Economic and Social Participation

12 minute read

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Participation in work, education and social networks is essential for healthy individuals and communities. This is why the Economic and Social Participation Hallmark Research Initiative (ESPRIt) is exploring how participation in social, economic and political institutions can be enabled across the life span – and in a way that is equitable and unaffected by an individual’s age, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnic or racial background.

Watch: Doing interdisciplinary research – lessons from ESPRIt

Listen as researchers reflect on their projects, including what worked and why. Hear about what they learned from their experiences with interdisciplinary research. Get tips on how your team can navigate interdisciplinary projects, and the benefits of collaboration.

This video wrap-up comes as we begin to close the formal work of ESPRIt. We look forward to seeing future projects, collaborations and connections forged during the hallmark's operation.

Participants: Dr Jordy Meekes (moderator), ESPRIt co-chairs Professor Belinda Hewitt and Professor Guyonne Kalb, and seed funding recipients.

The Economic and Social Participation Hallmark Research Initiative (ESPRIt) retrospective


Research into social and economic participation often takes place within disciplines and faculties. Instead, ESPRIt coordinates research efforts across numerous fields.

The initiative has supplied seed funding for projects to create interdisciplinary research partnerships – both across and outside the University. The aim is to generate new knowledge and insights.

Through a range of events, the initiative has brought together researchers from different faculties and schools, including:

  • Architecture, Building and Planning
  • Arts
  • Business and Economics
  • Melbourne Law School
  • Melbourne Graduate School of Education
  • Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

ESPRIt is coordinated by two chairs and two academic convenors, who work in consultation with a Steering Committee made up of representatives from various disciplines.

With its emphasis on social and economic participation, the initiative touches on all three of the University’s Grand Challenges. The Grand Challenges provide the University with a narrative and purpose beyond individual scholarship. And they address some of the most pressing global problems. They include:

  • understanding our place and purpose
  • fostering health and wellbeing
  • supporting sustainability and resilience.

Research themes

ESPRIt identified relevant research efforts across the University and grouped them under five themes.

These represent different lenses through which economic and social participation is being examined here at the University. And these lenses organise research efforts facilitated by the initiative.

The individual

People vary in their capacity to engage with social and economic life. A wide range of factors influence this including:

  • social and demographic factors such as age, gender, race and ethnicity
  • socioeconomic factors such as human capital (for example education, skill, experience), employability, health, wellbeing and disability.


Family both constrains and facilitates social and economic participation. One of the most significant changes to occur in family life over the last few decades is the emergence of dual-earner households.

Research within the initiative explores the question: How do families successfully combine paid employment, housework and child rearing?

Housing affordability, employment opportunities and household income all influence decisions that couples make about when to partner and/or marry and when to have children.


Individuals and families can be grouped into sub-populations. For example, by gender, ethnicity or disability.

Sub-populations may differ in their needs when it comes to social and economic participation.

Built environment

The built environment has a large impact on social and economic participation including families’ ability to achieve work-life balance. It influences the liveability of cities and the capacity for people to access good jobs and housing. Planning also determines how easily people can move between housing, schools, childcare and employment precincts.

Public policy

The political system in Australia operates at local, state and federal levels, each with their own institutions and policies. The government, at all levels, plays a key role in influencing employment and work-family balance.

Research within this theme asks:

  • What should the role of government be?
  • What legislation is needed? And how much?
  • How can government best enable individuals, families and communities to fully participate in society and in employment?
  • Are there unintended consequences of policy?

Cutting across these research areas are themes of gender, ethnicity, discrimination, social inclusion and wellbeing.



Professor Belinda Hewitt
Faculty of Arts

Belinda is a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy in the School of Social and Political Sciences. Her research interests include:

  • gender differences in the experiences of family, work and health over the life course, such as the impact of paid parental leave for mothers, paid and unpaid labour in households
  • the causes and consequences of family life course transitions for individuals.

Professor Guyonne Kalb
Faculty of Business and Economics

Guyonne is a Professorial Fellow and Director of the Labour Economics and Social Policy Program at the Melbourne Institute. Her research interests include:

  • labour supply issues, particularly related to women
  • the interaction of labour supply with social security and taxation
  • labour supply and childcare
  • labour supply of disadvantaged groups.

Academic Convenors

Dr Jordy Meekes
Faculty of Business and Economics

Jordy is a research fellow at the Melbourne Institute. His research focuses on applied microeconomics at the intersection of labour economics with urban regional and housing economics.

Dr Barbara Broadway
Faculty of Business and Economics

Barbara is a Senior Research Fellow at the Melbourne Institute. Her research focuses on:

  • welfare policies and family policies including how they affect female and maternal labour supply
  • the labour force participation of older workers and people with disabilities.

Dr Rennie Lee
Faculty of Arts

Starting in 2020, Rennie is an Assistant Professor at Florida International University. She was a Lecturer of Sociology at the University of Melbourne from 2016 to 2019 and a postdoctoral fellow at University of California Irvine's Center for Research on International Migration. Her research and teaching interests include:

  • international migration
  • race and ethnicity
  • sociology of education
  • quantitative research methods.

Dr Julie Moschion
Faculty of Business and Economics

Julie joined the Melbourne Institute as a Research Fellow in 2010 and was promoted to Senior Research Fellow in 2015. She graduated from the French National School of Statistics and Economic Administration. Julie holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Paris 1. Her doctoral work looked at the relationship between fertility, labour force participation of mothers and family policies.

Dr Geoffrey Mead
School of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Arts

Geoffrey is Lecturer of Sociology in the School of Social and Political Sciences. His research interests include:

  • the role of prizes in determining cultural value
  • the sociological theory of Pierre Bourdieu.

Dr Anna Zhu
Faculty of Business and Economics

Anna was a Research Fellow at the Melbourne Institute, and is now employed at RMIT University. Her research interests include:

  • evaluating the impacts of welfare policies, particularly for mothers and children
  • labour supply of disadvantaged groups
  • early childhood development.


The aim of the initiative is to generate new knowledge, insights and ideas through interdisciplinary research. To achieve this, it provided three annual rounds of seed funding for the following projects.

Project funding is now closed.

Identity, community and social participation: What do these have to do with the art and science of practicing together? (2019)

A study with Sci Curious, Science Gallery Melbourne, by Kathryn Coleman, Niels Wouters, Jenny Martin, Lea Campbell and Sarah Healy

Lifelong learning is an important skill for global citizens, now and for the future. Learning beyond disciplinary borders and boundaries is key to this.

This project involves artists and science practitioners of different ages from Sci Curious, Science Gallery Melbourne. It is investigating the relationship between learning in professional communities and learning within a self-selected learning community. It will then explore how this relationship can increase creative engagement with knowledge.

This project brings HASS and STEM practitioners together, to understand what lifelong learning and practice-based learning looks like over time.

Causes and legacy of historical frontier violence in Australia (2019)

By Cain Polidano (Chief Investigator), Julie Moschion and Michael Rigby

This project is generating a literature review and preliminary analysis on the causes of frontier violence, and the legacy on Indigenous communities today.

The team includes a mix of expertise to enable development of community-level spatial data from historical and current-day records:

  • history
  • spatial science
  • psychology
  • economics.

The outputs of this project will support a 2021 ARC Discovery Project grant application. The aim of which is to build understanding of the origins of Indigenous disadvantage and to identify protective community factors – something that is vital for motivating and directing Indigenous policy reform.

Towards an optimal employment strategy for people seeking asylum and refugees in Victoria (2019)

By Victor Sojo (Chief Investigator), Mladen Adamovic, Michelle Stratemeyer, Karen Block, Olivia Dun and Charlene Edwards

The current policy context and changes in visa requirements for Humanitarian Program migrants has created a need for a specialised, comprehensive state-wide employment program for refugees and people seeking asylum in Victoria.

To provide recommendations for such an employment program, the project focuses on:

  • identifying best practices for an employment program for people seeking asylum and refugees
  • developing collaborations with wider community and employer partners
  • understanding various barriers to employment experienced by people seeking asylum and refugees
  • improving links with the Government’s wider social procurement policies and the social enterprise ecosystem in Victoria.

Myth busting and number crunching: the disability pay gap (2019)

By George Disney (Chief Investigator), Zoe Aitken, Shelley Mallet and Anne Kavanagh

People with disabilities often experience poor employment outcomes. However, evidence showing this is often inaccessible and difficult to understand.

This meant that until recently, the size and nature of employment disadvantage faced by people with disabilities was not understood and remained unaddressed.

This project is conducting an in-depth analysis of the ‘disability pay gap’. This fed into an online interactive tool, which aimed to bridge the gap between evidence and understanding. The tool can now provide a platform for people – ranging from the general public to policymakers – so they can learn about the employment disparities that people with disabilities experience.

Gender diversity narratives in the Australian context (2018)

By Holly Lawford-Smith (Chief Investigator), Cordelia Fine and Victor Sojo.

Do Australians think gender diversity is important? If they do, what arguments do they give in support of it? And do these match arguments that dominate media discussion around the issue?

This project investigated the range of arguments for (and against) gender diversity offered across the Australian media between 2008 and 2018. This included practitioner literature, corporate literature and newspaper editorials.

The project compared these arguments with those offered by individuals in Australian workplaces – as explored in a complementary project.


The team presented their results in our interdisciplinary research symposium in May 2019. View Gender diversity narratives in the Australian context (PDF)

Reaching full potential: identifying sexual and reproductive health services for young people in Australia (2018)

By Humaira Maheen (Chief Investigator), Meghan Bohren, Sarah Khaw and Cathy Vaughn and Celia McMichael.

Young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds who settle in high-income countries are:

  • vulnerable to poor sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes
  • significantly less likely to use mainstream SRH services, compared to the local population.

This study explored how SRH services can be provided to young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, in a way that is culturally appropriate and youth-friendly.

The project team worked alongside the Centre for Multicultural Youth and included researchers from:

  • youth engagement
  • health geography
  • refugee and migrant populations.

A socio-economic exploration of Melbourne's African migrants: public housing as an incubator (2018)

By Sandra Carrasco Mansilla (Chief Investigator), Majdi Faleh, Andrea Cook and Ashleigh Haw.

In the last two decades, Australia has witnessed an increasing number of African migrants and refugees. The transition from their homeland to Australia is challenging given the social, economic and cultural differences they face.

The role of housing and the immediate physical context play a crucial role in the adaptation to new urban environments from the initial stages to long-term integration following resettlement in a new country.

This project investigated African migrants’ and refugees’ construction of ‘place’ and how this links to their sense of belonging in Australia. One of its key aims was to provide further insight into the daily life experiences and limitations faced by these groups during their integration, with particular focus on the important role of housing.


The team presented their results in our interdisciplinary research symposium in May 2019. View A socio-economic exploration of Melbourne’s African migrants: Public housing as an incubator (PDF)

Using machine learning to examine neighbourhood characteristics associated with physical function (2018)

By Jerome Rachele (Chief Investigator), Jasper Wijnands, Haifeng Zhao, Bec Bentley and Mark Stevenson.

We will use generative adversarial networks (GANs) and machine learning to help gain an understanding of how neighbourhood design characteristics contribute to inequalities in physical function.

This will be achieved through inputting a combination of residential geo-codes and health outcomes from a population-representative study of the social determinants of health with imagery from Google Maps and Google Street View. Model outputs will be GAN-generated examples of neighbourhood design and streetscape characteristics associated with inequalities in physical function.


The team presented their results in our interdisciplinary research symposium in May 2019. View Using machine learning to examine neighbourhood characteristics associated with physical function (PDF)

Stigma and segregation: investigating attitudes towards public housing in rapidly changing neighbourhoods in Melbourne (2017)

By Katrina Raynor (Chief Investigator), Camilo Ordóñez and Laura Panza.

In Australia and in many other countries of the Global North, public housing estates are being dismantled and redeveloped to create mixed-income communities. One example of this is the Victorian Government Public Housing Renewal Program. This project involves rebuilding public housing estates and aged housing. And incorporating private dwellings on these sites.

The policy behind this program assumes that co-locating public housing with private dwellings will reduce stigmatisation and improve quality of life for tenants.

This project tested this theory by surveying community members about their attitudes towards public housing estates and their neighbourhoods. Two sites were surveyed, comprising:

  • one about to undergo renewal
  • one that has recently undergone renewal.


The results of this project were published in:

Raynor K et al (2020) Does social mix reduce stigma in public housing? A comparative analysis of two housing estates in Melbourne. Cities 96: 102458. doi: 10.1016/j.cities.2019.102458

The team presented their results in our interdisciplinary research symposiums in November 2018 and May 2019.

View Attitudes towards social housing in Melbourne (PDF)

View Stigma towards social housing in Melbourne: Does social mix matter? (PDF)

Theoretical explanations for socioeconomic inequalities in multi-morbidity among adults (2017)

By Ankur Singh (Chief Investigator), Tania King, Emily You and Diana Contreras Suarez.

Theories about socioeconomic disadvantage and poor health inform the development of health policy. But those theories are primarily tested on single health outcomes. So, their capacity to explain the connection between disadvantage and the presence of two or more diseases within an individual (multi-morbidity) is limited. Meanwhile, multi-morbidity and associated inequalities are growing – both in Australia and internationally.

This project tested existing explanations of socioeconomic inequalities in multi-morbidity. It has advanced understanding of the connection between multi-morbidity and social inequality. And, in the process, created evidence that can inform future policymaking in this area.

Does more information result in better health care choices? Evidence from NBN expansion in Australia (2017)

By Gideon Aschwanden (Chief Investigator), Arezou Zaresani and Diana Contreras Suarez.

The presence of high-speed internet has increased the availability of health-related information. More information on new drugs, for example, affects the views and demands of patients. And more information also influences the behaviour of doctors when prescribing medications.

This project investigated the effects of increased availability of information on the prescription of new drugs.

We explored geographical discontinuity in internet diffusion generated by expansion of the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia as a natural experiment. We estimated the causal effect on doctors’ behaviour on adopting new drugs from access to this additional information.


The team presented their results in our interdisciplinary research symposium in December 2018. View Does more information result in better health care choices? Evidence from NBN expansion in Australia (PDF)

Text selection in the senior English curriculum (2017)

By Alexander Bacalja and Lauren Bliss.

Debates about the purpose of English as a high-school subject naturally include text selection. This project investigated text-selection trends affecting senior-school English in Victoria. It analysed almost 30 years of data (1990–2019) and over 1000 texts, to quantify and explain the frequency of particular categories of texts.

Researchers worked with project partner The Victorian Association for the Teaching of English (VATE) to collate the findings. This new evidence can be used to shape decision-making by curriculum bodies and schools.


View the report On trends in senior English text-lists (PDF)

The team presented their results in our interdisciplinary research symposium in November 2018. View Text selection in the senior English curriculum (PDF)


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There are several ways to connect with the Economic and Social Participation Hallmark Research Initiative, and we would love to hear from you!

For general enquiries, email

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Indigenous Hallmark

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Affordable Housing Hallmark Research Initiative

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