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World Happiness Day: SOEP data show that life satisfaction of Eastern Germans is catching up

Press Release of March 22, 2017

People across Germany are happier today than at any other point since German reunification

According to a new analysis of data from the nationally representative, long-term Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) study, people in both West and East Germany have been happier on average since 2015 than at any other point since German reunification (Figure 1). The substantial increase in life satisfaction from 1990 levels is primarily the result of the catch-up process in East Germany. Yet even 25 years after reunification, the level of life satisfaction in East Germany is still substantially below that in West Germany (Figure 2).

“Although it’s sobering that there is still a difference between East and West, the gap has diminished significantly over the years and is lower now than ever before,” says SOEP Director Jürgen Schupp, who conducted the analysis.

Life satisfaction research with SOEP data

Each year since its founding in 1984, the SOEP has been surveying more than 10,000 people each year on their life satisfaction (“happiness”). Respondents are asked to rate how satisfied they are with their lives overall on a scale from zero (“completely dissatisfied”) to ten (“completely satisfied”). In recent years, “happiness research” has emerged as one of the most important fields of research with SOEP data. To date more than 700 studies have been published using SOEP data to study subjective well-being, life satisfaction, and happiness. “Data on personal life satisfaction are an important factor in measuring quality of life,” says SOEP Director Jürgen Schupp. “If you want to draw conclusions about quality of life, you have to look not just at objective living conditions but also at subjective life satisfaction.”

On the SOEP

The Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) is the largest and longest-running multidisciplinary study in Germany. The SOEP is based at DIW Berlin and is an important component of Germany’s research infrastructure. As a member institute of the Leibniz Association, the SOEP receives funding from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and state governments. Since 1984, the survey research institute Kantar Public has been interviewing thousands of people across Germany every year for the SOEP. At present, the SOEP has 30,000 respondents in around 15,000 households. The SOEP data provide a range of information including data on personality traits, education, income, employment, and life satisfaction. Since the same individuals are interviewed every year, the SOEP data provide a basis for analysis not just of long-term social trends but also of group-specific life course trajectories.

According to Schupp, one reason for the relatively high level of satisfaction could be that despite the many social and economic challenges Germany has faced, it has overcome numerous crises in recent years. For instance in Germany, unlike many other countries, the financial and economic crisis did not lead to an increase in unemployment or disrupt the momentum of the economy.