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Did you know that...?

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

October 2019

At the end of primary school, parents and children in Germany are faced with the choice of a type of secondary school; early differences in performance often prevent immigrants and their descendants from attending a high-track school (Gymnasium). ISS researchers Hanno Kruse and Clemens Kroneberg investigated the effects of such unequal school transitions in a study forthcoming in the American Journal of Sociology. The study, which was carried out as part of the ERC project SOCIALBOND, combines administrative spatial data on all secondary schools in Germany with extensive survey data on identities and friendship networks.

The remarkable result: Ethnic inequality in access to high-track schools affects not only the educational trajectories of immigrant students, but also their identities and social relationships with their classmates.

In areas where adolescents with a migration background rarely attend high-track schools, their attendance at these schools is associated with assimilative tendencies: Minority students show a much greater willingness to identify as German and these feelings are more relevant for their friendships with majority students. In turn, majority students also tie their acceptance of minority students to the latter’s identification with the majority group. Hence, in areas with strong ethnic stratification, educational placement is strongly associated with identification and friendship formation.

In areas where adolescents with an immigrant background are also well represented at high-track schools, this coupling of educational advancement and boundary crossing is absent: Minority students have no increased tendency to feel German and identification as German is also less relevant for cross-group friendships.

In brief, high-track schools appear to function as "schools of the nation" in ethnically stratified areas, whereas they tend to be "schools of diversity" in which the question of identification as Germans is less important in areas with greater educational equality. At the same time, however, the belonging of minority youth is not only a question of the local context: For Muslim minority students, Kruse and Kroneberg found no heightened inclination to identify as German – even in local contexts that are particularly conducive to crossing the native-immigrant boundary.

August 2019

Studying abroad has become common among students in Europe. It is considered beneficial, for example, to improve foreign language skills and intercultural knowledge and to foster personal and academic growth. Surprisingly, empirical evidence whether and to what extent international experiences actually helps to find better jobs with higher income or higher occupational status is less clear.
A recently published study by ISS researchers Marita Jacob and Michael Kühhirt together with Margarida Rodrigues (Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa) examines job characteristics five years after graduations for those who studied abroad and those who didn’t. This empirical analysis of graduates from 13 European countries finds large country differences in the impact of studying abroad on both wages and attaining a high occupational position in Europe, i.e. in some countries studying abroad does result in better jobs, in other countries it does not. Generally, the labour market returns to international experience were larger in countries in Eastern and Southern Europe, countries in which university quality is lower, with high graduate unemployment, and fewer students with experiences abroad. In contrast, in countries with higher university quality and less competition among graduates, international experience does not increase job chances. Hence, studying abroad improves employability only under particular circumstances.

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.