The German Life History Study (GLHS)


Life history data have been collected at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin (MPIB) under the direction of Professor Karl Ulrich Mayer for over 20 years now. The German Life History Study (GLHS), which emerged from the Collaborative Research Center "Microanalytical Foundations of Social Policy" based at the University of Mannheim and has been continued at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development since 1983, now comprises data on the life histories of some 8,500 men and women from 20 selected birth cohorts in West Germany and of more than 2,900 men and women from 13 selected birth cohorts in East Germany.

The respondents, who were drawn from representative samples, were surveyed retrospectively about their lives in standardized, face-to-face or telephone interviews. Particular emphasis was placed on gaining a thorough, month-by-month account of their educational, occupational, family, and residential histories and of assessing the situation in the family of origin as accurately as possible. Some interviews focused in detail on particular topics; e.g., membership of National Socialist organizations, social networks and informal exchange relations, or psychological personality traits.

The data make it possible to investigate life courses in Germany across the entire 20 th century. Indeed, the GLHS is one of the major bases for comparative studies of social conditions before, during, and after the division of Germany. Special attention is paid to change in patterns of education and training, labor market entry, and processes of family formation and - since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 - how the transformation of East German society has affected individual life courses.

The study's major research questions include the following:

  • When do certain events occur in individual life courses?
  • How do particular historical conditions and institutional settings impact on the life course?
  • What significance do historical conditions and events earlier in one's own life history have for the future life course?
  • How do changes in individual behavior impact on institutional settings and modify the social structure?

The German Life History Study is based on a theoretical framework that sees the life course as a succession of activities and events occurring in various domains of life or institutionalized settings from birth to death (see Selected Monographs).

Most of the GLHS data are available to all interested scientists. The anonymized data can be obtained from the Central Archive for Empirical Social Research (ZA) in Cologne. Non-anonymized life history data may be accessed by scholars with guest scientist status or through other special arrangements with the project team.

Further Links

The GLHS-study was continued from 2003 to 2010 at Yale University in CIQLE.

Via GESIS the data can be used for scientific purposes.