Research on Education and Lifelong Learning

Legacy – the world we want to experience

The study “Legacy – the world we want to experience” is a cooperation of infas, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, and DIE ZEIT Publishing Group. It builds on the sociological life course perspective (Karl Ulrich Mayer) and adds thematically to the dependent variable “legacy” by focusing the research interest on the inheritance (“legacy”) of material possessions as well as the transmission of personal values, practices or worldly wisdom.

In terms of content, the question is which personal life experiences, behaviour and attitudes people in Germany would like to pass on to future generations. Socio-structurally, the question arises to what extent this legacy varies according to age, gender, marital status, and social class.

The study is the basis for regular coverage in the publications of the ZEIT Publishing Group.


The database of the study is a nationwide representative, personal computer-assisted survey (CAPI) of 3,000 persons aged 14 to 75 years, which is accompanied by smaller quantitative and qualitative additional surveys.

Within the questionnaire development three conceptual challenges have to be solved:

  • First, the instrument has to be backed by cross-thematic constructs in order to embed the wide range of topics in social theory. The goal is to find scalable constructs that work on the micro and macro levels.
  • Secondly, it is important to operationalise the “legacy” as an individual future orientation at the interface between the current life situation and the overall social vision of the future.
  • Third, the study pursues a challenging methodological goal. Since it is assumed that the desire to bequeath something or to pass something on possesses a strong emotional component, it is important to address respondents on a pre-reflexive emotional level. Therefore, four methodically innovative questionnaires were developed using sensory stimuli to ask about personal presence and future society with the help of sensory studies on haptics, rhythm, smell, and vision.

Based on initial tests with these questionnaires, it was expected that the sense-related data also had social-structural differences. The project is expected to deliver innovative results in several ways. On the one hand, for sociological life-course research, the perspective of which is thematically broadened to include the question of the socio-psychological and socio-structural determinants of personal legacy ambitions. On the other hand, the study makes a contribution to socio-scientific futurology by investigating interactions between objective socio-demographic determinants and subjective conceptions of the future as well as projecting the life course to a time that has not yet occurred. Thus, it helps to clarify whether future postures are determined by personal dispositions, by life and work biographies or by institutional framework conditions, such as German reunification.


Independent study by infas, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, and DIE ZEIT Publishing Group

Project period

2014 - 2018


Research on Education and Lifelong Learning
Family and Youth Research
Policy Research
Senior Citizens and Aging Research