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Here researchers of the ISS report regularly on their latest results.

July 2019

Many decisions in everyday life require self-control. Should one eat the delicious dessert although one tries to lose weight? Should one buy a beautiful piece of clothing although one wants to save money? In such situations, people face a temptation and they can decide to resist or to give in. Which decision makes more satisfied? And are there systematic differences between people?

A recently published article by ISS researcher Erik Hölzl and his colleagues Michail Kokkoris and Carlos Alós-Ferrer studied the satisfaction with decisions to resist a temptation or to give in. The results from 11 studies with over more than 3000 participants showed that individual differences in the dimension of ‘lay rationalism’ play a crucial role. Lay rationalism captures the tendency to rely primarily on reasons rather than on feelings when making a decision. In decisions to resist a temptation, participants high on lay rationalism reported being more satisfied than those low on lay rationalism. However, in decisions to indulge a temptation, participants low on lay rationalism were more satisfied than those high on lay rationalism. This effect was due to perceived authenticity, i.e., the impression to act in line with one’s ‘true self’. The results indicate that self-control and restraint not always lead to higher satisfaction, but that it matters what a person sees as a legitimate basis for decisions.

May 2019

Living as a same-sex couple, with or without children, has gained increasing acceptance as a social phenomenon. This is, for example, reflected in changing institutional regulations, such as the “marriage for all”, which was adopted in 2017, allowing same-sex couples in Germany to legally marry. At the same time, social scientists have taken a growing interest in the living conditions of the gay and lesbian population. Demographic analyses of official statistics, mainly conducted in the US and Scandinavian countries, show that homosexuals are less likely to live in marriage-like relationships, are more likely to separate and less often have children than their heterosexual counterparts. So far, however, we knew barely anything about gays’ and lesbians’ family-related attitudes and expectations.

ISS researchers Karsten Hank and Martin Wetzel investigated this issue using data from the German Family Panel (pairfam). Almost 7,500 respondents aged 25-37 (including more than 100 who reported having same-sex partnership experiences) were, first, asked about their expectations regarding practical and emotional support by partners, concerns about lack of individual autonomy in a partnership and lack of acceptance of their partner by parents or friends. Second, respondents were asked to which extent they expect children to support them, to constrain them (non-)economically, or to expose them to mental pressures.

The study’s results indicate that gays and lesbians tend to expect slightly lower benefits and greater costs of being in a partnership than heterosexuals – but not of being a parent. The findings therefore fit well into the overall picture portrayed by recent research, namely that (once structural factors are accounted for) demographic behaviors and family relations barely differ according to individuals’ sexual orientation.

March 2019

Are most people only interested in their own benefit? Should I always distrust strangers? These are questions cynical people would answer in the affirmative: Cynicism describes a worldview within which people and their motives are evaluated negatively. Seeing the world in this way may impair one’s health: People who think of others as self-interested and dishonest have a higher likelihood of falling ill with diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and dementia than people who see others favorably – and they even have a higher mortality risk.

A study by ISS researcher Daniel Ehlebracht and Olga Stavrova from the University of Tilburg now shows that for this phenomenon, causality goes both ways: Cynicism makes people sick – but being sick also makes people cynical. There are even historical examples for this such as Henry VIII.: Initially an open and progressive ruler, he is said to have become distrustful in a nothing less than paranoid way after incurring a severe riding accident. To systematically assess whether such an effect exists, the two social psychologists analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) and the US Health and Retirement Study (HRS). In both samples, the authors found an effect of bad health on cynicism. For their analysis, they looked at subjective evaluations of health – for which the effect consistently appeared – as well as objective health measures such as the number of doctoral diagnoses and medical test results. For the objective measures, the effect only showed for health problems that perceivably constrained subjects’ lives: For example, if a bad lung function keeps someone from climbing stairs and makes him or her dependent on others, this will more likely foster a cynical worldview than elevated blood pressure that might not noticeably impair quality of life.

So it is mainly perceived constraints and the related loss of personal control over one’s life that are responsible for the effect of illness on cynicism. The fact that cynicism in turn impairs people’s health may set off a vicious circle. However, stable social networks and a well-functioning institutional support might possibly be factors suitable to break this vicious circle.

February 2019

There is already extensive research showing the harmful effects of strained or even conflicted social relationships on mental and physical health. Positive relationships in turn protect against mental illness, also because they reduce perceived stress. So far, it has hardly been investigated to what extent negative relationships have an effect on uninvolved third parties. An example is when a (third) person herself has good relationships with two family members while they are arguing with one another.
A forthcoming study by ISS researcher Lea Ellwardt and her colleagues from the US and the Netherlands investigated the question as to whether people suffer from stress when they observe conflicts between their social contacts – even if they themselves have no conflicts with them. For this purpose, the researchers analyzed longitudinal data from Chicago (CHASRS). At annual intervals, the study participants were asked five times about their social contacts and their stress levels. They were also able to indicate whether their contacts get along with one another or not.
The analysis showed a light tendency for participants to report lower stress when their social contacts got along well, meaning relationships were positive. These results show that not only directly involved individuals, but also surrounding relatives or acquaintances potentially suffer from interpersonal tensions, or benefit from their positive relationships. Thus, a harmonious immediate social environment can provide a protective effect against stress and thereby ultimately yield benefits for mental health.


January 2019

Whereas a substantial literature suggests a socioeconomic gradient in health as well as gender inequalities in health, little is known yet about whether the effect of socioeconomic status on health differs by gender. A yet unpublished study by ISS researcher Dina Maskileyson and her colleague Philipp Lersch (HU Berlin & DIW Berlin) focuses on the intersection of economic inequality and gender in the production of health. The authors argue for a more systematic examination of the interaction between personal and household economic resources and gender in the social patterning of health within couples. Specifically, they ask how personal economic resources (i.e. income and wealth) and partners’ economic resources are associated with health for women and men in Germany.
An analysis of longitudinal data from three waves of the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) revealed that personal economic resources have a positive impact on health (and that the wealth effect is largely independent from income). Moreover, while partner’s wealth is equally important for both genders, partner’s income affects women’s health only. The results emphasize the importance of employing an integrated approach for the analysis of gendered health inequalities, simultaneously considering personal, partner’s, and household economic resources, in order to more fully understand the social determinants of health.


December 2018

In the past, different studies have come to the result that in Germany, children with an immigrant background have lower achievements than children without migration background. Less than 25 per cent of students of second-generation Turkish background finish their Abitur (secondary education degree allowing university entrance) in Germany. For children without a history of immigration, this rate is at over 40 per cent. Previous research has tended to focus on the ethnic background, educational level and socio-economic status of the parents.

In a recent study, ISS researcher Sarah Carol and Benjamin Schulz (WZB) instead focused on the significance of religiosity for school achievement and as a motor of educational mobility. They used data collected by the German National Education Panel Study (NEPS) to test their hypotheses regarding Muslim and Christian children with a migration background. As indicators for educational achievement, the study relied mostly on the results of math tests. The degree of religiosity and belonging to a religious community was gauged using a questionnaire.

The study shows that religiosity does not hinder educational success per se. In the case of Christian as well as Muslim pupils, under certain circumstances religiosity does not stand in the way of good school performance. However, religiosity is more relevant for the educational success of Muslim children. For Christian children, religiosity hardly plays any role. As far as the correlation between engagement in an Islamic community and school performance is concerned, the authors had to consider an additional factor: If students live in non-segregated neighbourhoods, there is a positive correlation between religious involvement and math competence.  If, however, they live in segregated neighbourhoods, these children no longer have this advantage. In that case, religious involvement can even be an obstacle to school success.

High frequency of prayer also goes hand in hand with better school performance. Regular praying indicates self-discipline and intrinsic motivation. Both are also key factors for success in school. But this does not apply to Muslim pupils who regard themselves as highly religious, and to those who do not regularly practice their religion. This group of pupils is more likely to leave school early without completing secondary education (earning only a Hauptschule degree) or to drop out. To summarize, subjective religiosity can be an obstacle to educational success, but other facets of Muslim religiosity do not necessarily hamper pupils’ school achievements.


November 2018

In 2015, over 1 million asylum seekers came to Germany, the single largest intake by any European country since World War II. Germany proved an attractive destination because of its robust labor market, but also because of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s unilateral suspension of European Union rules that require states to send refugees back to their country of entry (Dublin Convention). This open door was initially supported by an explicit welcome culture ("We can do it"). At the same time, there are signs of increasing xenophobia, such as the rallies of PEGIDA and the popularity and electoral success of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). In addition, violence against refugees and Muslims in the wake of the so-called refugee crisis increased sharply. These attacks occur with significant spatial clustering which points to a critical role of regional and local factors.

In a study, ISS researcher Conrad Ziller (together with Sara Goodman of UC Irvine, USA) investigates the extent to which local government efficiency influences violence against immigrants. The argument states that efficient administrations, on the one hand, are better able to cope with the integration of immigrants and, on the other hand, mitigate political deprivation of citizens. Political deprivation refers to the perception that people have no influence on politics and that politicians and public officials are not sufficiently responsive to citizens’ concerns and needs—motives that were quite salient during the refugee crisis and are related to frustration, negative sentiments toward outgroups and even violence.

The empirical analysis uses data on violent attacks on refugees in Germany in 2015, which are available for all 402 German districts. Local government efficiency was measured using a novel indicator that relates expenditures of municipalities with specific characteristics about service provision, such as accessibility of public transport, schools, and doctors. The results show a robust negative correlation between local government efficiency and violence, which could also be confirmed in another empirical study using corresponding data from the Netherlands. By improving the efficiency of the public services local governments provide, they not only improve the quality of cities and communities (and thus the satisfaction of their residents), but also the native-immigrant relations.


October 2018

In Germany, we observe an increasing complexity of partnership biographies. More and more people enter multiple co-residential unions in their lifetime, while no longer being confined to marriage as the type of union they choose. Knowledge on the prevalence, stability and routes of exit from serial cohabitation in the German context is seriously limited. In a new study, ISS researcher Nicole Hiekel and her colleague Barbara Fulda analyzed relationship biographies of about 2,500 women and men aged 35-45 to close this gap in the literature.

The authors examined, first, the number of unmarried cohabiting relationships they had entered up to this age. Their results reveal that in the cohort studied, so-called serial cohabitation, namely the formation and dissolution of more than one unmarried partnership, is a relatively rare phenomenon. 14 out of 100 men and women report to have lived with two unmarried partners under the same roof, while 3 out of 100 report to have experienced more than two cohabitation episodes. The latter named group belonged to the minority of the sample that had never entered a first marriage by the time the survey was taken.

In a second step, they compared the likelihood of experiencing a marriage or separation from an unmarried partner. The results imply that about 90 percent of women and men in a cohabiting union of first and second order either experience a marriage or separation within 5 years since the start of their relationship. The likelihood to get married to a first or a second cohabiting partner is twice as high as to dissolve the relationship. In cohabiting unions of higher order marriage is yet less likely, while the risk of separation is comparably high to that of cohabiting unions of lower order.

This is the first study on complex partnership biographies in Germany. It shows that for the birth cohort studied, the increasing popularity of unmarried cohabitation and the rise in partnership instability did not imply a loss of importance of marriage.

September, 2018

Job-related further training is often recommended to employees who want to develop professionally. This is illustrated, for example, by the Federal Ministry of Education’s programme "Aufstieg durch Bildung [Advancement through Education]". A study by ISS researcher Christian Ebner and Martin Ehlert (Social Science Research Center Berlin) has now examined whether individual participation in further training has a positive effect on the professional careers of employed persons in Germany.

The effects of so-called "non-formal" further training activities were analyzed. These activities include the many training courses, which are usually relatively short and do not lead to recognised educational qualifications. This includes, for example, software or language courses, presentation training and much more. Non-formal further training makes up the majority of employees’ learning activities. While there are clear indications of career improvements with regards to the much rarer formal further training (e.g. a “Meister” degree following an apprenticeship), the findings on the topic of non-formal further training are anything but clear.

Possible career mobility due to non-formal further training was examined by analyzing employees’ changes of occupation, firm changes, improvements and deterioration in the income hierarchy as well as becoming labour market inactive (e.g. unemployment). The empirical analyses were based on data from the National Education Panel (NEPS). The NEPS addresses educational processes, competencies and returns over the entire life span. The starting cohort 6 analysed here is a sample of the cohorts born 1944-1986 in Germany. The authors use the seven panel waves of 2009-2016, as detailed information on non-formal training courses is available here.

The results show that further training courses do not function as a stepping stone. Rather, it became apparent that employed persons who participate in further training courses tend to remain in their jobs. Participation in further training thus stabilizes employment careers. This means that non-formal further training has the function of a "safety net" and counteracts downward mobility and labour market inactivity. However, as a result of non-formal further training, there are also fewer career advancements, fewer company and fewer career changes.

Juli, 2018

Seit der Jahrtausendwende wurden über 2.400 Genossenschaften neu gegründet, so dass heute fast 8.000 Unternehmen in der Rechtsform der Genossenschaften in Deutschland existieren. Trotzdem hat sich die Gesamtzahl der Genossenschaften seit 1970 nahezu halbiert, während sich gleichzeitig die Anzahl der Mitgliedschaften fast verdoppelt hat. Dieser Gesamtrückgang der Unternehmensanzahl trotz der vielen Neugründungen ist keineswegs Insolvenzen geschuldet – im Gegenteil gelten die Genossenschaften zu Recht als besonders insolvenzsicher. Insbesondere Fusionen im kreditgenossenschaftlichen Bereich haben vielfach zu vergleichsweise großen genossenschaftlichen Unternehmen geführt. Trotzdem gilt dort wie auch im gesamten Genossenschaftssektor weiterhin die regionale Verankerung und Nähe zu Mitgliedern und Kunden als Teil der Marke.

Die Neugründungen seit der Jahrtausendwende stärken den Genossenschaftssektor. Interessanterweise wählten weitaus die meisten Genossenschaftsgründer diese Rechtsform, um neue Geschäftsmodelle und -bereiche zu besetzen. Die traditionell mit Genossenschaften besetzten Wirtschaftszweige wie die Kreditwirtschaft, die Landwirtschaft, der Handel, das Handwerk oder das Wohnen spielen bei den Neugründungen eher eine untergeordnete Rolle. Die meisten Neugründungen sind bei den Energiegenossenschaften zu finden, aber auch Ärzte- und Sozialgenossenschaften sowie weitere gemeinwesenorientierte Genossenschaften stoßen in neue genossenschaftliche Geschäftsgebiete vor.

Dieser für Genossenschaften so bezeichnete Neugründungsboom war 2014 Anlass für eine Studie zu den Potenzialen und Hemmnissen der unternehmerischen Tätigkeit in der Rechtsform der Genossenschaft, die von den ISS-Forschern Johannes Blome Drees, Philipp Degens und Clemens Schimmele zusammen mit Mitarbeitern der Unternehmensberatung Kienbaum durchgeführt wurde. Zu prüfen war u.a., ob die 2006 durchgeführte Genossenschaftsrechtsnovelle, die viele Gründungserleichterungen für kleine Initiativen vorsieht, tatsächlich zur Gründung neuer Genossenschaften führte. Die Studie konnte belegen, dass die neuen Rechtsvorschriften nicht für alle kooperativ angelegten Projekte einen geeigneten Rechtsrahmen vorgeben. Im Ergebnis wurde das Genossenschaftsgesetz weiter novelliert.

Kennzeichen vieler Neugründungen ist häufig ein sehr hohes zivilgesellschaftliches Engagement der Mitglieder, um die Ziele ihres gemeinschaftlichen Projektes zu erreichen. Geschätzt wird an Genossenschaften ihre bedarfswirtschaftliche Ausrichtung – es wird nicht für einen anonymen Markt produziert, sondern orientiert am Bedarf der Mitglieder – sowie die personenbezogene Demokratie. Hinzu kommt die im Genossenschaftsmitglied angelegte Identität der Eigentümer mit den Kunden, Lieferanten oder im Fall der Produktivgenossenschaften mit den Arbeitnehmern. Damit entsprechen Genossenschaften in einem zentralen Aspekt dem, was heute unter Begriffen wie Prosuming, kollaborativer Konsum oder Ko-Produktion den Wandel der Verbraucherrolle kennzeichnet. Bewährte Beispiele für diese Phänomene findet man in der Tradition der Konsum- oder Erzeuger-Verbraucher-Genossenschaften, neu hinzu kommen Formen wie die Solidarische Landwirtschaft oder besondere Wohnprojekte, zum Teil mit Möglichkeiten des gemeinsamen Arbeitens. Digitale Plattformen in genossenschaftlicher Hand könnten dafür sorgen, dass die Erträge der Plattformbetreiber den Nutzern zugutekommen. Anders als bei den sich in den letzten Jahren etablierenden großen Plattformen des Teilen (Uber oder Airbnb) verbleiben bei genossenschaftlichen Unternehmen die Erträge im genossenschaftlichen Unternehmen oder werden an die Mitglieder und damit an die Nutzer ausgeschüttet.