Complex systems science and (political) epidemiology

17 Aug 2020

In the last post, I had a closer look at the emergence of political epidemiology and the methodological challenges it presents. At the core of the issue is the question of how to address the wider societal context into our studies. In practice, this requires methods that can deal with interacting causes (e.g., policies), as well as layered networks between individuals, organisations, and institutions. We would also like to address the fact that social structures both shape individuals and are shaped by them in a process of feedback. These challenges have become increasingly well-recognised in the field of epidemiology over the past decade, which has led some epidemiologists to embrace the tools of complex systems science and systems modelling. This post will provide some insight into these discussions and tools, and reflect on the emerging best practices for their utilisation.

The challenges of political epidemiology

12 Aug 2020

In my last post, I highlighted a previous conversation on the importance of the wider social context in health policy analysis. A part of the wider context includes politics, so we may call this endeavour political epidemiology. In this post, I will delve deeper into the emergence of this approach, provide a sense of its relationship with the broader field of social epidemiology, and reflect on the methodological challenges in political epidemiology.

Political epidemiology: analysing policies versus analysing politics

28 Jul 2020

How do social structures influence health? This question is at the heart of my research project. It is also a question of some complexity that is not amenable to a naïve, atheoretical approach. To appropriately define the exposure in this type of inquiry, a reasearcher needs to make decisions about what they mean by social structures and what social structures are relevant to health outcomes. Lucky for me, there is already a rich literature on the topic of political epidemiology of health on which I can draw. A lot of this literature is empirically rooted in the comparative analysis of the effect of welfare regimes on heath outcomes, hence the example in this post draws on this area of research.

Theorising mortality convergence

08 Jul 2020

In this post I summarise and reflect on the theory of mortality convergence by French demographers Jacques Vallin and France Meslé. Their work is very much in conversation with Abdel Omran’s theory of epidemiologic transition (ET), which I considered in my last post.

The theory of epidemiologic transition

27 May 2020

In my last post, I reflected on the big picture of theory in demography. I thought about questions like: What is the difference between models and theories? (None, if one subscribes to the model-based view of science), How “big” does the theory/model need to be? (As small or as big as you want it to be; it is okay to model unique events), and How does one begin to build social science theory in the era of data science? (With a combination of narrative explanation and empirical prediction). In this post, I start reviewing demographic theory relevant to mortality convergence in the enlarged European Union by summarising Abdel R. Omran’s theory of the epidemiologic transition and its development over time. One caveat before we start: my interest is in the high-income countries, so the review that follows mostly glosses over the work done related to other contexts.

Theorising demographic processes

07 May 2020

My first encounter with demography was at the 2018 European Population Conference in Brussels. I was at the start of my PhD, still in the process of defining the overall direction of my thesis. I was an outsider at this event, which made attending the sessions both a little frightening (Will they find me out?), but also exhilarating, since almost every idea, method, and discussion was new to me. I distinctly remember a session on The Future of Demography, where the panellists looked back on their discipline and thought about what should be done next. The discussants talked about how demography was dominated by excellent empirical work, but that it needs to be supported and balanced by also investigating the mechanisms that underlie population processes.

Mortality convergence and parallelism of life expectancy trends in Europe

29 Apr 2020

In an editorial in the IJE, David Leon examined life expectancy trends in Europe over the last half century, focusing on the differences between Western and Eastern European countries. Towards the end of the piece, he raises a question that I find particularly interesting: Why have Eastern and Western European life expectancy trends been (mostly) running in parallel since 1990?