How socioeconomic inequality threatens social democracy


In the scope of the FNR PEARL programme, sought-after sociology Professor Louis Chauvel and his team analyse large-scale inequalities over long periods of time. The PEARL Institute for Research on Socio-Economic Inequality has gathered enough empirical data to understand the transformation of generations and inequalities dating back to the 1980s in around 30 countries.

Louis Chauvel is a professor at the University of Luxembourg. Together with Professor Conchita D’Ambrosio, he leads the PEARL Institute for Research on Socio-Economic Inequality founded in 2013. Prof Louis Chauvel received the PEARL grant jointly with Prof Conchita D’Ambrosio in 2012/13. Both examine the issue of inequality – but from different perspectives.

Prof Louis Chauvel and his team are interested in the general picture and key developments affecting large parts of society such as the housing market.

They investigate wealth distribution, unemployment rates, data on education, the health care and pension system and even indicators such as suicide rates. The team seeks to detect ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ generations as well as shifting points in societies.

The generation born in the 1960s, for example, has been affected by such a shifting point:

“That generation, at age 20, so in the early 1980s, faced the kind of contractions of perfect storms of difficulties. They faced also the HIV outbreak, the start of epidemics of AIDS in many countries of Europe, in the US, and elsewhere. Now that they are almost 60 years old, they face new problems: health, health insurance, financing solutions to health problems, and typically the retirement system,” Prof Chauvel explains.

Prof Chauvel and his team have diagnosed that the middle class is eroding. He names the US as an example, where basic sociological indicators are already showing this -, such as life expectancy, mainly driven by rampant opioid addiction in the country hitting regions which once had flourishing industries but did not cope well with economic transformation.

What is the solution to this erosion of the middle class and inequality?

“Addressing the needs of younger generations and promoting investments in health care pension systems and especially in education.

“We warn politicians that if we don’t act today, the impact of this lack of decision will be the backlash of our democracies. This means a big threat against the social democracy we have developed over the last 50 years.”

Prof Chauvel appeared on multiple French news channel providing an expert angle on the underlying causes of the ‘yellow vest’ [gilets jaunes] protests that swept across France, especially in late 2018 – see an example below.

Find out more about the work of Prof Louis Chauvel in our video below.

Prof Louis Chauvel


About Prof Louis Chauvel

Louis Chauvel was appointed Professor of Sociology at the University of Luxembourg in July 2012 as part of the PEARL programme. He was full professor at Sciences Po between 2005-2012 and an Honorary member of the Institut Universitaire de France (IUF 2003). He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Lille in 1997 and his Habilitation at Sciences Po Paris in 2003. He was Invited Fellow at Berkeley in 2000 and Invited Professor at Columbia University in the City of New York in 2011-2012.

His research topics are Social Inequalities and Public Policies, Social Change, Social Stratification and Mobility, Advanced Methodology of social sciences and population studies. His research mainly focuses on social welfare, income and wealth and social change in a comparative perspective. He has been a Member of the Executive Committee of the International Sociological Association since 2006, was the former General Secretary of the European Sociological Association (2005-7), and the former Treasurer of the French sociological association (AFS) (2002-6). He is a Member of the ISA Research Committee on Social Stratification (RC28) and was chair of the research network “Classes, inequalities, fragmentations” of the AFS.

About the FNR PEARL programme

With the PEARL programme, the FNR offers Luxembourg research institutions attractive funding to enable them to draw established and internationally recognised researchers from abroad to Luxembourg. Through the recruitment of outstanding scientists in strategically important areas, the FNR aims to accelerate the development and strengthening of Luxembourg’s national research priorities. PEARL projects have a lifespan of five years with a financial contribution of between 3-4 MEUR by the FNR. The financial contribution can be used flexibly to implement the research programme at the host institution.

PEARL highlights

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  • Law, Economics & Finance
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  • Research meets industry
  • Spotlight on Young Researchers
  • Women in science

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Women in Science: Conchita D’Ambrosio, FNR PEARL Chair

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