The Project

The Third German Sociomedical Panel of Employees (GSPE-III) is a risk cohort study of individuals who are severely impaired. It investigates the extent to which personal-, social-, health- and work-related factors influence the application for and utilization of rehabilitation services and a disability pension.


The German Pension Insurance provides medical rehabilitation measures in order to maintain work ability and secure work participation. Employees have to apply for medical rehabilitation measures themselves, which requires their conscious decision to do so. About half of those who receive a disability pension, however, had not applied for rehabilitation measures beforehand. Thus, there seems to be a gap between the need for rehabilitation and actually applying for one.

What are we going to do?

We recruited a cohort of individuals who have a higher risk of limited work participation in the future. We estimated this risk by looking at the number of days on which an individual received sickness benefits. Sickness benefits are an indicator of already persisting limitations of work participation and restricted work ability and are an important and relevant predictor of receiving a disability pension later on. Since rehabilitation measures can prevent early retirement, information about the access to rehabilitation of these individuals is of particular interest.

The gross sample of GSPE-III encompassed 10.000 individuals who are covered by the German Pension Insurance and who received sickness benefits in 2012, the year before the first survey started. We included people aged 40 to 54 years who currently live and are registered in Germany. We excluded all those individuals, who had already applied and been granted pensions at the time and those who applied for and/or went into rehabilitation between 2009 and 2012. Men and women were sampled independently with an equal share. Participants received questionnaires in 2013, 2015, and 2017. If the responders consented, we linked their survey data with selected administrative data (e.g. application for and utilization of rehabilitation and a disability pension).

What was assessed?
  • Subjective work ability (Work Ability Index),
  • Working conditions (effort-reward imbalance, organizational justice, physical workload, size of company)
  • Health-related quality of life (36-Item Short Form Health Survey)
  • Utilization of health services (number of outpatient medical consultation and hospital stays, degree of disability, disability days)
  • Health-related behavior (body mass index, smoking, sports activity, alcohol consumption)
  • Perception of medical rehabilitation and its application (outcome expectations, intention, action planning, self-efficacy)
  • Subjective prognosis of employability
  • Social support (Oslo 3-Item Social Support Scale)
  • Personality (Big Five Inventory)
  • Socio-demographic data
Who participated?

In the first wave of the survey, we received filled-in questionnaires from 3.294 individuals. In order to assess possible bias between responders and non-responders, the Federal German Pension Insurance provided data about the age and sex of all 10.000 people who we initially contacted. Older people and women answered more frequently.

Where is the study registered?

The study is registered in the German Clinical Trials Register (DRKS00004824).

How long does the study last?

The study started in January 2013 and ends in December 2018.

Study Flow

Who supports the study?

The study is funded by the Federal German Pension Insurance.

Who is in charge of the project?

The project is conducted by Prof. Matthias Bethge (University of Lübeck, Institute for Social Medicine and Epidemiology, Section Rehabilitation and Work) and Prof. Dr. Michael Radoschewski (Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Institute of Medical Sociology and Rehabilitation Science).

Who are we working with?
  • Federal German Pension Insurance
  • Marco Streibelt, German Federal Pension Insurance, Department of Rehabilitation, Coordination and Development of Medical and Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Sonia Lippke, Jacobs University Bremen gGmbH, Jacobs Center on Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development
  • Matthias Richter, Eva-Maria Fach, Sebastian Günther, Martin Luther University, Institute of Medical Sociology (IMS) Medical Faculty
  • Wilfried Mau, Kerstin Mattukat, Cynthia Richter, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Medical Faculty, Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine
  • Rüdiger Zwerenz, University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy
  • Severin Hennemann, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Psychological Institute, Department of Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy and Experimental Psychopathology
  • Erik Farin-Glattacker, University of Freiburg, Department of Care Research and Rehabilitation Research
  • Patrick Brzoska, Chemnitz Technical University, Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Institute of Sociology
Where can I find further information?

Requests for scientific use files and methodological manuals of the first and second survey can be made to the principal investigator.