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He studied at the Universities of Geneva, Cologne, and Bern, where he obtained his doctorate. After a few years at the Ministry of Education of the Canton of Zurich and as Assistant Professor at the University of Constance (completed by his "habilitation") he went to the Free University of Berlin in 1977 and was a Professor of Sociology from 1977 to 2004. In 1985 in Berlin he initiated and directed the Research Group on Aging and the Life Course (Forschungsgruppe Altern und Lebenslauf, FALL). From 2004-2012 he held the Chair of Sociology at the EUI. Since 2012 he is Emeritus Professor at the EUI and Distinguished Bremen Professor at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS).
He has been a Member or Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), at the Collegium Budapest, and at the Hanse Institute for Advanced Study (Delmenhorst/Bremen). He has also been a Visiting Professor or Researcher at Harvard University, Stanford University, Columbia University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and from 1997-99 served as President of the European Sociological Association (ESA).
On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, and in collaboration with the research group on Psychogerontology at the Radboud University Nijmegen, this research group conducted the first wave of datacollection for the German Aging Survey in 1994 to 1997. Martin Kohli furthermore supports the publication of the magazine BIOS.
Fields of research and supervision
- Life course, generations, fertility, aging.
- Intergenerational transfers and inheritance.
- European social structures, population, family, kinship and welfare states.
- Collective identities.