Contents of the study

The SOEP started in 1984 as a longitudinal survey of private households in the Federal Republic of Germany. The central aim then and now is to collect representative micro-data to measure stability and change in living conditions by following a micro-economic approach enriched with variables from sociology and political science (influenced by the “Social Indicator” movement). Therefore the central survey instruments are a houeshold questionnaire, which is responded by the head of a household and an individual questionnaire, which each household member is intended to answer. Furthermore beginning with 1997, there are wave-specific $LELA files (Lebenslauf - engl. life course) containing the biography information as collected in the respective year.

A rather stable set of core questions is asked every year covering the most essential areas of interest of the SOEP:

  • population and demography
  • education, training, and qualification
  • labor market and occupational dynamics
  • earnings, income and social security
  • housing
  • health
  • household production
  • preferences and values
  • satisfaction with life in general and certain aspects of life.

Additionally, yearly topical modules enhance the basic information in (at least) one of these areas by asking detailed questions as documented in Table 1 and Figure 1. These modules for the main part appear in the personal questionnaires; only some of them are additions to the household questionnaire. Starting in the year 2001, the data have become even richer by including several different health measures and well-known psychological concepts as well as age specific questionnaires.

Table 1: Overview of Supplementary Questionnaires 1986-2012

Year Wave number Wave letter Topic  
1986 3 C Residential environment and neighborhood  
1987 4 D Social security, transition to retirement  
1988 5 E Household finances and wealth  
1989 6 F Further occupational training and professional qualifications  
1990 7 G Time use and time preferences; Labor market and subjective indicators  
1991 8 H Family and social networks  
1992 9 I Social security (2nd measurement)  
1993 10 J Further occupational training (2nd)  
1994 11 K Residential environment and neighborhood (2nd); Working conditions; Expectations for the future  
1995 12 L Time use (2nd)  
1996 13 M Family and social networks (2nd)  
1997 14 N Social security (3rd)  
1998 15 O Transportation and energy use; Time use (3rd)  
1999 16 P Residential environment and neighborhood (3rd); Expectations for the future (2nd)  
2000 17 Q Further occupational training (3rd)  
2001 18 R Family and social networks (3rd) Working conditions (ERI)
2002 19 S Wealth and assets (2nd); Social security (4th); Health (SF12, BMI)  
2003 20 T Transportation and energy use (2nd); Trust; Time use (4th)  
2004 21 U Residential environment and neighborhood (4th); Further occupational training (4th); Risk aversion; Health (2nd)  
2005 22 V Expectations for the future (3rd); Big Five; Reciprocity  
2006 23 W Family and social networks (4th); Working conditions (ERI) (2nd); Health (3rd); Grip strength  
2007 24 X Wealth and assets (3rd); Social security (5th)  
2008 25 Y Further occupational training (5th); Health (4th); Grip strength (2nd); Trust (2nd); Time use (5th)  
2009 26 Z Residential environment and neighborhood (5th); Risk aversion (2nd); Big Five (2nd); Globalization and transnationalization; Diseases  
2010 27 BA Consumption and saving; Reciprocity (2nd); Health (5th); Grip strength (3rd)  
2011 28 BB Family and social networks (5th); Working conditions (ERI) (3rd); Diseases (2nd)  
2012 29 BC Wealth and assets (4th); Social security (6th); Health (6th); Grip strength (4th)  
2013 30 BD Big Five (3rd); Trust (3rd); Loneliness; Diseases (3rd)  
2014 31 BE Health (7th); Risk aversion (3rd); Globalization and transnationalization (2nd); Residential environment and neighborhood (6th); Grip strength (5th)  
2015 32 BF Minimum wages; Reciprocity (3rd); Diseases (4th); Transportation and energy use (3rd)  
2016 33 BG Minimum wages (2nd); Health (8th); Family and social networks (6th); Working conditions (ERI) (4th); LGBT; Grip strength (6th)  

Since the year 2000, youths (turning 17 during the survey year) form a new group of respondents with a specific questionnaire suited to their situation. The questions cover their situation at home, including the relationship to their parents and friends. School and job aspirations are a major part, while some of the psychological measures available for the adults (e.g. Big Five, risk aversion) are also taken. Overall, the youth questionnaire provides a broad overview of the individual’s situation at a very interesting and potentially influencial point in their life.

Since 2003 SOEP also asks parents about their young children, by implementing age specific questionnaires. In 2003, a first questionnaire was added for infants and very young children born during the current or previous survey year. Since then, four additional questionnaires have been added for children in different age groups. In 2012, parents were asked about their children turning 10 during the current survey year for the first time. The topics in these questionnaires vary with the age of the child - for an overview, see Table 2.

Table 2: Overview of Proxy Questionnaires for Young Children

Questionnaire Age Group (years) First used in Respondent Topics
Mother-Child A 0-1 2003 Mother Child Health; Circumstances of Pregnancy; Child Care
Mother-Child B 2-3 2005 Mother (Father) Child Health; Child Care; Compentecies
Mother-Child C 5-6 2008 Mother (Father) Strengths and Difficulties (SDQ); Child Health; Child Care; Activities
Parent-Child D 7-8 2010 Mother and Father Educational Goals; Upbringing Styles and Goals; Child Care
Mother-Child E 9-10 2012 Mother (Father) Educational Goals and School Performance; Activities; Child Health; Strengths and Difficulties (SDQ); Child Care

(Note that for all questionnaires except the Parent-Child D the mother is the first choice to fill out the questionnaire, whereas the father is meant to answer only if the mother is not available.)

Especially Table 1 shows that the SOEP evolved in various directions over the course of its existence. New topics will continue to be introduced in future waves of data collection, depending on what is important for the scientific community.