skip to content

Selected Language Not Found

This page is not available in the language that was selected in the URL (L=4). You will be redirected to an existing language of this page. Please click here to go to an existing language.

Did you know that...?

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

October, 2017

However, the approach is not entirely new. As early as the nineteenth century, Ernst Engel (1857) was able to establish a link between the level of income and the distribution of expenditures on various consumer goods: the higher the share of expenditure on food, the poorer the household. Hermann Schwabe (1868) was able to establish a similar relationship for housing expenditure. Consumption as an independent factor of social differentiation next to employment was already discussed in the early years of social stratification research. Pierre Bourdieu (1982), for example, mentions the consumption and leisure sphere as a decisive factor for the reproduction of class structures. While consumption is regularly used in lifestyle studies, the approach of using consumption expenditure as a wealth indicator has not been pursued too often, at least not for Germany. In the international context, there are several empirical studies, which use consumption expenditure to measure poverty and inequality and which explain why consumption expenditure is the more adequate wealth indicator compared to income. The fact that this topic is so little noticed in Germany is largely due to the fact that there was a long lack of meaningful and representative data bases. However, by providing the income and consumption survey, a detailed official statistics on the revenues and expenditure of over 60,000 households in Germany, the data infrastructure has improved significantly for the scientific community.

On this basis Katharina Hörstermann – together with Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Andreß – investigated differences between an income- and an consumption-based analysis of poverty and inequality. The results of the DFG-funded study are broadly consistent with those from international research: based on consumption the level of poverty and inequality is below the corresponding levels based on income. Moreover, the populations of income and consumption poor only partly intersect, with the coincidence increasing over time. The consumption poor differ from the income poor, especially with regard to their assets: The percentage of home owners is high and correspondingly their debt ratio.

September, 2017

ISS researcher Sarah Carol and her colleague Nadja Milewski from the University of Rostock investigated attitudes towards abortion in Belgium, Germany, France, Great Britain, and Switzerland. The analyses are based on the EURISLAM survey conducted among more than 5,000 natives and Muslim minorities from the former Yugoslavia, Turkey, Morocco and Pakistan.

The study shows that attitudes towards abortion vary across Western Europe (controlled for gender, age and education of the respondents). Despite similar regulations of abortion, natives in Germany are significantly more likely to oppose abortion than natives in France. The attitudes of Belgian, British and Swiss inhabitants lie in-between.

However, we see clear differences in the level of natives’ and migrants’ approval. While nearly every fifth migrant approves of abortion, every second native approves of abortion. These group and country differences can be partly explained by different levels of religiosity. Nevertheless, the gap between migrants and natives in France is the largest one. In relative terms, however, migrants and natives in France alike hold the least restrictive attitudes towards abortion. Overall, the similar country differences for migrants and natives suggest patterns of convergence.

August, 2017

Nowadays, people tend to expect a high level of emotional closeness and fair communication from their marriage, while simultaneously emphasizing the importance of keeping a great deal of personal autonomy. It has been proposed that the emergence of so-called individualized marriages explains increased divorce rates. People’s expectations regarding emotional gratification from a partnership would be unrealistically high, flexible roles and frequent bargaining processes would erode relationship quality and more personal autonomy would decrease costs to dissolve a marriage.

ISS researchers Nicole Hiekel and Michael Wagner analyzed the link between marital practices grasping the degree of individualism within a marriage and dissolution risk using data of the German Family Panel (pairfam). Approximately 3,000 men and women who were married to their partner in the first year of data collection (2008) for a duration between one and twenty years had been observed during the subsequent seven years of their marriage. During that period, every eighth marriage had been dissolved.

The yet unpublished study shows that individualized marital practices are widely diffused in the analyzed sample. Married women and men in Germany report a high degree of emotional closeness (intimacy), personal freedom (autonomy) and fair discourse in conflict situations (democracy). Such individualism within marriage is partly related to separation. Spouses who report a higher level of intimacy exhibit a strongly reduced risk of separation. This association is even stronger in long term marriages. Higher levels of autonomy are not related to dissolution risk. Spouses, whose conflict discourse is characterized by higher levels of democracy, hence large absence of dominance and permissiveness have a reduced risk of marriage dissolution at later years of their marriage. These results suggest that couples with individualized marital practices have more stable marriages because they successfully practice mutual appreciation both in harmonious and conflict situations, and particularly so at later years of their marriage.

Juli, 2017

Consumption patterns, i.e., how total consumption is divided among different consumption categories, are usually regarded as an indicator of a person’s lifestyle. Each person must invest a certain part of its expenses in securing its basic needs. The rest of the disposable income can either be saved or, depending on the person’s preferences, be spent on different consumption purposes. For a long time it has been a controversial question of which factors influence a person’s consumption pattern. On the one hand, it is argued that socio-demographic characteristics, in particular income, determine how we consume. On the other hand, it is pointed out that by the dissolution of traditional ties and the general increase in the standard of living, the possibilities for individual life-styles have increased and the binding character of role-specific consumption norms increasingly dissipated. This in turn results in a decay of homogeneous, class-specific consumption styles and a destratification of consumption patterns.

In a recent German Science Foundation project, Katharina Hörstermann – together with Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Andreß – analyzed consumption patterns in Germany using data from the income and consumption survey of the years 1978 and 2008. Her study shows a change in the structure of consumption: expenditures on food, drinks, tobacco, clothing and footwear as well as furniture and household items were decreasing, while expenditures on housing, health and personal care, transport and news, and leisure time were increasing. They examined whether changes in the age and income distribution as well as in average household sizes in Germany between 1978 and 2008 can explain this change.

A descriptive comparison of the consumption patterns of different birth cohorts controlling for age, income and household size showed different patterns between cohorts that could ot be explained by effects of age, income, or household size. The results of a decomposition analysis, which kept the distribution of age, income and household size constant between 1978 and 2008, confirmed this result: socio-demographic changes are not able to explain the aforementioned shifts in the expenditure shares of different consumption categories. Much more, it seems that people have more possibilities to align their spending profile more strongly according to their own preferences.

May, 2017

Each year, 311 – New York City's main hub for government information and non-emergency services – receives millions of requests and complaints, including New Yorkers’ gripes about their neighbors. In a new study, ISS researcher Merlin Schaeffer and his colleague Joscha Legewie (Yale University) use 311 complaint data, to track when and where New Yorkers complain about their neighbors making noise, blocking driveways, or drinking in public. They found that these complaints – a defining aspect of urban life – are more likely to occur in areas sandwiched between two homogenous communities, where the boundaries between different ethnic and racial groups aren't clearly defined.

Neighborhood conflict arises from segregation and is particularly prevalent at ‘fuzzy’ boundaries between homogenous neighborhoods. The number of complaints jumped 26 percent from areas without boundaries to those with “fuzzy” boundaries. As the two sociologists explain, ethnic residential segregation strengthens group identities and claims about ethnically defined group turfs. Mixed areas that are sandwiched between two homogenous communities are particularly prone to conflict because these ‘fuzzy’ boundaries are contested, that is, they foster ambiguities about group turf.

To define neighborhood boundaries, the researchers adopted edge-detection algorithms used in science and engineering, including computer vision and image processing. For instance, engineers developing driverless cars rely on these algorithms to detect the boundaries of objects in order to navigate. They applied these edge-detection algorithms to census data on the makeup of New York City’s neighborhoods, which allowed them to identify boundaries between ethnically homogeneous areas and determine how sharp the boundaries are.

Then, using data from 4.7 million time stamped and geocoded 311 service requests from 2010, the researchers tracked complaint calls to measure neighborhood conflict. Indicators of neighborhood conflict include complaints of a blocked driveway, drinking in public, illegal conversion of residential space (such as short-term renting of living space), and certain noise complaints, including loud music or parties.

April, 2017

How to make integration work? Public debates addressing this question in the German context often identify immigrants’ place of residence as the key. Discussions revolve around the emergence of neighborhoods where immigrants and their descendants live their lives separate from the majority population. At the same time, they ponder over the consequences of increased spatial proximity to the majority population, potentially fostering contact to them.

Empirical findings concerning this question are mixed. Several studies find a strong association between immigrants’ neighborhood compositions and their contact with the majority population. Other studies, however, report much weaker associations. These findings suggest that to this date, it remains unclear, whose social integration really profits from spatial proximity to the majority and whose does not. Moreover, we do not know why such differences exist.

In a recently published article, ISS researcher Hanno Kruse provided an answer to these questions concerning the friendship choices of young immigrants and their descendants in Germany. Combining information from the “Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey in Four European Countries (CILS4EU)” and small-scale neighborhood data from a private geomarketing company, his analyses provided a rigorous test of the association between young immigrants’ neighborhood and friendship compositions in Germany.

Results clearly point towards the importance of immigrants’ social background: the higher it is the stronger the association between spatial proximity to the majority and friendships with them. There is no indication, however, that the social groups differ in how much they rely on their neighborhood context when making friends. Instead, the analyses point toward two other explanations for these differences: First, immigrants with a higher social background face, on average, more majority members at their schools, yielding different meeting opportunities even when neighborhood compositions are identical. Second, immigrants of higher social background are more successful in turning contact to majority members into actual friendships. To summarize, spatial proximity to the majority indeed seems to be a necessary condition for a successful social integration of young immigrants in Germany. However, its impact on young immigrants’ social integration is far from universal.

March, 2017

Dual-earner couples, in which both partners work, are generally less likely to move over long distances than male-breadwinner couples, in which only the man works. This is often explained with the difficulties to find two adequate jobs after a move. If women’s employment is less supported in a country, this difference in the likelihood to move may be smaller, because couples may be more likely to move even if women are initially without a new job.

Sergi Vidal and Francisco Perales from Queensland University, Philipp Lersch from the ISS and Maria Brandén from Stockholm University examined this expectation in a recently published study. For their analysis, they harmonized four nationally representative datasets from Australia, Britain, Germany and Sweden. Sweden is one of the countries in the world with the strongest support for women’s employment, while the other three countries support women’s employment much less.

The authors found that dual-earner couples move less often than male-breadwinner couples in Britain, Germany and Sweden, but not in Australia. If couples have children, a situation in which women often reduce their employment intensity compared to their male partners, dual-earner couples move as often as male-breadwinner couples in Australia, Britain and Germany. Swedish dual-earner couples with children remain less likely to move compared to male-breadwinner couples. These findings are in line with the expectation that more gender-equal contexts may deter moves of dual-earner couples.

The authors also found that dual-earner and male-breadwinner couples with a man working in a managerial or professional occupation are relatively more likely to move in Germany. The importance of the male partner’s occupation additionally reflects the rather traditional German context in which men’s employment is prioritized.

February, 2017

People vary in how much they want to make the best possible choice in various everyday situations. In psychology, people who strive to make the best choice and do not settle for second best are called “maximizers”, whereas people who make a choice as soon as they find an option that is acceptable and meets some basic criteria are called “satisficers”. A question that arises is: Are those who always seek the best and refuse to lower their standards happier in life? Or is that perhaps a recipe for misery, since they have to live with the doubt that they could have done better by searching more? For long, it has been assumed that maximizers are less happy than satisficers because the thought that there might be something better out there never lets maximizers enjoy life. 

Now, adding to emerging research challenging this assumption, a new study by ISS researcher Michail Kokkoris proposes that in order to investigate whether maximizers are indeed unhappy we need to distinguish between two types of happiness. On the one hand, happiness might mean to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, experiencing much more positive than negative emotions might be a way to be happy. This type of happiness is called hedonic happiness. On the other hand, pursuing pleasure might not be the only way to be happy. Alternatively, happiness might mean to realize one’s potential and pursue self-fulfillment. For example, a person might be happy by engaging in activities that are personally meaningful and self-expressive, such as improving one’s skills, acquiring new knowledge, or volunteering. Such activities may not be pleasurable on their own right but imbue people’s lives with meaning and motivate them to use their full potential. This type of happiness is called eudaimonic happiness.

So far, research on maximizing and happiness has neglected eudaimonic happiness. However, a more complete answer to the question whether maximizers are indeed less happy than satisficers would require assessing both types of happiness – not only hedonic, but also eudaimonic. Results of two empirical studies showed that maximizers scored higher on eudaimonic happiness than satisficers. This research challenges the long-held assumption that maximizers are unhappy. Although maximizers may not be happier than satisficers in terms of experiencing more pleasure and positive emotions, they definitely lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives. In sum, striving to optimize one’s choices in life may provide people with opportunities to flourish. This might not be necessarily associated with more pleasure – but it is clearly associated with meaning and self-fulfillment, which are also important aspects of human happiness.

January, 2017

It is often assumed that retirement changes life circumstances drastically. Therefore, retirement is also called a “critical life event”. However, previous research showed no clear findings – some studies found an increase in life satisfaction, others found a decrease, and further studies found no changes in life satisfaction at all.

ISS researcher Martin Wetzel and his colleagues Oliver Huxhold and Clemens Tesch-Römer from the German Centre of Gerontology (DZA) recently analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP). This data set was used to track changes in life satisfaction from six years prior to eight years after retirement transition for more than 3,300 men and women.

The authors show in their study that people who had been unemployed prior to retirement were more satisfied with their life after retirement than before. In contrast, people who had been working prior retirement showed only minor increases in life satisfaction. The researchers understand this finding as indication that retirement is a socially accepted and predictable life event. For people who had been working, retirement was not associated with major changes in social status. However, people who had been previously out of work perceived retirement status as a relief from the stigma of being “unemployed.”

Additionally, the study finds that in the first eight years after retirement, people with higher education were more successful in maintaining their life satisfaction than people with lower education. The scientists interpret higher life satisfaction as ability to successfully establish new sustainable daily life routines. Hence, in particular, the higher educated more easily adjust to the new challenges of retirement since they have successively collected more resources over the course of their life. This results in increasing differences of life satisfaction between higher and lower educated people in the first eight years after retirement. The authors sum up, “while retirement leads in the short-term to a decrease of social inequalities, in the long-run they increase again.