Socio-economic positions and health: how are they linked?

PhD dissertation by Alessandro Procopio, 2018-2021

As a PhD candidate, Alessandro Procopio has been working in the Centre for Childhood and Youth (CCY) at the University of Luxembourg since 2018. Alessandro is particularly interested the linkage between socioeconomic positions and health. His PhD dissertation evolves this research interest in the context of young people in Luxembourgish society.

In order to get to know Alessandro and his PhD dissertation, we invited him for an interview about his ongoing research in March 2021

Alessandro, what motivated you to start your PhD at the CCY?

My motivation to pursue a PhD career at the University of Luxembourg is rooted in the times when I was studying for my master’s degree in Trento, Italy. There, I decided to devote my career as a researcher to the study of social stratification, mobility and inequalities for two fundamental reasons:

First, reducing inequalities is at the core of my ethical values and beliefs of what a fair society should be. Indeed, I strongly believe that we should strive for making this world a better place for everyone.

Second, as a social researcher, I find that this topic is one of the most challenging at a methodological level. However, challenges are the food for every researcher and feeling part of the big scientific community is the most rewarding thing.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash
Photo by Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash

What does your PhD dissertation aim to achieve?

My PhD project focuses on the link between socioeconomic positions and health. The project aims are twofold: its first objective is to advance our academic understanding on the causal mechanisms underlying this link. In order to do so, my supervisor and I are using cutting-edge statistical methods.

Secondly, our aim is to investigate further on an innovative track of research. That is, we try to shed light on how social conditions “get under the skin”: we measure which harmful effects an adverse social environment has on individuals’ health. Under „adverse social environment“ we understand, for instance, living in poverty or in social isolation. Harmful effects are, for example, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, or inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases.

Which methods and research designs help you researching?

For my project different statistical methods are essential. One part of my PhD thesis is devoted to the evaluation of specific statistical methods by means of experimentation. Don’t worry, we don’t use rats in a lab but rather tons of lines of code!

Aside the statistical experiments, we use another research design for the late stage of this PhD journey: we assess the causal link between socioeconomic position and health status in order to understand the combination between biology and sociology better.

This is a promising area of research because, on the one hand, it involves different fields such as biology, medicine, sociology and demography. On the other hand, we can increase the validity of our results using objective and measurable indicators of the health status through physiological and biological reactions.

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"Methodological [...] challenges are the food for every researcher and feeling part of the big scientific community is the most rewarding thing."
Alessandro Procopio
PhD candidate

What have you found out and what can you recommend based on your research?

As a researcher, you never stop learning. However, we still have a lot to learn, investigate and discover. Especially for what concerns such a complex and stochastic field as the study of society.

In this sense, it is difficult to say that a social mechanism is entirely understood and not worth anymore to be explored. However, during my PhD I have learned a lot more than I knew before, such as skills, knowledge and workflow efficiency.

I have learned that there are many points of view to explore the same research topic and that the field is so vast that it you could spend an entire lifetime on researching it.

Interview conducted by Moritz Höpner in March 2021


Alessandro Procopio’s PhD dissertation is supervised by Prof. Dr. Robin Samuel. Having graduated from Trento University with a master’s degree, Alessandro joined the University’s Centre for Childhood and Youth Research (CCY) in 2018. Alessandro’s PhD position is funded by the University’s Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences (FHSE).

Besides writing up his PhD dissertation, Alessandro is involved in several CCY projects, such as the Youth Survey and the YAC+ Study. We warmly recommend everyone to explore Alessandro’s publications:

Read publications (co-)authored by Alessandro

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