Resources (personal, social, economic, etc.)

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Overall, a resource is something – tangible or intangible - that an institution or an individual can use to improve her/his condition, to achieve an aim or to deal with difficulties (e.g. see “resource” in Larousse, n.d.; Oxford Avanced Learner’s Dictionary, n.d.). In psychology, resources can be generally defined as “those entities that either are centrally valued in their own right (e.g., self-esteem, close attachments, health, and inner peace) or act as a means to obtain centrally valued ends (e.g., money, social support, and credit)” (Hobfoll, 2002, p. 307). In sociology, resources are material or symbolic goods whose value is socially determinant and that can be use in social actions; in most societies, these goods are associated with wealth, status and power (Lin, 1995). In an interdisciplinary and life course perspective, the notion of resources is central to the study of vulnerability. Resources are conceptualized as means that decrease “ the risk of experiencing (1) negative consequences related to sources of stress, (2) the inability to cope effectively with stressors, and (3) the inability to recover from the stressor or to take advantage of opportunities before a given deadline” (Spini et al., 2017, p. 2). In others word, resources are conceptualized as means to overcome vulnerability across life course.

In this context, the resources possibly available to individuals are multiple and refer to various life domains (i.e., economic, relational, cognitive, or institutional). Among the various types of resources, we can distinguish personal resources from social resources. Personal resources belong to and are in possession of the individuals (for instance, health, education, income, etc.); in contrast, social resources refer to resources that are embedded in social ties, i.e. they belong and are in possession of other persons and the individual access to these resources only through his/her social network (Lin, 1995). Among personal resources, we can distinguish biological, psychological or economic resources. Biological resources refer to genes and physical health conditions. Psychological resources include personality traits, cognitive-affective self-regulation, and identity narratives (Heckhausen, 1999; Hooker & McAdams, 2003). Economic resources refer to money and wealth. By extension, it can also include more social dimensions of economic life – or the determinant of the capacity to work and produce (e.g. education, skills, experience, or health), referring to “human capital” concept (Becker, 1964). Of course, these classifications are limited and partial and we could distinguish other types of resources. For instance, at individual level, we could distinguish “cultural” resources (knowledge, degrees, soft-skills, language, cultural goods, etc.), or “symbolic” resources (recognition, prestige) in reference with Bourdieu’s capital types (Bourdieu, 1986). Resources can also be situated at collective level through the institutions and their services (e.g. Welfare State policies) and the cultural context (shared norms and values) (Spini et al., 2017). Beyond the multiplicity of resources levels and types, the various resources intersect and interact with each other (Bourdieu, 1979; Hobfoll, 2002; Hooker & McAdams, 2003), referring to multidimensional and multilevel dimensions of life-courses and vulnerability processes (Spini et al., 2017).

Resources and their distribution in multiple combinations across life domains are available differently depending individual, time and space. For instance, the social stratification approach stresses the importance of social origin and parental socioeconomic status on individual resources and the intergenerational transmission of inequalities (Ferraro, 2011). Individual resources are also influenced by the position in the stratification system in terms of gender, ethnicity or age (Dannefer et al., 2005; Mutchler & Burr, 2011; Venn et al., 2011). The impact of structures on individual resources must also be conceptualized in term of history : the period in which the individual lives influences the resources available to them, involving cohort differences (Oris et al., 2017). In psychology, the long-term process of resources availability is stressed by various models that show a “critical period” in life course through the important effect of childhood and early in life on the later health of a person (for a resume, see, Spini et al., 2013). However, resources availability is also dependent on individual trajectories: even personal resources initially conceived as very stable, typically personality traits, can change across life course (Hooker & McAdams, 2003) and hazards and life transitions can challenges resources individual has in its possession, referring to reciprocal process between resources and vulnerability (Turner & Schieman, 2008). This process is part of the cumulative dis/advantage hypothesis that postulate that individual with some initial resources tend to have fewer risks across life courses and have more change to cumulate other resources resulting in greater heterogeneity in older age (Dannefer, 2003). In contrast, authors examine the conditions under which individuals “compensate” a lack of certain resources by other resources and break negative circle (Schafer et al., 2009). All in all, these various hypothesis about the effects and the availability of resources stress that they are integral part of the life course and should be understood as both determinants and outcomes of individual trajectories.

Author: Marie Baeriswyl

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