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It was in February of 1984 that interviewers rang the doorbells of SOEP respondents for the first time. Our Timeline traces the events that have shaped people’s lives since then—and what researchers have found out about them based on SOEP data.

In January, Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. His campaign motto: “Make America Great Again”. Thousands took to the streets to protest Trump’s agenda—even in Germany. That summer, “marriage for everyone” made headlines when Germany’s parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and protests at the G20 summit in Hamburg sparked heated debates. In autumn, Germany’s parliamentary election results made it almost impossible to form a governing coalition: despite losing support among voters, the CDU /CSU remained the strongest party at 33 percent. The SPD had its worst parliamentary election outcome to date at 20.5%. And the right-wing AfD entered parliament with 12.6 percent of the vote. 

While the AfD was running a campaign focused on criticism of Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, the SOEP released initial findings from the IAB-BAMF-SOEP Survey of Refugees in Germany. The study showed that many children of refugees were already in daycare or school, but that expanded language training programs were needed for this group (SOEP Wave Report 2017). It also looked at their parents’ occupational situation: according to the SOEP data, 60 percent of refugees had already completed secondary school. 

Another important topic of SOEP research in 2017 was the living situation of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The first representative study on this group in Germany was published in summer. The findings showed, among other things, that homosexual men earn less than heterosexual men (DIW Economic Bulletin). 

Despite all the societal challenges in 2017, people in Germany were happier than ever according to the annual SOEP data on life satisfaction. A SOEP study released on the International Day of Happiness (March 20) showed that people in East and West Germany were more satisfied on average than at any other point in time since reunification (DIW Press Release).

SOEP respondents received a special honor in 2017: Several SOEP respondents were invited by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to attend an event at Schloss Bellevue, the presidential palace, representing the many individuals across Germany who contribute their time to the SOEP survey.

A number of unexpected things happened in 2016: Brexit passed in June, when 51.89 percent of British voters supported leaving the EU. In November, Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States. And in Germany, the AfD celebrated electoral success. The AfD's critique of the federal government's refugee policy fuelled its popularity, and it secured representation in five state parliaments and garnered over 10 percent of the vote countrywide. In the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the AfD scored more than 20 percent of the vote and became the second-strongest party (n-tv).

Who are the AfD’s voters? A study based on SOEP data showed that the AfD was especially popular among men, people in the former East, people with low and medium education, blue-collar workers, the unemployed, and those under the age of 30. The AfD also drew increasing support from non-voters, people who had previously voted for extreme right-wing parties, and those who identified as right- or far-right-leaning. The study was written by SOEP researcher Martin Kroh and Karolina Fetz of the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research and published as a DIW Wochenbericht.

2017 also marked the launch of the IAB-BAMF-SOEP Survey of Refugees in Germany, in which around 2,000 refugees are surveyed every year. The survey aims to answer questions like: How educated are refugees when they arrive in Germany? How quickly are they integrated into the labor market? And: What attitudes do Germans have toward refugees?

In early January, Islamist terrorists forced their way into the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and shot 11 people. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State continued to spread terror. Fears of war, violent conflict, and political persecution and the desire for a better life led more people to flee to Europe in 2015 than in any preceding year. The immense burden this placed on Germany’s administrative infrastructure was referred to as the “refugee crisis”. Chancellor Angela Merkel responded “We can do it!” and backed a temporary suspension of the EU’s strict border regime. Opinions in Germany diverged widely, leading to a tightening of German asylum laws in September. 

Foto: “We can do it!”

There was widespread discussion of how best to promote integration, while in some sectors of the population, concerns about migration increased. A 2015 study based on SOEP data showed that these concerns are correlated with bitterness: the more bitter people are, the more worried they tend to be about migration. This phenomenon transcends all social strata and applies equally to men and women, the employed and the unemployed, people with low and high levels of secondary education, and people from the former East and the former West Germany.

Migration was just one of the topics of a Citizen Dialog in July, where 60 randomly selected SOEP respondents met for a discussion with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The main topic was “living well in Germany” and areas where people see the need for improvement. The findings of the dialog were used to develop an indicator system that documents current quality of life in Germany and tracks its development over time.

In March, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeneß was sentenced to 3.5 years in jail for tax evasion. That summer, he had to watch from his prison cell as the German team won the World Cup in Brazil. Germany had another reason to celebrate on November 9: it was the twenty-five-year anniversary of the fall of the Wall. In Berlin alone, more than one million people attended the festivities. One of the main attractions was a light installation that traced where the Wall once stood. 

Researchers at DIW Berlin commemorated this anniversary by taking stock of reunification. In their assessment, reunification has been a success—not just politically but also economically. “People’s hopes of ‘blossoming landscapes’ were severely disappointed at first, but today, people in the former East are more satisfied than ever before,” said SOEP Director Jürgen Schupp (DIW Berlin Press Release).

In January, US President Barack Obama started his second term of office, and in February, Pope Benedict stepped down—the first time a pope has abdicated voluntarily since 1294. In autumn, Angela Merkel began her third term as chancellor. A SOEP-based study published shortly before the election looked at her and the other major parties’ constituencies: The findings showed that the CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens are parties of the affluent and high earners.

In September, the SOEP celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with a colloquium on happiness research. SOEP researchers from all over the world discussed questions like: How does poverty affect life satisfaction? Is happiness contagious? And what’s the “happiness curve”? (DIW Berlin Event)

The IAB-SOEP Migration Study was also launched in 2013 and surveys around 5,000 migrants every year. Research results include: the better established immigrants become in Germany, the more they profit economically from immigration (DIW Wochenbericht).

In early 2012, 32 people died when the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground at Isola del Giglio in Italy. Across Europe, the still ongoing financial crisis drove people in many countries to the streets to protest their governments’ crisis policies. In Germany, Christian Wulff bowed to mounting pressure and stepped down from his post as the country’s leader, and in March Joachim Gauck was sworn in as the new federal president.

Photo: Rvongher:

In June 2012, the SOEP held its 10th SOEP User Conference in Berlin. At this event, more than 80 SOEP-based research papers were presented by scholars from all over the world. The main theme of the conference was the distribution of social resources. According to SOEP Director Jürgen Schupp, “Whether you look at employment, education and wealth, or personal satisfaction—opportunities are becoming more unequally distributed in our society” (D-Radio article (in German); homepage of the SOEP User Conference 2012).

Photo: Stephan Röhl

A SOEP-based paper published as a DIW Wochenbericht in September 2012 reported that the chances of living a long life are also distributed unequally: According to the research group around Deputy SOEP Director Martin Kroh, men from poorer households and men with uncertain incomes live five years less on average than high earners. For women, the difference amounts to three and a half years. (DIW press release; English version in the SOEP Wave Report 2012: Kroh, Martin; Neiss, Hannes; Kroll, Lars and Lampert, Thomas: Affluent Persons Live Longer. SOEP Wave Report 2012, 69-80)

At the end of 2012, the Leibniz Association announced the results of its evaluation of DIW Berlin: The SOEP research infrastructure received the rating of “excellent.”

In December, representatives of the SOEP team and one of the interviewers from TNS Infratest Sozialforschung were invited to the official residence of the German president, Schloss Bellevue, where Federal President Joachim Gauck honored SOEP survey respondents for their social engagement as voluntary participants in the study (DIW press release in German).

From the left: Joachim Gauck, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schupp, Christina Lendt, Dr. Ingrid Tucci
Photo: Stephan Röhl

In 2011, amid mass demonstrations and armed violence, revolutionaries across the Arab world rid themselves of their totalitarian rulers at breathtaking speed: In January, Tunisia’s Ben Ali was ousted, followed by Hosni Mubarak in Egypt just a few weeks later and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in August (Spiegel article (in German)). In March of that year, the Tohoku earthquake and the tsunami that followed triggered a series of catastrophic meltdowns in several reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant in Japan. That summer was overshadowed by two terrorist attacks in Norway, leaving 80 people dead. All these events shocked and saddened people worldwide.

Photo: Digital Globe:

But people’s lives are also defined by very personal events. How and to what extent major life events shape the human personality has been the subject of a new and growing body of psychological research based on the SOEP data beginning in around 2006. One study published in 2011 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by psychologist Jule Specht from the Free University Berlin shows that dramatic life events have a significant effect on personality: Young adults become more conscientious when they start their first job. When people enter retirement, they become less conscientious. After marriage, most people’s openness to experience declines. When people go through separation or divorce, however, men in particular tend to become more open. (Specht, J., Egloff, B., & Schmukle, S. C. “Stability and change of personality across the life course: The impact of age and major life events on mean-level and rank-order stability of the Big Five.“ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 101(4), October 2011, pp. 862-882).

For the SOEP team, the year 2011 brought important personnel changes. On February 11, DIW Berlin’s Board of Trustees appointed then SOEP Director Gert G. Wagner Chairman of the Executive Board of DIW Berlin for a period of approximately two years. His previous Deputy Directors Joachim R. Frick and Jürgen Schupp took over as Interim Directors of the SOEP.

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the DIW Berlin, Bert Rürup, introduces the new Executive Board
: Christine Kurka
Jürgen Schupp and Gert G. Wagner
Photo: Stephan Röhl

One of the saddest events in the history of the SOEP occurred on December 16, 2011. On that date, Joachim Frick died at the age of 49 after a long battle with cancer. With his passing, the members of the SOEP team lost a warm-hearted and loyal friend; an esteemed, committed, and productive colleague; and an internationally recognized pioneer in comparative panel analysis (more).

In February of 2010, Margot Käßmann, who had recently been elected the first female Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, took the risk of driving a short way home under the influence of alcohol. After running a red light, she not only lost her driver’s license but also stepped down from her post. In April, when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, sending a plume of ash into the air across Europe, air control authorities avoided all risks and closed most of the European airspace. In December, Samuel Koch fell so severely in his risky attempt to jump over moving cars on spring stilts on the German television show “Wetten dass…?” that he was paralyzed and has remained so ever since. His tragic accident led to widespread public discussion about how much risk should be taken to increase television ratings.

Photo: Árni Friðriksson:

The SOEP has been measuring the risk propensity of people in Germany since 2004: On a scale ranging from 0 (= unwilling to take risks) to 10 (= very willing to take risks), respondents estimate their own risk propensity. The SOEP data show a number of interesting results: Men are more willing to take risks than women. Tall people have a higher risk propensity than shorter people. People whose parents completed academic-track secondary school are more likely to take risks than others. And, those who take risks are happier in their lives overall. These are the key findings of a study published in 2011 in the Journal of the European Economic Association by a group of researchers led by SOEP directors Gert G. Wagner and Jürgen Schupp together with experimental economists. (“Individual Risk Attitudes: Measurement, Determinants, and Behavioral Consequences.” Thomas Dohmen, Armin Falk, David Huffman, Uwe Sunde, Jürgen Schupp, and Gert G. Wagner. Journal of the European Economic Association 9(3) June 2011, pp. 522–550) (Press release (in German)).

Copyright: DIW Berlin

Another SOEP study on risk attitudes published in 2013 found that German Bundestag representatives have a higher willingness to take risks than German citizens (Heß, Moritz, Christian von Scheve, Jürgen Schupp, and Gert G. Wagner. 2013. Members of German Federal Parliament More Risk-Loving Than General Population. SOEPpapers 546). A total of around 30 studies have been published to date based on the SOEP data on risk attitudes.

Copyright: DIW Berlin

In June 2010, SOEP and TNS Infratest took part in the first “Long Night of the Sciences” in Berlin and gave visitors the chance for a truly hands-on experience of the SOEP grip strength test: in this test, SOEP interviewers study measure grip strength in order to obtain reliable estimates of respondents’ current health state (the 'Long Night' at the SOEP).

Copyright: DIW Berlin


The prophets of doom were wrong: the world did not end at the turn of the millennium, and even the widespread computer breakdowns predicted by experts did not come to pass (Spiegel article (in German) and Cartoon). In June of that year, Federal President Johannes Rau opened the EXPO 2000 in Hanover, the first World’s Fair in Germany, with the theme of “Humankind, Nature, and Technology - A New World is Emerging”.

For the SOEP, the year 2000 brought good news: the number of surveyed households was almost doubled to approximately 6,000. This means that as of the following year, 2001, SOEP users could use around 13,000 households for their analyses. This sample extension was made possible by the BMBF-funded Innovation Sample (sample F). The sample was drawn to enable better analysis of small subgroups of the population through a larger case number.

© DIW Berlin


In July of that year, the Fourth International SOEP Conference took place in Berlin at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). The first SOEP Best Publication Prizes were awarded here for outstanding papers based on SOEP data (Best Publication Prize). The winners of the first prize for the best publication were David M. Blau and Regina T. Riphahn, who studied how married couples coordinate their entry into retirement. Their findings: husbands tend to work longer when their wives are still working, and wives tend to stop working when their husbands are already retired. (David M. Blau, University of North Carolina, and Regina T. Riphahn, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich: "Labor force transitions of older married couples in Germany" (Download: IZA DP No. 5), published 1999 in Labour Economics).


Garbage collectors, security guards, and care workers: for more than 3 million workers in six low-income subsectors of the economy, Germany introduced a legal minimum wage in 2009. The German Bundestag had submitted the new minimum wage bill to the Bundesrat for approval in February 2009.

Lichtblick (Copyright)  Pflege F rsorge

To this day, there is still no across-the-board minimum wage in Germany, but there are numerous models estimating its potential effects. In a simulation study published in 2009 based on SOEP data, DIW economist Kai-Uwe Müller estimated the scale of possible job losses following the introduction of a general minimum wage. His finding: A general minimum wage of €7.50 would have an only modest negative effect on employment, resulting in around 290,000 job losses (Kai-Uwe Müller, "Wie groß sind die Beschäftigungsverluste aufgrund eines allgemeinen Mindestlohns?" DIW Wochenbericht 26/2009 | PDF, 123.52 KB , pp. 430-433 or in English: Müller, Kai-Uwe, and Viktor Steiner. Labor Market and Income Effects of a Legal Minimum Wage in Germany. DIW Discussion Paper 1000. Berlin: DIW Berlin)

And in fall of 2009, the German Council of Science and Humanities announced the results of its second comprehensive evaluation of the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP): It found the SOEP to be one of the most important research infrastructures in the social, economic and behavioral sciences in Germany. According to Professor Peter Strohschneider, then Chairman of the German Council of Science and Humanities: "The SOEP data provide the basis for an impressive spectrum of empirical research and thus make an outstanding contribution to the better understanding of human life in our society across the entire life course." (more information)


In May of 1999, the German Bundestag passed the new nationality law with a large majority. Since this legal reform, German-born children of immigrants have been able to acquire German citizenship. They do, however, have to decide whether they want to retain German citizenship or that of their mother or father by the time they turn 23 (Spiegel article (in German)).

© DIW Berlin


Who can become German and who can’t? A study by SOEP immigration expert Ingrid Tucci and co-author Claudia Diehl from the University of Göttingen published in the DIW Wochenbericht in 2009 shows how Germans’ attitudes towards immigration and naturalization have changed over the years since 1999. According to the study’s findings, in 1999 more than one-third of all German citizens without an immigration background reported being “very concerned” about immigration. Ten years later, only one-fourth of respondents expressed this level of concern (interview with Ingrid Tucci (in German)).

The study also showed that more and more German citizens without an immigration background (“Germans”) feel that behavior should be the determining factor in naturalization. Fewer Germans consider “ethnic German descent” to be the decisive criterion. For their study, the researchers used SOEP data as well as data from the ALLBUS German General Social Survey.


In February 1998, around 40,000 people in as many as 200 German cities took to the streets to demonstrate against high unemployment. The protests were sparked by labor market figures released in January showing that unemployment had reached 12.6 percent (Video ZDF (in German)).

What does unemployment mean for the individual? In a SOEP study published in 1998, economists Liliane Winkelmann and Rainer Winkelmann were able to show that job loss makes people unhappy, and that the detrimental effect on satisfaction cannot be explained by the loss of income alone. The article is among the most frequently cited SOEP studies.
Winkelmann, Liliana and Rainer Winkelmann (1998): Why are the unemployed so unhappy? Evidence from panel data. Economica, 65 (257): 1-15.

To address the issue of widespread unemployment, experts including Sociologist Ulrich Beck, head of the Commission for Future Questions of the Free States of Bavaria and Saxony, proposed that volunteer work as an alternative to paid work (Spiegel article (in German)). A SOEP study published in the DIW-Wochenbericht, however, showed that the men and women reporting involvement in volunteer work in Germany were mainly doing so in addition to paid work, whereas people without a job rarely engaged in volunteer work. The authors’ conclusions: volunteer work is not a sensible means of reducing unemployment. After all, why should the state offer volunteer work to people who don’t want it? And why should the public need for infrastructure and social services be covered by volunteer work? (Schwarze, Johannes; Gert G. Wagner; Marcel Erlinghagen and Karin Rinne (1998): Bürgerarbeit - Kein sinnvoller Weg zur Reduzierung der Arbeitslosigkeit. Wochenbericht des DIW Berlin, 65 (4): 82-85).


It was a once-in-a-century event for onlookers worldwide when the comet Hale-Bopp streaked across the Easter night sky like a blazing egg, leaving a long trail of light behind it. People the world over were also deeply affected by the death of Princess Diana in an automobile accident that August. In Germany, public debate flared over efforts to introduce compulsory social insurance contributions on "610-mark jobs"-jobs of fewer than 15 hours per week with pay of no more than 610 marks per month, which were not subject to taxes, unemployment insurance, social security contributions, or other social taxes.

Photo: Philipp Salzgeber, 1997; Photo: Georges Biard, 1987;

In 1997, mini-Jobs were still barely covered in the official statistics. The SOEP contributed to the public discussion of this highly controversial issue of labor market and social policy by providing current data. In a DIW Wochenbericht based on the SOEP data, Volker Meinhardt, Jürgen Schupp, Johannes Schwarze, and Gert G. Wagner made the bold prediction that the number of employees in Germany was underestimated by 2 million ("Erwerbsstatistik unterschätzt Beschäftigung um 2 Millionen Personen," Jürgen Schupp, Johannes Schwarze, Gert G. Wagner, DIW Wochenbericht no. 34, 1997, pp. 689-696). Shortly thereafter, the federal statistical office corrected its official employment figures accordingly.

In another study published as a DIW Wochenbericht, Volker Meinhardt, Jürgen Schupp, Johannes Schwarze and Gert G. Wagner addressed the introduction of compulsory social insurance contributions for 610-mark jobs and the elimination of the lump sum tax in Germany (DIW Wochenbericht no. 45, 1997). Their conclusion: introducing social insurance contributions on these jobs would only be sensible if the lump sum tax on employers were simultaneously eliminated. In the authors' view, this would help to compensate employers for the additional costs.
And, in the 38th SOEP Newsletter, the SOEP team announced the first in a series of SOEP collectibles-planned eventually to comprise a box set of "SOEP devotional objects"-now available for SOEP users to purchase. The limited-edition SOEP clock in "classic CD style" was, according to the newsletter, "the perfect accessory for creative and successful work (not only) with the SOEP data."

© DIW Berlin


In 1996, Dolly the sheep was born as the first mammal to be cloned successfully and to survive to adulthood. Germany claimed its third European Championship in soccer with a team lead by former GDR national team player Matthias Sammer (Video: Interview Sammer (in German)).
And after Germany’s “Sunday baking ban” on commercial bakeries was lifted, people across Germany were finally able to buy fresh breakfast rolls on Sundays.

Photo: Tim Vickers: Dolly the Sheep at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

That same year, the SOEP made its first regional indicators available to data users (Regional Data in the SOEP Data Set). These indicators on the levels of the states (Bundesländer), spatial planning regions, districts, and postal codes could now be linked with the SOEP household data. Through the linkage of SOEP data with regional data from the Federal Environment Agency, educational economist Katharina Spieß found that increased carbon monoxide exposure as well as increased ozone exposure can harm children even before they are born (Focus article reffering to the study by Spieß (in German)). Economists Conrad Burchardi and Tarek Hassan determined that after the end of the GDR, economic power increased in regions where large numbers of West Germans had had close relationships with East Germans.
Press Release, 4th of November 2011 (in German)

And in the year 1996, Volume 7 of the SOEP book series “Socio-Economic Data and Analyses on the Federal Republic of Germany” appeared: a reader on social reporting from a longitudinal perspective. It was compiled and edited by Wolfgang Zapf - one of the two founders of the SOEP study and the pioneer of German social indicator research - together with Jürgen Schupp and Roland Habich. In the 17 articles contained in the reader, authors sought to establish a stronger connection between long-term observation and theory-driven analysis and to make the SOEP known to a broader German-speaking research community.
Zapf, Wolfgang; Schupp, Jürgen und Habich, Roland (1996): Lebenslagen im Wandel: Sozialberichterstattung im Längsschnitt, Frankfurt/M. - New York: Campus.

© DIW Berlin


In 1995, the number of Internet-connected computers worldwide reached over three million. Since the previous year, the number of commercial Internet users had surpassed the number of scientific users. That year at a workshop at the Swiss institute CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), where the World Wide Web was born, 250 journalists from across Europe learned an innovative new research method: that of "surfing the Internet." In the United States, E-bay was founded, and has since remained the largest online auction and shopping website worldwide. And here in Germany, brothers Michael and Matthias Greve created the first German Internet directory at the address When it was launched, already listed 2,500 sites that could be searched by keyword, name, or category.

In early 1995, the SOEP Newsletter went online for data users worldwide. SOEP Newsletter number 27 from January 1995 explained in detail how to use the SOEP’s new information platform: "At the DIW homepage on the World Wide Web, you will find what is known as a ‘link’ to the SOEP," the newsletter reads. "There, we provide extensive general information about the project, lists of publications and data users, as well as the current issue of the SOEP Newsletter. Users are also ‘guided’ to the relevant e-mail addresses in the project group." The contact listed for questions or suggestions about the SOEP’s use of this new technology was then-Survey Manager and current SOEP Director Jürgen Schupp. His e-mail address at that time was: DIW238PS@DB0DIW11.DIW-BERLIN.DE.

© DIW Berlin

Extract from the SOEP Survey Paper 130.

The SOEPnewsletter has been informing SOEP users about events, new publications by SOEP researchers, workshops and training programs, and new developments in data distribution four times annually since 1985.
Current information on the SOEP Newsletter can be found here.
The old newsletters have been published as SOEP Survey Papers.


Computers weren’t yet on every desk as Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen had imagined, but they were spreading. The technical foundations for computer networks had been laid, the Internet had been born, and the first browsers and search engines had been developed. In 1994, the German magazine Der Spiegel launched "Spiegel online", the Japanese Prime Minister and the lower house of British parliament went online, and the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) made its debut on the World Wide Web. History of the internet (in German)

© DIW Berlin

1994 was also the year that the SOEP had its first evaluation by the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat). At stake in this evaluation was the future funding for the SOEP after the conclusion of funding in the framework of Collaborative Research Center SfB 3. In the evaluators’ report, they emphasized that the SOEP had become an important tool for social and economic research both within Germany and abroad. They wrote that the SOEP would provide outstanding empirical material for longitudinal studies and for the analysis of economic and social science questions. And, they recommended that the SOEP group should continue to receive funding and should be provided a secure institutional base as an independent department of DIW Berlin. Furthermore, they proposed that the SOEP should receive joint funding from the federal and state (Länder) governments as a service unit of “Blue List” (Blaue Liste) research institutions. Three years later, the Blue List evolved into the Leibniz Association (WGL), of which the SOEP is still a part to this day.
Evaluation of the SOEP services by the science council (in German)
Informations about the Leibniz Association


The year 1993 brought with it a series of changes for life in Germany: five-digit postal codes were introduced, and a small refrigerator factory from the former GDR, together with Greenpeace International, produced the first HFC-free refrigerator in the world (see Greenpeace-Blog). And that same year, Heide Simonis was elected Minister President of Schleswig Holstein, making her the first woman to serve as Minister President of a German Bundesland.

In the Socio-Economic Panel, the tenth survey wave was collected in 1993, and the first International SOEP User Conference was held to celebrate this milestone. On June 7 and 8, 1993, 30 researchers from around the world met in the old headquarters of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin on Gendarmenmarkt (in the former East Berlin) and presented their research on the SOEP data. Many of the papers were internationally comparative studies based on the new Cross-National Equivalent File (CNEF), a project that had been initiated in the early 1990s by Prof. Richard Burkhauser. Among the presenters at the first conference was American economist Alan Krueger from Princeton University, who, together with co-author Jörn-Steffen Pischke, had used the SOEP data in a study on the East and West German labor markets before and after unification. Krueger went on to become an advisor to US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The current chairman of the German Council of Economic Experts, Christoph M. Schmidt, also presented a SOEP-based analysis of return immigration to Germany at the conference.

© DIW Berlin

Since its premiere, the SOEP User Conference has been taking place regularly every two years. A total of around 600 studies have been presented at the ten SOEP conferences to date, and ten volumes of conference proceedings have been published in two different specialist journals: first in the DIW-Vierteljahrsheften zur Wirtschaftsforschung, and then in the Journal of Applied Social Science Studies (Schmollers Jahrbuch).

© DIW Berlin


At midnight on January 1, 1992, the newly founded public television stations of the “new” German federal states went on the air. And with that, GDR television had come to an end. The new stations kept some of the employees of the former state-controlled East German broadcaster, Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF), as well as several popular East German TV personalities and programs. One of these was the legendary DFF Television Ballet, then the only televised dance show in Europe, which is still shown today on Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk (MDR), the regional TV channel for Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. MDR-Video, end of GDR television (German)

Although it was officially not allowed, many GDR citizens preferred to watch West German television. But for around 15 percent of the GDR population – those residing in the northeast part of the country around Greifswald and in the southeast around Dresden – it was impossible to pick up West German TV signals due to the topography. How did reception of East and West German television affect the personal attitudes of East German citizens? To find out, SOEP researcher Tanja Hennighausen of the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) and the University of Mannheim analyzed GDR survey data from the late 1980s along with SOEP data from the 1990s. Her results show that East Germans who were able to receive West German television tended to believe that success in life depends more on effort than on luck. This effect was still apparent ten years after reunification. In her study, Hennighausen speculated that this was because of ideas portrayed in West German films and soap operas that tended reinforce the notion that success in life is related to effort, thus affecting viewers’ attitudes.
Tanja Hennighausen: Exposure to Television and Individual Beliefs: Evidence from a Natural Experiment, SOEPpaper 535.


1991 marked the beginning of Yugoslavia’s bloody civil war. In June, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, followed by Macedonia in November. Under the direction of Generals Veljko Kadijević and Blagoje Adžić, the Yugoslavian People’s Army attempted to crush the independence movement by military force – but failed. In 1992, the conflict widened to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The flood of Yugoslavian refugees into many countries of Europe, but especially Germany, was almost impossible to contain: 14,744 people applied for asylum in Germany in the month of October alone, compared to around 22,000 in the entire previous year. Magazine article refugees from former Yugoslavia (in German)

Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev:

The influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia was also reflected in the development of the SOEP sample. Not only did the number of immigrants from Yugoslavia increase, but the net case number in the SOEP immigration subsample increased as well over the previous year.
SOEP 1991 - Methodenbericht zum Befragungsjahr 1991 (Welle 8 – West) des Sozio-oekonomischen Panels

Since its inception, the SOEP study has included a special immigration sample (subsample B) of households with a household head from Turkey, Italy, Spain, Greece, or the former Yugoslavia. The SOEP is the largest longitudinal survey of foreigners in the Federal Republic of Germany today. Research based on the SOEP data has shown, among other things, that immigrants often live in segregated communities for both economic and social reasons. Researchers have also found that immigrants develop a connection to one of the German political parties relatively soon after coming to Germany. And they have shown that the German educational system tends more to restrict than to foster the potential of second-generation immigrants.  

Today there are more than 15 million first- and second-generation immigrants living in Germany; the number of new immigrants has risen significantly over the last several years. To gain a clearer picture of these people’s lives, the SOEP is working together with the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) in Nuremberg to start a new IAB-SOEP immigration sample that will be representative for this population group. Starting this year, a total of 2,500 households with an immigration background across all of Germany will be surveyed as part of this new sample.


Just 327 days passed between the fall of the Wall and German reunification. On October 3, 1990, East Germans defeated the Socialist Unity Party regime and elected Lothar de Maizière Prime Minister in the first and only democratic elections in GDR history. West German Chancellor Kohl took advantage of this opportune moment. Together with the four occupying powers, West German diplomats negotiated with representatives of the new GDR government over the incorporation of the five states of East Germany into the FRG. The monetary, economic, and social union between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic entered into force on July 1, 1990. (Magazine article German reunification (in German))

The researchers in the SOEP were also determined to seize this historic opportunity. They set aside the idea of adding a new sample of East German immigrants to the FRG to the SOEP longitudinal sample. After all, the rapid changes taking place in Germany would have quickly rendered such a sample obsolete. Instead, the SOEP team quickly set plans in motion to create a GDR panel. Their goal was to obtain a first baseline measurement of incomes in the ‘old’ GDR currency. By early April, the SOEP group, together with colleagues from the Institute for Sociology and Social Policy at the German Academy of Sciences in the GDR had developed a first integrated questionnaire, which they used to survey 50 households in East Berlin. (SOEP 1990 – Bericht über eine Vorerhebung für die "Basiserhebung 1990" des Sozio-ökonomischen Panels in der DDR (Pretestbericht)).

Then, in June 1990, interviewers from TNS Infratest carried out the first survey in East Germany. They interviewed 2,179 households with 4,453 adults and 1,591 children living in them. “The end of the GDR took us by surprise, but we reacted quickly,” said then-SOEP director Gert G. Wagner in a recently released short film on the last 30 years of the SOEP. “The people in the GDR were happy that they were being interviewed. Never again since then have we encountered the kind of enthusiasm and the high response rates that we had in what was then still the GDR.” (The history of the SOEP (video)).”

© DIW Berlin

From the brochure for the respondents in 1990 

„Von der Wende waren wir wirklich überrascht, aber wir reagierten schnell“, sagt der damalige SOEP-Leiter Gert G. Wagner im Kurzfilm zu 30 Jahren SOEP. „Die Menschen in der DDR waren froh, dass sie befragt wurden. Wir hatten nie mehr eine derartige Begeisterung und derart hohe Ausschöpfungsquoten, wie wir sie in der 'Noch-DDR' hatten“.
Interviewausschnitt auf Youtube

Now, in the almost 23 years since reunification, has former Chancellor Willy Brandt's vision that "what belongs together now grows together" been realized? In 2010, SOEP researcher Peter Krause and Ilona Ostner, a sociologist at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, published the most comprehensive social scientific overview of German unity to date. According to their findings, after reunification, living conditions in East and West Germany converged quickly. For example, the percentage of single parent households in both parts of Germany rose, and the number childless and single households increased as well. Life satisfaction in East Germany increased substantially in the 1990s but still remained a significantly lower than that in the West. "Differences between East and West still exist in many areas," says Peter Krause. "But they depend much more on the concrete living conditions in a specific place than on whether people or their parents lived on one or the other side of the inner-German border." The researchers' findings were published in an anthology (in German) and some articles from this book were published separately as a DIW-Wochenbericht.

Anthology: Krause, Peter und Ilona Ostner (2010). Leben in Ost- und Westdeutschland: Eine sozialwissenschaftliche Bilanz der deutschen Einheit 1990-2010. Frankfurt a. M./New York: Campus.
Press release: 20 Jahre Wiedervereinigung: Wie weit Ost- und Westdeutschland zusammengerückt sind


On November 9, 1989, the heavily mined border between East and West Germany was suddenly opened, taking the world by surprise: it was the day the Berlin Wall came down. That night, the people of East and West Berlin met at the Wall, cheering, embracing, and celebrating together. And the so-called “Mauerspechte” (wall-woodpeckers) began chipping away at the Wall to destroy this powerful symbol of Germany’s 40-year division. The opening of the borders between the two German states triggered a wave of mass migration: in the first two years after the fall of the Wall alone, 400,000 people left the GDR each year (Tagesschau vom 10. November 1989 DDR öffnet Grenze am 9. November 1989 ; 2 videos in German language).

© DIW Berlin

Just a few months earlier, on July 1, 1989, Gert G. Wagner had taken over as Director of the Socio-Economic Panel after SOEP-founder Hans-Jürgen Krupp left DIW Berlin to become Hamburg’s Senator of Finance. The SOEP and its new director now faced new and daunting challenges: the mass migration from the GDR meant that the SOEP data were now no longer representative for the entire West German population. How could this wave of immigration be captured in the SOEP as quickly as possible? And how could and should SOEP researchers use this historic opportunity to collect data on the process of social transformation in the GDR? Up to 1989, the idea of a survey covering both East and West Germany was virtually inconceivable – almost as inconceivable as the idea of German reunification (see also Gert G. Wagner (2009): The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in the Nineties: An Example of Incremental Innovations in an Ongoing Longitudinal Study. SOEPpaper 257.


In early 1988, East German figure skating star Katarina Witt won two Gold medals for the GDR at the XV Olympic Games in Calgary. East Germany finished second in the final medal rankings, with 37 gold medals and 102 medals overall, and West Germany won a total of 40 medals, finishing fifth overall. It was the last year that East Germany competed in the Olympic Games as an independent nation. The athletic achievements of Witt and the East German team were emblematic of a culture of athletic achievement in East Germany.

© CC

In West Germany, since the educational expansion of the 1970s, health consciousness and physical activity had also been rising among the general population, as the SOEP data show. And according to one of the first SOEP articles published on the link between health and happiness in the BRD, the rise in health consciousness was also paralleled by an increase in reported happiness. This was the central finding of researchers Bruce Headey and Peter Krause in their paper "A Health and Wealth Model of Change in Life Satisfaction: Analysing Links between Objective Conditions and Subjective Satisfaction". There are now almost 50 papers on the topic of sports in our archives of SOEP-based publications; one notable publication in a prestigious journal is that of Michael Lechner from 2009, "Long-run labour market and health effects of individual sports activities", Journal of Health Economics 28: 839-854 (

Meanwhile in 1988, a sweeping income tax reform was in its first stages of implementation in Germany. The reform was described by some as the major tax reform of the century, aimed both at reducing payroll and income taxes and at cutting taxes for families with children. It was also one of the most controversial, as evidenced by opposition from both the poor and the very wealthy. But what were the actual effects of this three-stage reform on the income distribution?

The SOEP data, collected starting in 1984, offered an outstanding empirical basis for answering this question. In the 1988 paper "Distributional Effects of the Income Tax Reforms 1986-1990: A Simulation Study for the Federal Republic of Germany based on the Socio-Economic Panel" published in German in the journal Finanzarchiv, authors Ulrich van Essen, Helmut Kaiser, and P. Bernd Spahn made an important contribution to the policy debate by simulating the effects of all three reform stages on the income distribution. Their study showed wide variation in the effects of the reform depending on the socio-economic status of the taxpayers, with factors such as number of children and marital status playing a major role. Overall, the study revealed a more unequal income distribution following the tax reform, that is, an upward redistribution of wealth. Theirs was the first study to provide policy recommendations on a German income tax reform based on SOEP data.


In June of 1987, US President Ronald Reagan traveled to Berlin to commemorate the city’s 750th anniversary. In his speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate, he challenged Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” and proposed holding a future Olympic Games in both parts of the city. That September, Erich Honecker became the first East German leader to make an official visit to West Germany, and in Moscow, Perestroika was becoming the driving force for social change.

As the two parts of Germany were slowly growing closer, SOEP researchers were beginning to use the newly collected micro-longitudinal data to gain a clearer picture of the lives of people in West Germany.

© DIW Berlin

Ute Hanefeld, then a research associate in the SOEP at DIW Berlin, had played a major role in the panel, advocating and promoting the project in the Cooperative Research Center from 1982 on and ensuring the successful start of the study. In 1987, her book on the design and conception of the Socio-Economic Panel study was published by Campus Verlag. And in that same year, the efforts outlined in Hanefeld’s book began to bear fruit.

© DIW Berlin

Researchers outside the DIW were now using the SOEP data to an increasing degree. One example is the 1987 Data Report, published by the Federal Statistical Office in cooperation with the Cooperative Research Center 3 at the Universities of Frankfurt am Main and Mannheim. The main objective of this publication was to present objective and subjective indicators describing the quality of life in Germany. The SOEP is still involved in the Data Report, which has been published biennially since 1985.
Please find the recent Data Report as well a link to the older ones online available at the webpage of the Statistical Office.


It was the worst nuclear accident in history. On April 26, 1986, at 1:23 a.m., reactor four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine suffered a catastrophic power surge, leading to a core meltdown that spewed 60,000 kilograms of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere. The results were cataclysmic: thousands of deaths resulting from exposure to radiation, hundreds of thousands of hectares of land severely contaminated, and economic impacts reaching into the billions of dollars.

Photo: AP from website

The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl made a significant impact on the environmental concerns of the German population, as shown in a study by former SOEP researcher Eva Berger. The percentage of SOEP respondents reporting serious concerns about the environment had already increased by 9 percentage points in May 1986, and by spring of 1987 by as much as 14 percentage points. Only over the course of the 1990s did environmental concerns gradually subside. One possible explanation, according to SOEP researchers, is that worries about rising unemployment in Germany had begun to take precedence.

And in 1986, the SOEP’s second three-year funding period began as subproject B5 of Collaborative Research Center 3 “Microanalytical Foundations of Social Policy.” The German Research Foundation approved two additional positions for scientific staff, who were to develop statistical procedures to estimate missing values and impute the data. For the documentation and graphical presentation of the panel results, a 16-bit personal computer system with MS DOS was purchased with 640 Kb RAM, two 360 Kb floppy disks, one 10 Mb hard drive, and a green display – for the tidy price of 17,800 DM.


In 1985, Boris Becker became the first German to win the Grand Slam tournament at Wimbledon; a tennis-shoe-wearing Joschka Fischer was sworn in as Minister for the Environment in the Landtag of Hesse; and the first German soap opera, "Lindenstraße" (Linden Street) appeared on German television. Over the last almost 30 years, scarcely a single major social issue has gone unaddressed in this groundbreaking series, from unemployment and poverty to coexistence with immigrants, contemporary forms of family, and the environmental movement. "I think that Geißendörfer [the creator of the series] and his writers have a good eye for social trends," said SOEP Director and professed Lindenstrasse fan, Jürgen Schupp, in a recent interview with the German daily newspaper Die Welt.

© M. Lengemann

Another premiere took place in 1985 as well. In April of that year, the first SOEP-based scientific study was published. Social scientist Christoph F. Büchtemann, a member of the SOEP group from 1983 to late 1984, published his empirical investigation of the much discussed issue of "the new poverty" based on data from the first wave of the SOEP survey. Appearing in the series "Mitteilungen aus der Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung," his findings showed that contrary to widely held beliefs, most unemployed people in West Germany were well protected financially by federal unemployment insurance benefits. Only a small minority, approximately 7 percent of the population, were in extreme poverty.

In German:
The interview in the Newspaper Die Welt

Christoph F. Büchtemann: Soziale Sicherung bei Arbeitslosigkeit und Sozialhilfebedürftigkeit - Datenlage und neue Befunde. Mitteilungen aus der Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (MittAB) 18 (1985), no. 4, 450-466.


The year 1984 brought a number of firsts to the people of Germany: seatbelts became compulsory for backseat passengers; IBM introduced the IBM Personal Computer/AT, which became standard in German offices for the next decade. Commercial television was launched, and Richard von Weizsäcker was elected President of Germany.

© DIW Berlin

And in that same year, interviewers from TNS Infratest rang the doorbells of SOEP survey respondents for the very first time. In the first wave of the SOEP survey, 5,921 households were interviewed, with 12,245 adult respondents and 3,928 children living in them. “Our concept was new and revolutionary,” said Hans-Jürgen Krupp, founder and former director of the SOEP study, in a recent interview. “We wanted to have longitudinal data, (…) to combine economic and social data, and we wanted to include foreigners.” The initial plans were modest: to obtain five years of funding. It was almost inconceivable that the SOEP would one day become the most important longitudinal study for the analysis of social change in Germany.

© DIW Berlin

From the first brochure for the respondents in 1984


The German Socio-Economic Panel: How It All Began
Hans-Jürgen Krupp
SOEPpaper 75 (2008

The first questionnaires in the SOEP Survey Paper 8.

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