The Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI)

The Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI) is an independent academic institute within the Hans-Böckler-Foundation, a non-profit organisation fostering co-determination and promoting research and academic study on behalf of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB).

Since it was founded in 1946, the institute's focus has always been on the improvement of life chances, on social justice and fair working and living conditions. Economists, sociologists, political scientists and law scholars work on social, economic and labour market policy issues. On the basis of their analyses, researchers elaborate policy proposals aimed at overcoming labour market restrictions and social problems to the benefit of employees.

Politische Sociali/Social Policies, 3/2017

Limited Access to Social Benefits

Freedom of movement is one of the core elements of the European project. However, recent developments in the German welfare state are limiting the freedom of EU citizens. This is the conclusion of a new article by Florian Blank (WSI) and Nadine Absenger that has analyzed the access to unemloyment benefits II and social assistance benefits.



WSI Report Nr. 37e, 11/2017

Unequal Opportunities of Living from Assets

Can savingss cushion a loss of income? In the WSI Distribution Report 2017, Anita Tiefensee analyzes for how long households would be able to hold their consumption levels in a scenario of losing all income sources. The results show that 30% of German households would dissave within weeks whilst others could secure their lifestyles for decades.  

WSI Report 37e (pdf, English)


WSI Policy Brief Nr. 17e, 11/2017


With the European Pillar of Social Rights (ESSR), the European Commission aims to strengthen the social dimension of the European Union. Daniel Seikel argues that the proclamation on the ESSR in November 2017 consists of 20 generally worded principles and does not contain specific targets for social policy benefits.

WSI Policy Brief 17e (pdf, English)

DECOBA Project Working Paper

Varieties of decentralisation in German collective bargaining

Within the framework of the EU-funded project on “Decentralization of Collective Bargaining in Europe” (DECOBA) Thorsten Schulten and Reinhard Bispinck analyse the development in Germany. They elaborate two in-depth case studies on the metal industry and retail trade which show the increasing differentiation and segmentation of German collective bargaining.


Socio-Economic Review, online advance 27.10.2017

the art of shaping interests: German employers’ associations

Employers' associations are, by nature, non-profit organizations of for-profit members. How do they manage to represent the contradictory interests of competitors within a single organization? Based on a unique dataset on 358 German employers’ associations, Martin Behrens (WSI) shows that associations seek to reconcile conflicting interests by way of establishing an elaborated set of rules for admission, interest insulation, weighting, activation and dispute resolution.

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German Politics, online advance 08.09.2017

No Way to Escape Imbalances in the Eurozone?

Germany has increasingly relied on export specialisation as a strategy for economic recovery – a mixed blessing: specialisation in high-quality manufactured goods has preserved the country's competitive edge, but also led to an increasing dependency on exports. Anke Hassel analyses three sources for the over-reliance on export-oriented manufacturing and weak employment in domestic services: industrial relations, social insurance and fiscal federalism.

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Social Europe, 01.09.2017

Activiation Policy fuels In-Work Poverty

The Hartz-Reforms as an example for activation policy are often seen as a major factor of the German labour market boost. While doubts about this effect are growing, a recent study has shown an overproportional increase of in-work poverty in Germany. On the other hand, countries with high expenditures for active labour market policies reduce the in-work poverty risk.

Article on Social Europe (English)
More about the study (pdf, German)


Social Europe, 09.08.2017

Why Won’t Wages In Europe Rise As They Should?

Economic growth is finally taking hold across Europe, employment is expanding - but wages stagnate. Thorsten Schulten and Malte Lübker (WSI) on what is behind – and on what is needed: active support for collective bargaining and a European minimum wage policy.

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Social Europe, 07.08.2017

A Big Legacy: Wealth In Europe

The "Inequality in Europe" series on Social Europe examines the different dimensions of inequality in Europe and what kind of policy mix could help addressing them. Anita Tiefensee (WSI) gives an overview on the current distribution of wealth. The most important source is owner-occupied housing. Another source are wealth transfers - inheritances and gifts, i.e. wealth accumulated without effort. But taxes on gifts and inheritances have tended to decrease in the euro area - a highly problematic development.

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WSI Report 33e, 05/2017


Data from the WSI works councils survey 2015 show that work intensification, performance pressure, overtime hours and insufficient staffing levels are everyday problems in many companies. Restructuring measures and staff shortages significantly increase the workload pressure. The findings uncover the alarmingly weak implementation of risk assessments for psychosocial hazards.

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New ETUI-Publication

European Trade Unions in a time of crises

Steffen Lehndorff (IAQ), Heiner Dribbusch and Thorsten Schulten (both WSI) are the editors of the new book "Rough Waters: European Trade Unions in a time of crises". Distinguished experts from 11 European countries analyse the develpoment of trade unions in the turbulent times since the early 2000s. The book can be downloaded for free on the ETUI-website.

more information and free download (pdf)

Florian Blank (WSI)

Pension provision: (Still) a public task?

In a recently published contribution to an edited volume, WSI researcher Florian Blank discusses developments in pension policies in Germany. In his article he pays special attention to tendencies of privatization that took place in the German pension system since the 2001 reforms. Furthermore, he addresses the question of how to justify public pension provision.

more information ...


MBF-Report 31, Workers’ Voice

Employee Participation Promotes Large Companies

A new report by Anke Hassel and Nicole Helmerich gives a glance about Workers’ Voice in the 100 largest European companies. Among others it shows that Board Level Employee Representation strengthens several forms of employee participation and comes with good corporate governance and business performance.

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International conference, Kiev 30.-31.03.2017

Minimum wages – A chance for redistribution and growth?

The Ukrainian parliament decided in Dezember 2016 to double the minimum wage, a decision followed by an intensive national debate: Who is profiting? What are the effects on the labour market? Reinhard Bispinck and Thorsten Schulten (WSI) gave an overview of minimum wages in Europe and their economic and social impact in Germany.

Minimum wages in Europe - a comparative overview (pdf)
Impact on employment and inequality in Germany (pdf)

Anke Hassel (WSI) Steffen Kampeter (BDA) Marcel Fratzscher (DIW) 30.03.2017

Labour, social policy, investment – What's best for Germany?

Does Germany need to rethink Agenda 2010? In a heated discussion about whether the Agenda 2010 went too far and now needs overhauling, Anke Hassel (WSI) defended the view that policies directly related to Agenda 2010 had created new social risks which needed addressing: “We have all kinds of truly precarious types of employment, which are all connected and now integrated into core areas of industry and lead to permanent marginalisation.”

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WSI Working Paper 208

The Social Progress Protocol of the ETUC

The Social Progress Protocol is a proposal formulated by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). It is a response to judicial decisions of the European Court of Justice on the relationship between fundamental freedoms and collective social rights. The proposal essentially demands a supplementing of European primary law in a way that gives precedence to fundamental social rights in the event of a conflict of laws. Martin Höpner (MPIG Cologne) underscores the justification of the goals pursued by the Social Progress Protocol and makes suggestions on how it can be developed further.

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Call for applications


The Hans Boeckler Foundation (HBS) is pleased to announce the Hans Boeckler Doctoral Fellowship for 2017-2018. In May, a committee will award one fellowship. The deadline for applications is April 15, 2017. The residential fellowships will be awarded to graduate students engaged in dissertation projects related to the Foundations research and policy consulting program and to the on-going work of its researchers.


Anke Hassel (WSI), Bettina Wagner (Hertie School of Governance)

The EU’s ‘migration crisis’: challenge, threat or opportunity?

The chapter provides an overview of the EU legal framework on asylum and migration, presents statistics on both refugee inflow and intra-EU migration, and summarizes the uncoordinated national responses to the refugee crisis. From their analyses, the authors conclude that - at the policy level - intra-EU migration and asylum seekers are a challenge combined with an opportunity.

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more information on the book


Joint ETUI-WSI Workshop, 07./08.02.2017 Brussels

Living Wages in Europe

“All workers have the right to a fair remuneration sufficient for a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.” (European Social Charter) What can be done to promote the concept of living wage across Europe? Experts from several European countries discussed conceptual issues, the UK experience as the most advanced example of a national living wage movement, and future European perspectives.

Minimum and living wages in Europe (pdf)
full documentation

International Review of Applied Economics

The role of uncertainty in the euro crisis – an application of liquidity preference theory

The world financial crisis triggered a rediscovery of the active role fiscal policy can play as a remedy in such situations. During the euro crisis, escalating funding costs in a number of southern eurozone member states and Ireland have called this strategy into question. One interpretation of the euro crisis concentrated on the public debt trends in those countries. Opposing this view, Toralf Pusch (WSI) elaborates the link between rising interest rates on sovereign bonds in the euro crisis and a major feature of the financial crisis - a subdued degree of investor confidence after the Lehman collapse.

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Amanda K. von Koppenfels (University of Kent), Jutta Höhne (WSI)

Gastarbeiter Migration Revisited

Authors from nine countries look at the post-2007 South-North intra-EU migration, compiling in a systematic way quantitative and qualitative analysis. The chapter on the recent Southern EU migration to Germany identifies some parallels between current migration flows and the post-war recruitment of guest workers, although today’s migration is far more highly-skilled. Unlike post-war recruitment, which was intended to be temporary, Germany hopes that today’s migrants will remain and help to solve the lack of skilled work-force.

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open access to all chapters

WSI Study 7

Working time options over the life course

Expert reports from five European countries describe available working-time options for life-phase oriented working-time arrangements, focusing on recent changes and trends for the country in question. Cross-national comparisons show that differences in the welfare state policies and the prevailing gender norms of a country are reflected in differences in the scope of rules on working-time options. Universal rights for employees have been granted above all in Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, while in Poland and in the Czech Republic prevail company-based options aimed at specific employee groups and/or legal provisions for flexible working options that are either not implemented by companies or are seldom used.

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WSI Working Paper 207

A social and democratic Europe?

Everywhere in Europe, support for the European integration process decreases. Fundamental social rights clash with the market-liberal single market law, the key institutions of the European social model are undermined. What are the causes for this development? Which changes are necessary to achieve a more social and democratic Europe? Daniel Seikel (WSI) identifies three policy fields that are of central importance: an "open" constitution for Europe, social minimum standards and the recuperation of the fiscal capacities of the political system.

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Social Europe online, 25.11.2016

Three Fallacies Of Internal Devaluation

Since the beginning of the crisis, improving competitiveness has become the dominant frame of reference for European crisis management based on austerity and internal devaluation. Torsten Müller, Thorsten Schulten (WSI) and Sepp Zuckerstätter reveal that the policy-makers‘ dominant analysis of competitiveness and concomitant strategy of internal devaluations do not stand up to any empirical investigation. The authors show that, in view of the great importance of domestic demand for economic performance, it would instead be far more promising to pursue a wage-led growth model focussed on reversing the trends of falling wage shares and a redistribution from labour to capital income.

full text


Atypical Labour Migration into Germany

Move to Work, Move to Stay?

Labour migration from EU countries to Germany has increasingly been characterised by atypical forms of mobility: posting of workers, self-employment and seasonal workers. Bettina Wagner and Anke Hassel investigate changes in intra-EU labour mobility, analyze the effects on labour market segmentation and fragmentation, and discuss the various responses by the government by the extension of collective agreements and the statutory minimum wage.

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Combating Poverty in Local Welfare Systems

Strategies Against Poverty and Social Exclusion

The German minimum income system is characterised through vertical coordination and hierarchical modes of governance. However, the local welfare system plays a decisive role in anti-poverty and active inclusion policies. Dorothee Spannagel (WSI) investigates the case of Dortmund – a major city in the Ruhr area with a strong industrial heritage. Her study proves the importance of informal cooperation and dense networks that are based on trust and reciprocity.

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Journal of Common Market Studies

Flexible Austerity and Supranational Autonomy

Daniel Seikel (WSI) investigates the implications of the introduction of reversed qualified majority voting for the excessive deficit procedure included in the EU Six Pack and the Fiscal Compact. In bringing together institutional analysis and a political economy perspective, the paper shows how the strengthening of the Commission's discretionary decision-making authority in a context of intergovernmental power imbalances between debtor and creditor states extends the asymmetry between market-making and market-correction to the area of political decision-making.

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Wieteke Conen, Joop Schippers (Utrecht University), Karin Schulze Buschoff (WSI)


The study presents an overview on solo self-employment in Germany and the Netherlands, examining labour market characteristics and social security provisions in the two countries. The authors draw on results from desk research, survey research and interviews with self-employed without personnel. What is the legal and institutional position of self-employed without personnel? What are the motives to become self-employed? The report also provides information on earnings, working hours, balance between work and family life, labour market opportunities, satisfaction, stability and security, future prospects, pensions and representation.

WSI Study 5 (pdf)

WSI Working Paper 204

Ideal workers and ideal parents

The study examines the extent to which the use of part-time work and parental leave is accepted in German workplaces. Interviews with 95 employees and 26 experts in hospitals, police stations and industrial companies indicate that working-time norms not only vary according to gender, but to position and profession. Staffing issues and the behavior of management personnel are decisive for acceptance, and thus for the work behavior of employees.

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Ingrid Artus, Martin Behrens (WSI), Berndt Keller et al. (eds.)

Developments in German Industrial Relations

The book presents a comprehensive review of research in German industrial relations, analyzing the major developments and changes in the real world of the German model and its major institutions, namely the DGB trade unions and co-determination on the establishment-level. In addition, the authors (among them, Heiner Dribbusch and Martin Behrens, WSI) discuss the contributions of neighbouring disciplines, particularly human resource management, economics, and labour law.

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Online research documentation

Solo-selfemployed: between freedom and insecurity

Self-employment can be found in quite different occupations and sectors: The new self-employed without personnel are coaches, public relations officers, interim managers, bricklayers, or home care workers. Many appreciate their position, some feel forced and find it hard to make a proper living. How do they deal with their insecure position? And how do they prepare for the future? Together with Wieteke Conen and Joop Schippers (University of Utrecht), Karin Schulze Buschoff (WSI) investigates advantages and risks of solo-selfemployment in Germany and the Netherlands.
WSI Policy Brief 4, 03/2016 (pdf)

ETUI International Conference, 27.06.2016 Brussels

Digitalisation and Collective Bargaining

The process of digitalisation has far-reaching consequences for the organisation of work and requires new form of labour protection. Thorsten Schulten (WSI) discusses the challenges for collective bargaining in negotiating the new world of work.

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Transatlantic Social Dialogue, Brussels 23.05.2016

Refugees’ labour market prospects in Germany

In 2015, the number of registered asylum applications in Germany for the the first time exceeded the 1993 records. Refugee immigration is both a chance and a challenge for Germany. Jutta Höhne (WSI) summarizes available data on refugees and their integration prospects.

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Intereconomics 3/2016: 118-125

Why is Austria’s Pension System So Much Better Than Germany’s?

The pension systems in both Germany and Austria have undergone substantial reforms, though only one of the countries appears to have had success. Average earners in Austria will receive gross pensions equivalent to 78.1% of their average earnings, whereas in Germany they will receive just 37.5%. The authors – among them Florian Blank (WSI) and Rudolf Zwiener (IMK) – argue that Germany has been left with a system that has abandoned the goal of protecting people's standard of living.

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ETUI Policy Brief 04/2016

Extension of collective agreements

If collective bargaining is to continue to be a distinctive feature of European labour market regulation, many countries need to reconstruct their bargaining systems to make sure that a majority of workers will again be covered by collective agreements. Thorsten Schulten (WSI) presents the current national procedures and discusses the meaning of extension for the stability of collective bargaining in Europe.

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International Workshop, University of Bielefeld

Labour Clauses in Public Procurement

At an international workshop on „Socially Sustainable Public Procurement” organised by the University of Bielefeld on 8-9 April 2016, Thorsten Schulten (WSI) gave a lecture on the use of pay and labour clauses in European and German Public procurement.

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Social Europe, 24.03.2016

No ‘social triple A’ for Europe

In a critical assessment of the Commission's draft of a future ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’ (EPSR), Dr. Daniel Seikel (WSI) concludes that the EPSR does not contribute anything substantial by way of strengthening the EU’s social dimension. On the contrary, it reformulates social rights in a market-compatible way, and the Commission's view is strictly restricted to individual social rights – collective social rights are not even mentioned in the EPSR.

full text

Foto: Fotolia

WSI Collective Bargaining Report Germany 2015

Collective bargaining in 2015 was characterised by a number of hard-fought industrial disputes. Although the 2015 bargaining round resulted in lower nominal pay increases than the previous year, the very low rate of consumer price inflation led to a real increase in agreed pay of 2.4%.

Annual Report (pdf)

Social Policy and Society

When My Money Becomes Our Money: Changes in Couples’ Money Management

Conservative welfare state policies as in Germany often presume that money is a common resource within couples and, therefore, pooled. Research, however, indicates that money is increasingly managed separately. Using SOEP-panel data, Dr. Yonne Lott (WSI) shows that marriage leads to joint pooling or partly independent money management. An increase in women’s incomes, however, is associated with independent money management. Women’s wish for independence contributes to the decline of the joint pool.

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New WSI Report

The German Minimum Wage: Experiences and Perspectives after one year

After more than 10 years of political debate Germany has for the first time introduced a general minimum wage of 8.50 Euros per hour on January 1, 2015. The Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI) has now presented a first comprehensive review of the first year after the introduction of the minimum wage, with clear evidence that millions of workers have benefited from the minimum wage without the predicted negative impacts on the labour market.

more information and download

Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy

Welfare user roles in a conservative welfare state. Are Germans citizens, consumers or co-producers?

Many welfare states have embraced choice and market mechanisms since the 1990s. With respect to welfare users, it has been argued that this led to a change from citizens to consumers. This paper challenges this observation arguing that user roles are much more complex and include claimants and co-producers in addition to citizens and consumers. Stephan Köppe (UCD), Benjamin Ewert (University Hospital Bonn) and Florian Blank (WSI) investigate user roles in pension insurance, health care and schools.

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New article: ILR Review

Between Strategy and Unpredictability: Negotiated Decision Making in German Union Mergers

Restructuring through mergers has been a key strategy of union revitalization. In Germany, union merger activity has been extensive but seemingly unpredictable in its outcomes, with failed mergers outnumbering successful attempts by a ratio of 2:1. Martin Behrens (WSI) and Andreas Pekarek (University of Melbourne) use case studies of two attempted union mergers in Germany—one failed and one successful—to exemplify how these complex processes unfold.

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The Future of Greek Collective Bargaining

Opportunities for a Restoration?

Under the first two Memorandums, Greece had to commit itself to a radical restructuring of its collective bargaining system. In particular, non-trade union representations of employees were permitted, extensions of collective agreements were prohibited and the favourability principle with regard to the hierarchy of collective bargaining levels was abolished. Dr. Thorsten Schulten (WSI) evaluates recent changes and future prospects of Greek collective bargaining.

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British Journal of Industrial Relations

The Foundations of Social Partnership

Social partnership between capital and labour is a distinctive characteristic of German industrial relations. Based on a survey of 142 German employers’ associations, Martin Behrens (WSI) and Markus Helfen (FU Berlin) investigate differences in their support for partnership with unions. The authors find that organizational characteristics (e.g. membership density) as well as positive experiences with their union counterparts explain why employers’ associations adhere to the norms of social partnership.

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European Sociological Review

Income Advantages of Poorly Qualified Immigrant Minorities

A comparison of log hourly personal income of 1.5th and 2nd generation Spätaussiedler and persons of Turkish origin with that of native Germans shows that poorly qualified persons of Turkish origin experience income advantages; they frequently work in jobs for which they are underqualified.

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Guy van Gyes (KU Leuven) and Thorsten Schulten (WSI) (eds.)

Wage bargaining under the new European Economic Governance

Within the framework of the new European economic governance, neoliberal views on wages have further increased in prominence and have steered various reforms of collective bargaining rules. This book proposes an alternative: Wage developments need to be strengthened through a Europe-wide coordinated reconstruction of collective bargaining as a precondition for more sustainable and inclusive growth.

information and download


Torsten Müller (ETUI) and Thorsten Schulten (WSI)

The public-private sector pay debate in Europe

Using comparative studies and new statistical data, the paper demonstrates  that driving down public sector wages is not the right recipe to get out of the crisis and underlines the need for a strong public sector to boost aggregate demand and provide a modern public infrastructure as major precondition for a competitive economy.

etui working paper 2015.08

Social Europe online

The Need For A Gender Perspective On Digitalization

Digitalization, i.e. flexible work in space and time, will not automatically foster employees’ work-life balance, as is often proclaimed. Yvonne Lott (WSI) agues that flexible working has different impacts on women’s and men’s lives and risks aggravating traditional gender arrangements: With flexible working time, men often invest more time in work. Women, by contrast, use their time flexibility more for activities and duties outside work.

full text

Key research topics

WSI research covers issues of employment and institutional change in a globalising world, the quality of work as well as questions of redistribution and social security, industrial relations and collective bargaining policy. The work of the WSI is organised in five research areas:

Labour market and working conditions
Wage policy, collective bargaining and industrial relations
Social policy and redistribution
Gender research
Europe and European policies

Surveys and data collections

WSI studies empirically draw on a number of unique surveys, data collections and documentations. Tables, analyses and graphs in professional quality layout are available for free download via online web portals. more...

Research expertise

Information on WSI members of staff and WSI guests and their fields of expertise

WSI Academic Staff



"WSI-Mitteilungen" is a scientific journal providing up-to-date information on the results of research on current issues of relevance to trade unions.

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Networks, cooperations, fellowships

WSI actively participates in national and international research networks. Next to temporary projects, the institute maintains well-established long-term research relations with academic partners and trade-union organizations. more...


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