for evaluation of new policy interventions and welfare reforms in the years to come.


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.

Contact: Postdoc Stine Kjær Urhøj and Professor David-Taylor Robinson