The Saxon Longitudinal Study (began in 1987) is one of the approximately 20 longitudinal/ panel studies by The Central Institute for Youth Research (Zentralinstitut für Jugendforschung) in the GDR in Leipzig (ZIJ, Director Prof. Dr. Walter Friedrich) that was organized between its foundation in 1966 and its ”completion” in 1990. The study was conducted in cooperation with the University of Leipzig and the Pedagogical University of Zwickau. It included another longitudinal study with factual identical content but with older pupils in grades 8 to 10, in the years from 1983 to 1985.
The Youth Research in the GDR had determined that since the mid-1980s the adolescents identifying with the GDR, and socialism in general, declined after the peak in the 1970s. They also progressively doubted the SED leadership policies as a result of the crisis-ridden developments in the GDR. Despite these regressive tendencies they were convinced to have a safe future in the GDR.
Initially, the focus of the research was to analyze the long-term changes in the pupils life orientations, their future expectations, their learning performance and motivation, their media behavior and their basic political attitudes, especially their bonds to the GDR and the socialist social system. The analyses of the orientation towards class collective or FDJ collective were also weighted heavily on.
The results of the first phase of the study before the German Unification (1987 – spring 1989) reflect the disappointments of the back then 14 to 16 year old panel members of the “actually existing socialism” in the last years of the GDR.
The participants finished their education at the Polytechnische Oberschule (POS) in 1989 before the German Unification. After completing the originally three-wave study, the initial 587 participants were willing to participate in further studies.
In the fall of 1989 began the Peaceful Revolution and the German Unification on the 3rd of October 1990. With considerable effort, especially put in by the head of the study Prof. Peter Förster, the study has been continued ever since. Almost 400 people (70%) have remained faithful to the study to this day. The Saxon longitudinal study is therefore not a one-time or repeated opinion poll but an unusual long-term social science research that crosses different social systems.
Since the beginning of the study each participant has been assigned an individual six-digit number. By this means it is possible to recognize an attitude change within an individual or a certain group. In order to guarantee anonymity, the addresses of the respondents are stored separately. In the first three surveys, the questionnaires were carried out in a classroom during school hours. This complies with the common social science research procedure at the time. Since 1990 the sheets have been mailed to the participants’ homes. The surveys were executed around once a year. The study has also been available as an online survey since 2010.
The scientific monitoring of the path of the adolescents living in the social system of GDR to that in the Federal Republic, changing from a GDR citizen to a German citizen and the analyzing and documenting of the political change in mentality since the German Unification and unification as a result of transformation of East Germany have been the main focuses of the study ever since. The general research question is how they cope with the current capitalist system, whether / to what extent the time lived in the capitalist system influences their political identification with capitalism or the Federal Republic of Germany and which factors inhibit or promote their attachment. A further focus is the analysis of the long-term effects of the earlier bonds to the socialist system and the long-term effects of the reception of western channels on the development of a political identification with the current social system. The study can use data from the time before the German Unification.
Since the 16th wave (in 2002) the topics unemployment and health have been under intense examination. Partnership and family formation represent another new focus. Since 2010 the study has also been conducted as an online survey by using an established and data secure survey system. Around 2/3 of the participants now prefer the online version over the classic paper questionnaire. The online version enables the study to be carried out and evaluated faster, more ecologically and more cost-effectively.
Since 2006 the homepage of the study has been available at wiedervereinigung.de/sls. In 2014 a German Facebook page was created to share the current results. In 2011 the study was published on German Wikipedia. The english version auf the website were launched in 2020.
In 2017 the study celebrated its 30th anniversary. The 33st wave of the survey was carried out in 2022. The study is planned to continue in the next few years.