Sociodemographic Variables in Surveys

Increasing Research Potential Through Output Harmonization


  • Silke Schneider GESIS - Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences image/svg+xml
  • Lennart Palm GESIS - Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences image/svg+xml



sociodemographic standard variables, output harmonization


Measuring people’s sociodemographic characteristics over time and in different contexts or studies is one of the keys of quantifying social inequalities and social change within any society. While different respondent-based studies usually focus on different topics, almost all of them collect data on some key features defining respondent’s backgrounds and living situations.

Summarizing the measurement of sociodemographic characteristics however, the German survey landscape could be characterized as “same but different”: studies measure the same concepts yet differ in their specific approach, despite the fact that the “Demographische Standards” (Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik et al., 2016) provide recommended questionnaire items since the early 1990s. This has several problematic implications: Firstly, it becomes quite difficult to combine knowledge about groups of respondents with the same sociodemographic characteristics across studies on a macro level, and thus to systematically accumulate knowledge on social inequalities and social change. Secondly, combining different data sets, e.g. in order to be able to analyze small groups or rare phenomena, can become a laborious effort which might still produce questionable results, since key caveats can be overlooked in survey documentation.


Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, J. H. P., Beckmann, K., Glemser, A., Heckel, C., von der Heyde, C., Schneider, S. L., Hanefeld, U., Herter-Eschweiler, R., & Kühnen, C. (2016). Demographische Standards, Ausgabe 2016: Eine gemeinsame Empfehlung des ADM Arbeitskreis Deutscher Markt- und Sozialforschungsinstitute e. V., der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sozialwissenschaftlicher Institute e. V. (ASI) und des Statistischen Bundesamtes. Statistisches Bundesamt.




Conference Proceedings Volume


Humanities & Social Sciences
Received 2023-04-25
Accepted 2023-06-29
Published 2023-09-07