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Survey Guidelines

Standardization and Harmonization of Sociodemographic Variables

Demographic and socio-economic variables are, as a rule, the independent variables in survey research. For a comparison of the attitudes and behaviour of the respondents across different surveys, a standardization of these independent variables is essential. In Germany, a working group established by the umbrella organisations of the groups that conduct surveys – academic social researchers, commercial market and social researchers, and the Federal Statistical Office – has developed and formulated such an instrument, which is known as the “Demographic Standards”. The individual variables of the current edition (2010) are described here.

In the case of cross-cultural and cross-national comparisons, however, standardization is not possible. Here, the only way to establish comparability is to harmonize the individual variables across the cultures or countries participating in the survey. The various harmonization techniques and the rules to be observed when applying them are described.

Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik, J. H. P. (2016). Standardisation and Harmonisation of Socio-Demographic Variables. GESIS Survey Guidelines. Mannheim, Germany: GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. DOI: 10.15465/gesis-sg_en_012

Related publications:

  • Schneider, Silke L., Verena Ortmanns, Antonia Diaco, and Sarah Müller. 2022. Die Erhebung soziodemographischer Variablen in großen deutschen Umfragen: Ein Überblick über Möglichkeiten und Herausforderungen der Harmonisierung. KonsortSWD Working Paper 2/2022. Mannheim: GESIS - Leibniz-Institut für Sozialwissenschaften.

  • Hadler, Patricia, Cornelia Neuert, Verena Ortmanns, and Angelika Stiegler. 2022. "Are you…?: Asking questions on sex with a third category in Germany." Field Methods 34 (2): 91–107. doi:
  • Schneider, Silke L.. 2022. "The classification of education in surveys: a generalized framework for ex-post harmonization." Quality & Quantity 56 1829-1866. doi:
  • Schneider, Silke L., and Anthony F. Heath. 2020. "Ethnic and cultural diversity in Europe: validating measures of ethnic and cultural background." Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 46 (3): 533-552. doi: