In Europe, the concept of “race” is rejected and in Germany even unacceptable due its misuse during the Nazi Regime (Salentin 2017). When defining “migration background”, social science researchers can apply an approach that originates from official statistics. They define immigrants as all residents “who entered the current territory of the Federal Republic of Germany after 1949. Further, immigrants are all non-citizens born in Germany as well as all Germans born in Germany with at least one parent born abroad or born in Germany as a non-citizen” (Federal Statistical Office Germany, 2022).

This definition is not based on race, which also reflects the general understanding that human races do not exist (Fischer et al., 2019; Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, 2020). But of course, the distinction above does not allow to research racism towards minorities that do not fall into any of the categories above. Nor does it allow research on racism based on individuals’ appearances.

Hence, researching racism and discrimination using general population surveys or official statistics has significant limitations. Surveys focusing on these topics need to operationalize the groups in focus. The German Victimization Survey, for example, extends the definition of immigrants by adding parental migration background and by specifying important migrant groups, namely from Turkey and from the former Soviet Union (German Federal Criminal Police Office, 2021). Additionally, they ask what the victim assumes to be the reason for a specific attack. The National Discrimination and Racism Monitor asks respondents about their ethnicity to be able to relate discrimination experience to this characteristic (DeZIM, 2022). The German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP), a longitudinal general population survey, asks survey participants “How often have you felt disadvantaged in the last two years because of your ethnic origin?” and allows longitudinal analyses reaching back until 1996 (Diehl, Liebau, Mühlau, 2021). In a pretest, Richter, Kasprowski and Fischer (2021) tested questions about the experience of discrimination according to the German General Act on Equal Treatment for implementation in the GSOEP. These questions focus on perceived discrimination due to ethnicity, race, gender, religion, disability, age, and sexual orientation. Also the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) asks about perceived discrimination since 2012 (Horr, de Paiva Lareiro, Will, 2020). NEPS is continuously working on improving its survey instruments and collecting data on visible minorities without using the term “race”.


DeZIM – German Center for Research on Integration and Migration (2022). Rassistische Realitäten. Berlin:

Diehl, C., Liebau, E., Mühlau, P. (2021). How Often Have You Felt Disadvantaged? Explaining Perceived Discrimination. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 73, 1–24:

Federal Statistical Office Germany. (2022). Bevölkerung und Erwerbstätigkeit: Bevölkerung mit Migrationshintergrund: Ergebnisse des Mikrozensus 2021. Wiesbaden: Federal Statistical Office Germany.

Fischer, M.S., Hoßfeld, U., Krause, J., Richter, S. (2019). Jena Declaration. Friedrich Schiller University, Jena:

German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Wiesbaden (2021). The German Victimization Survey - Cumulation 2012-2017. GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA6853 Data file Version 1.0.0,

Horr, A., de Paiva Lareiro, C., & Will, G. (2020). Messung wahrgenommener ethnischer Diskriminierung im NEPS (NEPS Survey Paper No. 68). Bamberg, Deutschland: Leibniz-Institut für Bildungsverläufe, Nationales Bildungspanel.

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (2020). Jena Declaration Contributes to Amendment of German Constitution. Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, press release:

Richter, David; Kasprowski, David; Fischer, Mirjam (2021). Pretest eines Fragenmoduls zu subjektiven Diskriminierungserfahrungen in der SOEP-Innovationsstichprobe 2020, SOEP Survey Papers, No. 1077, Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (DIW), Berlin,

Salentin, K. (2014). Sampling the Ethnic Minority Population in Germany. The Background to “Migration Background. methods, data, analyses. Vol 8 (1):