Course 10 - Translation and Harmonisation in Cross-National Surveys, Week 2: Harmonisation of Socio-demographic Variables (Course 10.2)

August 20-24

Instructors: Jürgen H. P. Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, Uwe Warner

Course content

When analysing attitudes, opinions and behaviours, socio-demographic background variables are essential. They are used to classify survey respondents into homogenous social groups; and they are used to explain social behaviour of observed population groups and types. However, the measurement of socio-demographic variables is influenced by the national and cultural settings and thus differs across countries. In order to be able to compare across various (national) contexts, context specific socio-demographic variables need to be harmonised by harmonising both the underlying concepts as well as their measurement.

This course provides an introduction to the comparative measurement of socio-demographic variables both from a theoretical as well as a practical point of view. To begin with, strategies and rules for national standardization and international harmonisation are introduced. Then, the harmonisation of a number of socio-demographic variables and concepts commonly used in cross-national research will be discussed: Education, occupation, labour force status, income, ethnicity, migration background, as well as private household.

Education is one of the basic social facts setting up social stratification and inequality. The course will illustrate the process from concepts of national educational structures to a harmonized categorical system which may allow comparing education across countries. Occupation and labour force status are important for social status measurements and social stratification analyses. For income and private household, we propose a set of survey questions that take into account the national income distributions and the national cultures that determine the household definitions and compositions across countries. Finally, studying respondents’ race, ethnicity, and migration background across countries has become increasingly important. In comparative surveys, we need to identify nationality, citizenship, ethnicity, and the migration experience of survey respondents for the comparison of European countries.

Through a mixture of lectures in the morning and practical exercises using SPSS during the afternoon, participants will become familiar with harmonisation techniques for social background variables and with the difficulties measuring social stratification across Europe.

Course and learning objectives

Knowledge and skills with respect to the harmonisation of socio-demographic variables allow researchers to contribute to comparative surveys in international research networks. They also increase researchers’ capability to judge the comparative potential of survey data, and to evaluate and potentially improve the quality of survey data for comparative analyses.

Course prerequisites

Participants should be familiar with questionnaire design; alternatively they should study Part III: Methodology, in: Sage Handbook of Public Opinion Research (2008).

Furthermore, participants should get a quick overview of the data documentation of the European Social Survey, the International Social Survey Programme, and the European Values Study. Finally, students should be familiar with the basics of SPSS.

Note: Participants will need to bring a laptop computer in order to perform the practical exercises in this course.


Please note that for this course, the optional exam will be in form of a paper to be submitted to the instructors after the end of the Summer School. If you want to gain 5 ECTS points for this course, you will thus not need to be present for the classroom exam on August 25th.

Recommended reading

  1. Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, J. H. P. (2008). Harmonisation of Demographic and Socio-Economic Variables in Cross-National Survey Research. Bulletin de Méthodologie Sociologique, 98: 5-24.
  2. Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, J. H. P. & C. Wolf (Eds.) (2003). Advances in Cross-National Comparison. An European Working-Book for Demographic and Socio-Economic Variables. New York.
  3. Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, J. H. P. & U. Warner (2008). Private Household Concepts and their Operationalisation in National and International Social Surveys. GESIS-Forschungsberichte, Reihe: Survey Methodology 1. Mannheim.

About the instructors

Prof. Dr. Jürgen H. P. Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik is head of the Knowledge Transfer Unit at GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences and Professor at the Institute for the Political Sciences at Justus-Liebig University of Giessen. His current research interests include standardisation and harmonisation of socio-demographic variables for national and cross-national comparative research.

Dr. Uwe Warner is scientific consultant at CEPS/INSTEAD (Centre d'Etudes de Populations, de Pauvreté et de Politiques Socio-Economiques / International Network for Studies in Technology, Environment, Alternatives, Development) in Esch/Alzette, Luxembourg. His current research interests include harmonisation of socio-demographic variables for cross-national comparative research.