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WZB Berlin

General information

The WZB was founded in 1969. It is jointly funded by the Federal Republic of Germany and by the Land Berlin. The WZB conducts basic research with a focus on problems of modern societies in a globalized world. The research is theory-based, problem-oriented, often long-term and mostly based on international comparisons. Around 160 German and international researchers work at the WZB, including sociologists, political scientists, economists, and legal scholars.

The responsible contact person for the participation of the WZB in the EQUALSOC-Network is Dr. Martina Dieckhoff, member of the Research Unit Skill Formation and Labor Markets.

Research program

a) Skill Formation and Labor Markets

Learning, training and continuing education are of increasing importance, especially in information or knowledge societies. Thus, the consequences of being less educated for life chances are dramatic. From sociological and economic vantage points, we analyze educational, training, and occupational biographies as a consequence of institutional arrangements varying across countries and over time. Key themes include the cumulative processes of educational and social stratification over the life course and the resulting inequalities in employment opportunities. Also at the center of our research program is the intertwining of life courses and employment careers in partnerships and families.

b) Inequality and Social Policy

The unit’s research program focuses on the causes and consequences of poverty/inequality and social policy, and the relationships between poverty/inequality and social policy. The unit studies how poverty and inequality are shaped by work, labor markets, politics, policies, institutions, power relations, and collective actors. The unit also investigates the sources, politics and political economy of social policy.

In terms of inequality, the unit is interested in a host of inequalities and their intersections (e.g. class, gender, and race). Much of the unit’s research is comparative across affluent democracies, with substantial attention to Western Europe, the U.S. and developing countries. The unit utilizes a wide variety of quantitative approaches, and includes studies at the macro-level, individual-level, and multiple levels of analysis.

c) National Educational Panel Study: Vocational Training and Lifelong Learning

Over the past few decades, Germany, like other industrialised nations, has become a knowledge-based society, in which education and educational institutions are of central importance to all phases of life. More than before, education may be considered a lifelong process taking place in formal, non-formal and informal learning environments. It is of core interest to investigate how individual educational careers and competencies are developing over a lifetime and to examine the influence of families, educational institutions, work environments and private circumstances. The National Educational Panel Study, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for an initial phase of five years, aims to gather data regarding the development of individual education and competence development and their interaction with learning environments, social inequality, migration and educational outcomes over the course of a lifetime.

d) Demography and Inequality

This project group addresses the intersection of demography and social inequality and uses historical and international comparisons to analyze the causes and consequences of changing life course patterns. Starting point is the widespread assumption that today’s life courses have become more complex, flexible and individualised because people increasingly have to adapt their lives to the demands of a globalised economy and increasingly flexible job markets. Such developments are often associated with negative consequences such as growing social inequality, economic insecurity, stress and greater difficulty to combine a career and family.

The project group uses longitudinal data to explore how certain patterns in demographic and socio-economic processes like fertility and employment careers are associated with resource allocation. Three life stages are currently in focus: family formation, employment careers and the transition to retirement.

e) Work and Care

Changes in individuals’ work and family lives have contributed to the outsourcing of care work. Today, the market, rather than the family, provides help and services in almost all aspects of life. Children are raised by nannies and in day-care centers. Geriatric nurses take care of the elderly in their private homes as well as in nursing homes. Career coaches and marriage counselors offer emotional support and advice in difficult life situations. The goal of this research group is to examine how these markets are organized, under which conditions they emerge, and what consequences the personal and often intimate aspects of such jobs have for the individuals who perform them.

Some care work, however, is still provided by family members. Therefore, the research group will also examine the consequences of this care work when performed by non-traditional providers (e.g., fathers taking parental leave).

In short, based on quantitative, qualitative, and experimental studies, the research group addresses the following issues: (1) the origins and emergence of professional emotion work and care markets, (2) the social exchange processes between provides and consumers of professional coaching, care and the like, (3) the consequences of professionally and privately delivered care on individual work outcomes.

f) Economics of Change

Economies rarely rest in states of universal constancy, nor do societies. Rather there is permanent change, often slow and incremental, sometimes rapid and violent. Stable long-term “equilibrium” outcomes often remain fantasy and economic welfare will largely be determined during long phases of adjustment.

The research in this unit is organized into three pillars.

  1. Understanding change. How do decision makers learn in new environments? How do evolutionary dynamics unfold? What are the social and cultural forces that impinge on economic change?
  2. Fostering change. How can policy makers achieve change through regulation or institutional design? What are the best ways to encourage pro-social behaviour or philanthropy? How can one help consumers to make better choices in an ever more complicated market place?
  3. Preparing for change. How can one develop economic strategies for some of the fundamental changes that are likely to arise in the 21st century such as advances in biotech and medicine that might dramatically increase live expectancy? How can we prepare for large risks? Can we develop strategies for dealing with mass migration that might arise due to flooding or food and water shortages?

g) Modes of Economic Governance

The research focus of the project group is on new forms of economic governance and its impact on organizational forms and the ‘steering’ of companies, sectors and governmental actors. In particular, the relationships between interpretive models, strategies and instruments as well as problems, conflicts and barriers within these ‘modes of governance’ are examined.

The starting point of analysis is the double problem of internationalized economic activity and the ecological crisis. Firstly, trans-, supra- and international economic dynamics and institutional forms of regulation are becoming more important relative to national decision making, resulting in rapid change in national and sub-national forms of economic action. Secondly, the growing threat to the natural basis of life imposes new demands on political regimes for sustainable economic practices.

Against the current background of multiple crises (financial, economic, environmental) the project group looks at the variations in and possibilities for sustainable development, both in companies and sectors as well as on the macro level. Problems of post-national forms of economic management and variants of sustainable development strategies and their embeddedness in and impact on social and institutional arrangements are examined in different projects. There are three research areas within the project group:

  1. The change in the forms of corporate governance in a European and internationally comparative context, with a special focus on corporate social responsibility, and in particular on the transition from the (previously dominant) shareholder value model to different types of corporate responsibility.
  2. The change in the environmental policy regime, particularly through the use of market based instruments in climate policy (trading of pollution rights), their impact on businesses and sectors and the influence of capital market actors on these policy instruments.
  3. The interests, ideas and organizational contexts of intellectual and political entrepreneurship, particularly in European multi-level politics, and thus the role of technical, advisory, advocacy and lobbying networks (think-tank networks and sustainable development).
    The project group was established for a three year period (until mid-2014).

h) Migration, Integration, Transnationalization

The research programme of the Department focuses on four dimensions of migration and integration. On the cultural dimension, migration raises the questions of national identity, and – particularly under the influence of Muslim immigration – of state-church relationships. On the social dimension, the roles of social capital and of civil society organizations for the integration of immigrants are at stake. Politically, immigration has brought the category of citizenship again to the centre of attention. Economically, finally, post-war migration to Europe has been a unique experiment of mass immigration in the context of developed welfare states. Whether immigration countries can remain welfare states is an as yet unresolved existential question for European societies.

Although European countries have been confronted with comparable immigration flows and integration problems, they have often dealt with them in widely divergent ways. This is because migration and integration touch upon core elements of the self-understanding of nation-states, including notions of national identity, the criteria for access to citizenship, and the relationship between church and state. As a consequence, immigration and integration policies of countries such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, or the Netherlands have been shaped by national political-cultural traditions and national political institutions. The field of migration and integration politics is hence a key example of the more general finding that globalization and transnationalization must not necessarily imply a decline of cross-national differences. To the contrary, cross-national differences are often brought more clearly to the surface by the divergent national processing of similar transnational problems. The research of the Department will therefore be strongly directed towards cross-nationally comparative questions and research designs.

i) President’s Project Group

The president’s academic activities are concentrated in education and labor market research, gender studies, as well as scientific and university policy.