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Principal Investigator: Nicoletta Balbo

Contract Type: Grant ERC-HEUROPE

Project Funding: €1.40 million

Period: 2023-2028


Researcher and Collaborators
Nicoletta Balbo Nicoletta Balbo is the Principal Investigator of the FRALIFE project and Associate Professor of Sociology at the Social and Political Sciences Department, Bocconi University.  She is also Research Fellow at the DONDENA Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy. Her research interests focus on sociology of the family, life course, fertility decision-making, health behaviors and disability. Her research is therefore at the intersection between sociology, demography and public health. Nicoletta has published in leading demographic and sociological journals, such as Demography and American Sociological Review.

Lara Bister Lara Bister is a post-doctoral research fellow in the ERC-project FRAILIFE (PI: Nicoletta Balbo), which investigates the effects of child disability on family members across various domains. Lara’s research interests lie at the intersection of Sociology, Social Demography and Public health, focusing on contextual and family-level stressors and their effects on health and the life course. She specialises in quantitative statistical analysis of large survey and register data. Lara studied Sociology and Demography at the University of Cologne, Utrecht University, University College Dublin, University of Groningen and Autonomous University of Barcelona, and did her Ph.D. in Demography at the University of Groningen and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (defence in June 2024). She is an affiliated researcher at the Max Planck – University of Helsinki Center for Social Inequalities in Population Health (MaxHel) and a member of the Working Group 'Child and Adolescent Development' of the European Association of Population Studies.

Alice Dominici Alice Dominici joined the FRAILIFE team in September 2023 as a full-time postdoctoral researcher. She is completing her PhD in Economics at the European University Institute: her thesis applies both observational and experimental causal inference methods to themes in Health and Historical Political Economics. Her previous work on health themes focus on the determinants of vaccine hesitancy, and tests informational nudges for vaccination campaigns in both field and survey-based experiments. For these, Alice has collaborated with the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the Public Health Agency of Sweden, and the Regional Health Authority in Tuscany, Italy.

Elena Neri Elena Neri joined the FRAILIFE team in September 2023 as a full-time predoctoral researcher. She is completing her MSc in Economics and Social Sciences at Bocconi University: her thesis investigates the effects of child disability on mothers’ social participation and siblings’ mental health in the UK. She completed her BSc in International Politics and Government also at Bocconi University: her undergraduate thesis evaluates Italian policy efforts promoting labour market integration for adults with autism spectrum disorder. She is currently a visiting researcher at the Max Planck – University of Helsinki Center for Social Inequalities in Population Health working with Finnish register data.





Across the European Union, approximately 4% among individuals under age 16 have a disability, and over 15 million school-age children are known to have special educational needs. Disabilities limit children in their everyday activities and impact families in myriad ways. FRAILIFE aims to comprehensively analyze the effects of a child disability on family members – parents, siblings, and grandparents – in Europe, using high-quality data (registers, surveys, social media), innovative research designs and methods. By focusing on the impact of child disability on family members’ life course trajectories, health outcomes, and social participation, FRAILIFE speaks to both general family processes and the special case of Europe’s frailest families. 
The existing literature on families with a disabled child is scattered, built on small convenience samples, and often focused on a specific disease; the findings are inconclusive and non-generalizable. FRAILIFE elevates the evidentiary standard by: i) using a population approach, which compares families with and without a disabled child and provides opportunities to uncover heterogeneous effects; ii) going beyond simple associations between child disability and family outcomes to establish causal pathways, identify underlying mechanisms, and uncover causal effects; iii) investigating both short- and long-term consequences of child disability on families; iv) adopting a comparative perspective to uncover the moderating effects of institutions and culture. Beyond the specific insights about the networked consequences of disability, this project contributes to the field of family demography, as the analysis of extremely frail families has relevance for the general functioning of all families facing adverse events. FRAILIFE will bring families with a disabled child out of their invisibility, offering new and important insights on their functioning, characteristics, and challenges, while informing effective family-centered policy.