Professor at CBS investigating impact of urban life

/ Author: Masja de Ree
What are the effects of living in close proximity to one’s family in a big city? How do women fare who trade rural for urban life? These and other questions are the research focus of Professor Marjolijn Das at Statistics Netherlands (CBS). She was installed as Urban Statistics professor by special appointment in April 2017 at the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities under Rotterdam Erasmus University (EUR).


'More and more people are living in cities,' Das explains. 'Policymakers want to know how they fare and which groups are vulnerable.' The Centre for BOLD Cities uses Big, Open and Linked Data (‘BOLD’) to do research on urban areas and urban problems. 'CBS has many large datasets available and a great deal of relevant expertise.' Das is using CBS data sources to better map the life courses and family networks of urban residents.

Social networks

Das' research is focused on social networks in the city, particularly family networks. 'Such networks can be mapped out well using CBS’ System of Social statistical Datasets (SSD). We know from national and international research – based on the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study, for instance – that family members support and help each other. But as a result of urbanisation, families live farther apart than in the past. The question is therefore: are urban residents more vulnerable once they need informal care? Such information can be useful to Dutch municipalities as, under the Social Support Act (WMO), they are now responsible for providing care to residents who have become less self-reliant. In addition, we want to find out whether the proximity of relatives has a positive influence on such people. For example, do children benefit from having their grandparents living closeby?’

CBS is a knowledge institute. Strong ties with universities are vital to us

The city as a market for romance

Das also researches the life courses of city residents. One of the topics she studies, together with researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) including CBS colleague and professor by special appointment Jan Latten, is that of rural women who move to the city to build up a livelihood. 'The city works like a magnet as it offers many opportunities in terms of education and employment. In our research, we see it acting like a market for romantic relationships as well. Rural women living in cities tend to have higher educated partners at age 45 than those who stick with life in the country. This is true for both lower and higher educated women. As for the image of highly educated single women, think Sex and the City, that does not correspond with reality. In fact, lower educated women are more often single in cities than higher educated women. .'


Das is excited about the collaboration with EUR in her capacity of lecturer. 'CBS is a knowledge institute. Strong ties with universities are vital to us as in-depth data scientific knowledge enhances the quality of statistics.' In turn, the university benefits from the practical and methodological expertise CBS has in the field of large datasets, for instance at the Center for Big Data Statistics, which was established fairly recently. This particular chair bundles the pools of expertise and the networks available at the Centre for BOLD Cities and at CBS. It's like cross-fertilisation which may produce beautiful results.'

Launched in 2016, the Centre for BOLD Cities performs data-based research to help find solutions for urban issues from the urban resident’s perspective. Strongly urbanised areas such as Rotterdam/The Hague form a living lab and act as partnerships. Topics which are subject of research and collaboration include: traffic flows, the quality of schools in different districts, interaction between citizens, opportunities for entrepreneurs to get established, energy consumption and air quality.