33 years of the Social Survey Austria: A retrospective


As project manager and co-initiator, the sociologist Max Haller has accompanied the Social Survey Austria (SSÖ) from the very beginning. All data collection waves (1986, 1993, 2003, 2016 and 2018) are now available in the AUSSDA Dataverse. In his interview with AUSSDA, he shares his insights on the evolution of the SSÖ.

Simply put, what is the Social Survey Austria about?

The early 1980s saw a revolutionary breakthrough in sociological research. Although there had already been quite a lot of empirical social research in Europe and the USA, the results were not comparable, and the analyses often difficult to comprehend. This changed fundamentally with the introduction of large-scale social surveys - pioneered by the USA with the General Social Survey, which started in 1972. These Social Surveys are based on four principles: they are representative population surveys; questionnaire development and implementation follow high scientific standards; the surveys are repeated on a regular basis; the data are made publicly available to all social science researchers. For the first time, due to the implementation of such surveys in several countries, we now conduct large-scale surveys on the populations' general social attitudes and behaviour that are comparable over a longer period of time, and make it possible to identify and analyse important social trends. The transnational cooperation between the national teams conducting these surveys enables international comparisons at a significantly higher methodological level and with more substantial content than was previously the case. Even students and researchers without the necessary financial means can carry out in-depth, internationally comparative analyses on many issues.

How did the study come about?

The Social Survey Austria (SSÖ) was conducted for the first time in 1986, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Europe. As scientific director, I was responsible for the German equivalent - General Population Survey of the Social Sciences (Allbus) - at the Centre for Surveys, Methods and Analyses (ZUMA) in Mannheim from 1984-85. After my appointment as professor of sociology at the University of Graz in 1985, I immediately set about establishing a similar survey for Austria. From the very start, in order to ensure the surveys' continuinity and the data's overall significance for social research in Austria, I tried to include social researchers from other universities and scientific institutions. The Institute of Sociology at the University of Linz (Prof. Kurt Holm) was involved in the first data collection wave in 1986; the Institute of Sociology of the University of Vienna and the Institute of Advanced Studies were part oft the second data collection wave in 1993. However, the funding of the studies proved to be very difficult. In Austria, unlike Germany and Switzerland, there is unfortunately much less funding for social science research and practically no funding for long-term sociological projects. The SSÖ was usually funded by the FWF, but due to numerous delays, long review periods and rejections of initial applications, it was not possible to repeat the SSÖ at relatively short intervals. However, the five data collection waves (1986, 1993, 2003, 2016 and 2018) have succeeded in providing a remarkable and unique data source for analyses of social change in Austria. The applicants for the surveys have published a comprehensive anthology for each wave, to which researchers from various scientific institutions have contributed. These volumes are available in countless libraries throughout Austria, and are also frequently used in studies and lectures.

Why did you choose to make the datasets and documentation of the SSÖ accessible?

From the beginning, the Social Survey was conceived as an infrastructure project of the social sciences in the broadest sense; the data collected are relevant for sociologists, political scientists, economists, demographers, ethnologists and social pedagogues as well as law scholars and theologians. Today's data on opinion research, and this applies especially to the Social Surveys, will be an extremely valuable source for historians of future generations, as Paul F. Lazarsfeld wrote in 1968. However, this will also apply to future social science researchers who will be able to use the data to understand analyses and evaluate them in greater depth in the light of new trends and theories. The findings very clearly point to important trends in social values (e.g. the relative importance of leisure time compared to work and family, the shift in family and work values, the decrease in the causality between social condition and party preferences); they also have important political implications. Another reason for making the data publicly available is that researchers from abroad can include data from Austria in their comparative analyses. Due to Austria's unique characteristics in several aspects - such as strong immigration, the great importance of social partnership, and the rise of the strongest right-wing populist party in Europe - these data are in high demand. International cooperation was also a major reason for the establishment of the Social Survey in Austria, as it made participation in the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) possible. Around 45 countries take part in this worldwide research programme. Since 1985, annual surveys have been conducted on topics such as work, family, attitudes to politics and government, national identity, leisure and sports, etc. The working group from Graz (Max Haller, Franz Höllinger, Markus Hadler) made significant contributions to this programme by proposing topics (such as national identity, leisure and sport, social networks) and managing the corresponding drafting groups for questionnaire development. The data from these surveys are used internationally, and have been published in several thousand renowned international journals and books.


  • Max Haller, born 1947 in Sterzing, studied sociology in Vienna (Dr. phil. 1974) and habilitated at the University of Mannheim in 1984. He was assistant and head of department at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna (1974-1979), research assistant and head of the VASMA project, University of Mannheim, and at ZUMA, Mannheim, and from 1985-2015 professor of sociology at the University of Graz. Since 1994 he has been a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He was co-founder of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and the European Sociological Association (ESA) and initiator and director of the Austrian Social Survey. He has taught at numerous universities in Austria and abroad, including Trento, Italy; University of California, Sta. Barbara; St. Augustine University, Tanzania and most recently Corvinus University Budapest. He is author or editor of about 40 books and 160 scientific essays. 




Max Haller in 1985 and 2017. (Foto: privat)