Abelshauser studied economics at the University of Mannheim and graduated in 1970. He received his PhD at Ruhr University Bochum in 1973 with his dissertation on West German economy 1945-1948. In 1980 he was appointed as Professor for economic and social history in Bochum. From 1983 to 1988 he was acting director of the institute for the research on the European workers movement (IGA, now institute for social movements, ISB). He was visiting professor at Bielefeld, Göttingen, Cologne, (Germany), Oxford (United Kingdom), Florence (Italy), St. Louis, Missouri (United States) and Sydney (Australia). From 1988 to 1991 he held the chair in European History of the 20th century at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence. Since 1991 he is heading the chair in Economic history at Bielefeld University. He is member of the Institute for Research on Science and Technology and founding member of the Bielefeld Institute for Global Society Studies. He is among the editors of the journal “Geschichte und Gesellschaft” (History and Society), the leading journal of history as social science, and the Journal of Comparative Government and European Policy (ZSE).
Focus of Research 
Abelshauser’s dissertation (published 1975) was the first theory-based thesis on the causes of the German “Wirtschaftswunder” (the so-called economic miracle of the early federal republic) that included the relevant sources for that topic. Its findings put into perspective the impact of the Marshall Plan, the monetary reform of 1948 and Ludwig Erhard’s model of social market economy as the crucial forces behind the comeback of the West German economy in the 1950s. Instead the study points out the importance of the specific circumstances of reconstruction of the West German economy, which could not be reproduced after the ‘long’ 1950s. Most of Abelshauser’s arguments were first fiercely criticized by historians as well as in prominent public newspapers like the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Today his thesis is broadly accepted in the field. The news weekly “Die Zeit” concluded in 1996 that Abelshauser rewrote the economic history of the Federal Republic. His book “Deutsche Wirtschaftsgeschichte seit 1945” (German economic history since 1945, newly published 2004) is among the benchmarks of German economic history.
Abelshauser’s second field of research is business history. His work on the history of the chemical company BASF (2004, German original edition 2002, 2003, 2007) and on the history of the steel giant Krupp during the Third Reich (2002) is core literature for the “new business history” (Hans-Ulrich Wehler) and was crucial for the emergence of this new discipline. Here, Abelshauser focuses on specific and historically established cultures of the companies and their economic importance for current business decisions.
A third field is the reaction of the German social system of production to the second economic revolution (see Douglass C. North). According to Abelshauser, Globalization and scientification at the end of the 19th century created “new industries” that focused on immaterial production. During that time a set of economic institutions were established which still shape the German economy. His Volume “The Dynamics of German Industry” (2005, German original edition 2002, Jap. edition 2009) interprets historic and recent pressures on these institutions as part of a struggle between two different systems of capitalisms (American vs. “Rhenish” i.e. European Capitalism). His thesis, which - up to the financial crisis of 2008 - was standing against the scientific and public mainstream, gives him the reputation of a prominent supporter of the German/European model of capitalism in the era of Globalization.
Recently, Abelshausers focus turned towards scientific biography. As shown in his work on Hans Matthoefer (2009), he aims to find out, under which conditions people change their way of thinking and acting and, by doing so, help to create new economic, political or social institutions. With his biographical approach Abelshauser added a new method to the corpus of the school of New Institutional Economics.
- German Industry and Global Enterprise. (BASF: The History of a Company), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York 2004, ISBN 0-521-82726-4.
- The Dynamics of German Industry. Germany’s Path toward the New Economy and the American Challenge, Berghahnbooks, New York, Oxford 2005, ISBN 1-84545-072-8, Jap. edition: Keizaibunka no tousou, 3rd, enlarged edition of the German original, University of Tokyo Press, Tokyo 2009, ISBN 978-4-13-040246-0.
- Deutsche Wirtschaftsgeschichte seit 1945. C. H. Beck Verlag, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51094-9. Jap. edition: Gendai Doitsu Keizairon, Asashi Shuppansha, Tokyo 1994, ISBN 4-255-94003-7.
- Wirtschaft in Westdeutschland 1945-1948. Rekonstruktion und Wachstumsbedingungen in der amerikanischen und britischen Zone, Diss., Universität Bochum, Abteilung für Geschichtswissenschaft; also: DVA, Stuttgart 1975, ISBN 3-421-01714-X
- Wirtschaft und Rüstung in den Fünfziger Jahren. (Anfänge westdeutscher Sicherheitspolitik 1945–1956), Bd. 4/1, ed. by Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 1997. Reprint 2001, ISBN 3-486-50882-2.
- Rüstungsschmiede der Nation? Der Kruppkonzern im Dritten Reich und in der Nachkriegszeit 1933–1951.(=Part III of L. Gall (ed.), Krupp im 20. Jahrhundert. Die Geschichte des Unternehmens vom Ersten Weltkrieg bis zur Gründung der Stiftung), Siedler Verlag, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-88680-742-8.
- Des Kaisers neue Kleider? Wandlungen der sozialen Marktwirtschaft (=Roman Herzog Institut, Position 7), München 2009, ISBN 978-3-941036-06-2.
- Nach dem Wirtschaftswunder. Der Gewerkschafter, Politiker und Unternehmer Hans Matthoefer, Dietz Verlag, Bonn 2009, ISBN 978-3-8012-4171-1.
- Kulturen der Weltwirtschaft (=Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Sonderheft 24), Göttingen 2012 (zusammen mit David A. Gilgen u. Andreas Leutzsch), ISBN 978-3-525-36424-6