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German Research Foundation to fund globally unique twin study on social inequality

This press release is available in German.

Much celebration at the universities in Bielefeld and Saarbrcken. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved funding for a long-term research project by Professors Dr. Martin Diewald and Dr. Rainer Riemann from Bielefeld University and Dr. Frank Spinath from Saarland University. They are studying the development of social inequalities for the example of 4,000 pairs of twins living in Germany. The name of the study is 'Twinlife'. The DFG announced its decision today (7 December), and will be providing more than four million Euros of funding for the first three years.

In a longitudinal study, which should stretch over twelve years, the researchers will study the development of social inequalities across the life span. The mechanisms contributing to social inequalities will be studied in an interdisciplinary way. This will combine both psychological and sociological research traditions with the methods of behavioural genetics. 'We shall not just look at the social mechanisms, but also at the genetic differences between individuals, and focus particularly on the interaction between genetic and social influences,' Riemann explains. 'In addition, we shall focus on the psychological processes that mediate between genes and the environment.'

Social inequality will be examined in five central life domains. These are the development of abilities and academic success, participation on the labour market, social capital and integration into social networks, social and political participation as well as the development of deviant behaviour and socio-emotional problems. Spinath describes the study's approach: 'It will be necessary to recruit a representative sample of 4,000 pairs of twins living in Germany for the funded study. Then, the twins and their parents, any brothers and sisters of the twins, and for older twins, also their partners will be surveyed.' Short tests will be carried out and questionnaires will be completed in home visits and telephone surveys. The study covers a broad age range extending from 5-year-old children to 31-year-old adults.

The resulting dataset will be made available to the international community of researchers as a 'common good'. 'This dataset will contain high-quality information in a form that has not been available in any other study up to now. The longitudinal and behavioural-genetic analyses will be supplemented by our own focus of analyses on a theory-guided examination of the interaction between genetic and environmental factors over time,' is how Diewald summarizes their plans.

Contact: Dr. Martin Diewald
University of Bielefeld

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