The Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development (JC) was established in 2003 as a joint venture between the University of Zurich and the Jacobs Foundation. It is currently undergoing a major expansion. From 2003 to 2015, Prof. Marlis Buchmann served as the Director and also established COCON (COmpetence and CONtext), a nationally representative study of Swiss youth. The Jacobs Foundation and the University of Zurich began a considerable expansion of the JC in 2015 with 70 million Swiss Francs committed over the next 20 years.
This expansion is dedicated to transforming the JC to an interdisciplinary platform for youth research. To this end, the Center has recently made three new hires: (1) economist Prof. Hannes Schwandt, who studies health economics, including the role of in utero conditions in life attainments; (2) psychologist Prof. Lilly Shanahan, Chair of Clinical Developmental Psychology, who studies stress, developmental psychopathology, health, sex differences, and substance abuse; and (3) myself, Chair of the Sociology of Child and Youth Development and new director of the JC, who studies social context and gene expression. Additional searches in Economics and Psychology are underway. As the final professorships are filled, the Center’s budget provides for a research project that will be jointly designed and implemented by all professors.
One core idea driving the Center’s activities is the collection of long-term longitudinal data that joins social, economic, psychological, and biological levels of analysis. Two existing projects are especially noteworthy. First, COCON studies youth development from a life course perspective, focusing on important developmental tasks such as school entry and the transition to secondary schooling. The study’s major aim is to provide empirical evidence of what promotes and what impairs coping with early life course transitions. COCON includes three nationally representative cohorts, surveyed since 2006, including a child cohort (6-years old at intake, last assessed at age 16; N=1273), a youth cohort (15-years old at intake, last assessed at age 21; N=1258), and a young adult cohort (21-years old at intake; N=584). To grasp young people’s family and school contexts, their primary caregiver and teacher were also surveyed. As part of the expansion of the Center, a new wave of data collection has been funded, extending the child cohort to age 18.
Second, the Jacobs Center is also now home to the Zurich Project on Social Development from Childhood to Adulthood (z-proso), a prospective longitudinal study of the long-term development of violent, delinquent and other problem behaviors in the city of Zurich. The study is directed by Prof. Manuel Eisner of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge and co-directed by Dr. Denis Ribeaud at the JC. The target sample consists of 1675 children who entered a public school in 2004 and is highly multiethnic, with more than 50% of the primary caregivers born outside Switzerland in over 70 different countries. The first three years of the study also included a randomized experiment with two early prevention programs: the Triple P parenting program and the classroom-based PATHS social skills program. To date, seven main data collections have been completed with the children and their teacher, spanning ages 7 to 17. In addition, from ages 7 to 11 the study also comprised four standardized parent interviews conducted in ten different languages. The next interview wave is scheduled in 2018 at age 20, with plans to collect additional data, including an experience-sampling module, hair samples, and gene expression.
Overall, the expanded Center is becoming a hub for international and interdisciplinary activities that advance the study of child and youth development. We presently sponsor a seminar series on genetics and social sciences. This summer, we are co-sponsoring the Summer School on Longitudinal and Life Course Research, and we have convened a workshop on gene expression data in Add Health. We also anticipate new training initiatives, a visiting scholars program, and an ongoing research seminar featuring international scholars whose work enriches the Center’s research. Above all, the Center strives to embody the new science of youth, breaking barriers among disciplines to facilitate long-term research—made possible by our unique 20-year funding plan—that draws from the scientific toolkits of many areas of study. Importantly, the goal of the JC is ultimately practical: to improve the productive lives of young people through a mix of basic science and intervention.
Authored by Mike Shanahan, University of Zurich
Section on Children and Youth