The Marienthal Study

Genesis of the Project

According to reports of several contemporary witnesses, it was Otto Bauer (18811938), leader of the Austrian Social Democrats, who had the idea of a study of unemployment and it was he who drew the scientists' attention to the community of Marienthal. The choice of Marienthal was presumably influenced by the location close to Vienna, but also by a social report published in 1930. It was written by Ludwig Wagner (1900–1963), friend and political companion of Paul Felix Lazarsfeld (1901–1976) as well as husband of Gertrude Wagner (1907–1992); at that time she was working at the Austrian Research Unit for Economic Psychology.


Project Sponsor

The study was carried out by fifteen collaborators of the Austrian Research Unit for Economic Psychology (»Österreichische Wirtschaftspsychologische Forschungsstelle«)  briefly Research Unit – in Vienna (and another two non-scientific collaborators for political contacts only) under the direction of Paul F. Lazarsfeld (19011976). He began working on the conception of that project in 1930 – in the same year in February the last workshops of the textile factory of Marienthal were shut down. The project was funded by the Federal Chamber of Labour of Vienna and Lower Austria and by the US-American Rockefeller Foundation, whose funds for Austria were managed by Charlotte Bühler (18931974) and her husband Karl Bühler (18791963).


Field research

The project was started in the first week of November 1931. The major part of the field work was carried out by Lotte Schenk-Danzinger (1905–1992) – at that time called »Danziger« –, who was staying on site for six weeks from the beginning of December 1931 until mid-January 1932, officially supervising a winter relief action called Winter Aid (»Winterhilfe«) (distributing second hand clothes), which was managed by the Viennese physician Paul Stein (1897–1962). Some of the activities went on until the end of May 1932. The research team received firm support from the Social Democrat mayor of Gramatneusiedl, Josef Bilkofsky (1871–1940). During the core time of the project members of the research team met once or twice a week at the Austrian Research Unit for Economic Psychology to share their experience, discuss observations and plan the next steps of the project. A total of about a hundred and twenty working days were spent in Marienthal, and material weighing around thirty kilos was collected.



The evaluation of the empirical material was partly carried out at the time of the field research, partly in early summer of 1932 at the Austrian Research Unit for Economic Psychology in Vienna. Like the field research, the evaluation was also conducted within the team. It may be assumed that Paul F. Lazarsfeld had a major part in it, being director of the overall project and statistician at the Institute of Psychology at Vienna University and its associated Research Unit. The authors of the study highly appreciated Lotte Schenk-Danzinger as a relevant informant. Two further persons can be accredited with a significant role in processing the material: Gertrude Wagner (1907–1992), a permanent employee of the Research Unit, and Marie Jahoda (1907–2001), who was part-time employed for the Marienthal project.



In the summer of 1932 Marie Jahoda – at that time still married Lazarsfeld – retreated with the material of the field research and its analysis into the Austrian Alps where she wrote the main part of the study within a few weeks. At about the same time Hans Zeisel (1905–1992), who then spelled his name »Zeisl« and who was only marginally involved in the study, was obviously working on his history of sociography, a paper which was apparently written rather hastily as can be seen from the numerous mistakes and from the corrections in later editions made by the author himself.

The book was published in June 1933 at S. Hirzel's publishing house in Leipzig under the title »Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal« (literally: »The Unemployed of Marienthal«), although originally its title should just have been »Marienthal«. It is interesting to note that the authors' names – »Marie Jahoda-Lazarsfeld« and »Hans Zeisl« – did not appear on the cover but only inside the book. One might put this down to the team spirit of the researchers involved but on the other hand, as Marie Jahoda testified later, it was also a concession to the National Socialists who had just risen to power in Germany: the authors' names would have been too Jewish for the publisher. The book probably disappeared from the market soon afterwards and the remainder of stock was destroyed by the publishing house. However, the first edition of the Marienthal study has become a bibliophilic rarity. It needs to be mentioned that the book was neither burnt nor put on a list of banned literature by the National Socialists.


Editions and Translations

First published in 1933, the Marienthal study only became accessible to a wider readership by its new edition in 1960, from that time with the name of Paul F. Lazarsfled as co-author. Since then several editions of the German original version have been published. However, the international breakthrough of the study was not achieved until 1971 when the first English edition was published which was followed by a number of other translations. It took less than two decades before the Marienthal study turned into a worldwide classic of the literature in social sciences.


Five significant points concerning the Marienthal Study

In the preface to the first edition it says: »It was the aim of the study to draw an image of the psychological situation of a community suffering from unemployment, using cutting edge methods of research. From the outset we focused our attention on two objectives. One with regard to substance: contributing material concerning the problem of unemployment – and a methodological one: trying to give a comprehensive and objective account of the socio-psychological facts.« (p. V.)


The fact that unemployment was of topical interest at the time of the study and has remained so ever since may be a significant reason for its success, an aspect particularly emphasised by Marie Jahoda. This, of course, also includes the conclusions of the Marienthal study. One of them, »the weary community«, was a particularly hot topic, running counter to the popular notion held in the socialist parties of an unemployed person being a revolutionary.


The other reason for the worldwide circulation of the Marienthal study is undoubtedly based on its methodological approach emphasised by Paul F. Lazarsfeld: the diversity of applied methods and their specific combination. Non-reactive techniques (statistical evaluation, analysis of documents, methods of observation) were confronted with reactive techniques (participant observation, action research, surveys, tests). Another interesting aspect is the exploitation of exceptional sources for research in social sciences (e.g. user file of workers' library).


Another reason for the extraordinary propagation of the Marienthal study which should not be underestimated, is based on its stylistic form. Already the introduction to the main text exhibits clearly narrative style, the vivid descriptions revealing a genuine literary talent. The whole study is interspersed with narrations, the development of every thesis, all statistics are embedded in portrayals of unemployed people or quotations from school essays: scientific material was usually presented by means of social report. This literary achievement of the 25-year-old author is usually neglected in secondary source concerning the Marienthal study. It is in fact this particular presentation which makes the book readable for experts from all fields of science and makes scientific findings intelligible to interested non-experts as well. In this context it is interesting to know that Karl Kraus (1874–1936), the linguistic critic of the 20th century, was made an idol in Marie Jahoda's parental home. Both, her father Carl Jahoda (1867–1926) and her uncle Georg Jahoda (1863–1926), were admirers of Kraus. Georg Jahoda printed Kraus' periodical »Die Fackel« (The Torch; Vienna) from 1901 until he died. Moreover, Marie Jahoda, who had been writing poetry since about 1922, considered herself as a writer. She was also a board member of the Socialist Writers' Association (»Vereinigung sozialistischer Schriftsteller«) of Vienna, founded in January 1933 which, however, was dissolved in March 1934 by the authorities of the Ständestaat (corporative state) regime.


At least till that time, there is a fourth reason for the particular significance of this study among projects of social sciences. »We made it a consistent point of policy that none of our researchers should be in Marienthal as a mere reporter or outside observer. Everyone was to fit naturally into the communal life by participating in some activity generally useful to the community.« (p. 5.) A typical example thereof was the clothes campaign organized by the physician Paul Stein and Lotte Schenk-Danzinger. First she visited a hundred families in Marienthal, establishing the need of clothes or linen. After that about two hundred pieces of second hand clothes were raised in a private collection in Vienna and were subsequently distributed by Schenk-Danzinger among the population of Marienthal in cooperation with the official relief action Winter Aid (»Winterhilfe«) of the community of Gramatneusiedl. Other examples included a free two-month pattern design course which took place twice a week and was attended by about fifty women, a girls gymnastics course, or free medical consultation and treatment (partly including medication) offered every Saturday by a gynaecologist and by a paediatrician on site. Usually in connection with medical treatment free parent guidance was provided, advising women of Marienthal in parenting and domestic matters. Although these aid activities within the project served the purpose of establishing good contacts with the local community, they also reflect the remarkable code of ethics which the researchers of the Austrian Research Unit for Economic Psychology felt committed to. This also explains why Marie Jahoda returned to Marienthal two years later organizing a self-help support group for the unemployed.


Finally it should also be noted that the Marienthal study exhibits gender equality both among the researchers and the researched which was not only in those days quite remarkable. The unemployed cited in the book divide almost evenly into male and female. Moreover, plenty of space is allowed for the presentation and analysis of the effects of unemployment on women. Another characteristic feature is the presentation of biographies of unemployed people at the end of the publication: out of a total of sixty-two biographies collected in the survey, the life stories of a married couple, and those of an unemployed man and an unemployed woman are printed there. Concerning the researchers involved in the Marienthal study itself, eight women worked with seven male colleagues. The main work of field research was done by Lotte Schenk-Danzinger, and the author of the main text of the Marienthal study was a woman, too: Marie Jahoda.

© Reinhard Müller
Status: May 2012
Norbert Mutsch, Gramatneusiedl

Project Sponsor
Field Research
Editions & Translations
Significant Points