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Demography and Social Inequality

The research cluster “Demography and Social Inequality” is aimed at conducting rigorous and relevant research on demographic change and its interrelationship with social inequalities. The latter aspect is of particular importance, because demographic change has been fueled by social change (and vice versa) and the underlying social processes are characterized by a clear social gradient. For example, research has shown that (a) wealth is positively associated with health and longevity, (b) socio-economic status affects both the timing and quantum of fertility, and (c) education is an important factor in determining individuals’ propensity to migrate as well as their chances for a successful integration into the host society.

The causal relationship between demographic behavior and socioeconomic status (social inequalities, respectively), however, is complex and often bi-directional: Wealth is likely to impact individuals’ health, but health is also likely to impact individuals’ capacity to accumulate wealth. High socioeconomic status offers the resources to bear the costs of children, but – at the same time – opportunity costs of childrearing are high for the highest qualified.

Recent years brought about significant improvements in our – theoretical and empirical – understanding of the causal mechanisms underlying demographic outcomes/processes and social inequalities as described above. Another important aspect we still know relatively little about, though, relates to the coping strategies of actors facing the demographic challenges lying just ahead of us. More generally phrased – and following a general model of sociological explanation – we might thus ask:

  • How do actors at different levels of aggregation (macro-, meso-, and micro-level) adapt their behaviors to fundamentally changing (social, economic, demographic) environments, coping with new challenges and opportunities?
  • How might behavioral changes at the micro-level result in structural changes at higher levels of aggregation? And how are such behavioral changes related to social inequalities (both as a determinant and as a consequence)?

These questions relate all three demographic processes – fertility, migration, and mortality – and various dimensions of social inequality – education, income, social participation, etc. – alike. Answering them requires competence in several substantive fields as well as broad methodological expertise and knowledge of a variety of theoretical approaches to human behavior. The research initiative clusters the individual competences of its members, thereby offering the broad expertise necessary to advance our knowledge in the field of “Demography and Social Inequality”.

The research initiative is in the unique position that its members are involved in a number of long-term data collection enterprises (pairfam, CILS4EU, NRW Survey of Oldest-Old) providing the research community with high-quality research infrastructures. This involvement not only allows us to collect ‘tailor-made’ data needed for our own projects, but also poses us in a position as an attractive partner for external collaborations.


While the professors at the ISS form the core of the research initiative, the research cluster includes other associated researchers from the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences and other Faculties of the University of Cologne.

Selected publications

Brandt, M., C. Deindl, and K. Hank: “Tracing the Origins of Successful Aging: The Role of Childhood Conditions and Social Inequality in Explaining Later Life Health”, Social Science & Medicine, 2012, 74 (9), pp. 1418-1425.

Careja, R., and H.J. Andreß: “Needed but not liked. The impact of labor market policies on natives' opinions about immigrants”, International Migration Review, 2013

Hank, K.: “How ‘successful’ do older Europeans age? Findings from SHARE”, Journal of Gerontology: Social Science, 2011, 66B (2), pp. 230-236.

Jacob, M., and C. Kleinert: “Does unemployment help or hinder becoming independent? The role of em­ployment status for leaving the parental home.” European Sociological Review, 2008, 24 (2), pp. 141-153.

Kühhirt, M., and V. Ludwig: “Domestic Work and the Wage Penalty for Motherhood in West Germany”, Journal of Marriage and Family, 2012, 74 (1), pp. 186–200.

Mulder, C., and M. Wagner: “Union dissolution and mobility: Who moves from the family home after separation?”, Journal of Marriage and Family, 2010, 72 (5), pp. 1263-1273.