An ongoing multidisciplinary and multi-site program addresses social and personality development
from early adolescence to young adulthood, comparing young people raised in all parts of former
East and West Germany. This study started soon after unification. Beginning in 1991, adolescents
(aged 13-19 years), young adults (aged 20-29 years), and their parents were interviewed every two
years (3 waves: 1991, 1993, 1995). In addition, from 1993 to 1997, a sample of children (aged 10-13
years) and their parents have been interviewed each year, except for 1996. In the Spring of 1996, a
new cross-sectional study was conducted also involving adolescents and young adults (aged 13-29
years), allowing for comparisons with the 1991 study. The longitudinal surveys were supplemented
by a qualitative study on 91 adolescents aged 11-16 years and their mothers. These mother-child
dyads completed questionnaires, took part in a conflict interaction task which was videotaped, and
also provided samples of saliva which were analyzed with regard to testosterone and cortisol levels.
76 dyads took part in atwo-year-follow-up.
A major aspect in the current analyses is the timing of psychosocial transitions during adolescence
and young adulthood, such as first romantic relationships or initial vocational plans, the timing of
leaving home or the age at marriage. Concerning these transitions, interindividual differences in the
timing were studied as a function of psychosocial adversities (illnesses, family disruptions,
unemployment, etc.), personality attributes (e. g., agency beliefs, political attitudes), family
experiences (economic constraints, marital conflicts, parent-child relationships, social and emotional
capital), and peer relations (e. g., clique membership, leisure activities).
Moreover, similarities and differences between the two unified parts of Germany were investigated,
which revealed the role of institutional and political constraints on adolescent development. It was
found that individual experiences and decisions played a greater role in the West as compared to the
East, particularly in the timing of transitions which show institutional underpinnings, such as the timing
of initial vocational plans or the timing of marriage. Furthermore, in comparing equivalent cohorts in 1991
and 1996, several years after unification, it became clear that the timing of transitions underwent only a
gradual change, in spite of the radical change of some institutional and societal contexts. Thus, social
change seems to be coupled loosely with psychosocial development, a claim others have made with
regard to the consequences of economic hardship.
Although transitions represent a core research topic, the research program is actually much broader.
Among the various additional aspects, studies on adolescent problem behaviors (depressive mood,
delinquent behaviors, substance use), on normative behaviors (pubertal maturation, parent-child relationships,
school achievement, etc.), and on values and value change stand out.
Concerning the latter, it was shown that unification was accompanied by a trend toward more individualistic
over collectivist values in former East Germany. But, as comparisons revealed, these changes applied
predominantly to younger cohorts. Older cohorts, whose members completed school and started or even
completed vocational training before unification, remained almost unchanged in their orientations. In a
nutshell, this research program shows the potentials and limits of plasticity of adolescent development
in times of social change.
- Silbereisen, R.K. & Zinnecker, J. (Hrsg.)(1999). Entwicklung im sozialen Wandel. Weinheim: Beltz.
- Reitzle, M., Vondracek, F. W., & Silbereisen, R. K. (1998). Timing of school-to-work transitions: A developmental-contextual perspective. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 22, 7-28.
- Silbereisen, R. K., Vaskovics, L. A., & Zinnecker, J. (1996). (Hrsg.). Jungsein in Deutschland . Opladen: Leske + Budrich.
- Zinnecker, J. & Silbereisen, R. K. (1996). (Hrsg.). Kindheit in Deutschland. Aktueller Survey über Kinder und ihre Eltern. Weinheim: Juventa.
Silbereisen, R. K.