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Margret M. and Paul B. Baltes – biographies in research

Margret and Paul Baltes were internationally renowned researchers in psychology who distinctively enriched their respective disciplines and turned around psychological aging research paradigmatically both theoretically and methodologically.. The couple lived and worked mostly in Germany and the U.S. They mastered dual careers at a time when the term had not yet been coined. The Baltes’ did not confine themselves only to science. They sought knowledge not only for academic interests but felt the responsibility to give back to society. Advising decision makers, alerting the public and providing for directly applicable methods and guidelines was a matter near to their heart. As professors they put a strong emphasis on supporting young researchers – doctoral students and early career scientists. They deemed intense scientific exchange on all levels a constant source of creativity and renewal. Margret Maria Baltes, née Labouvie, professor of psychological gerontology, was born on March 8, 1939 in Dillingen (Saar) and died January 28, 1999 in Berlin. Paul B. Baltes, the ‘doyen of aging research’, internationally reputed developmental psychologist and Max Planck Director, was born June 18, 1939 in Saarlouis and died November 7, 2006 in Berlin.

The University of Saar in Saarbrücken was the starting point of both their careers. There, Margret and Paul met during undergraduate studies of psychology and there they received their diplomas in 1963. They got married the same year. After graduating, Margret started to work in clinical psychology and at the university, while Paul went on for doctoral studies that he completed with a PhD in 1967. In his dissertation, he discussed methodological issues that had been raised by K. Warner Schaie. Paul met Schaie through one of his Saarbrücken mentors, and Schaie helped him to arrange a stay at the University of Nebraska when he was still an undergraduate. After completing the doctorate, the contact resulted in the offer to become Assistant Professor in West Virginia where Schaie had moved to. Paul accepted the offer as his wife was very enthusiastic about this opportunity. In 1968/69 the couple and their first child Boris moved to the United States. At the University of West Virginia, Margret soon enrolled for doctoral studies in experimental psychology. In Germany, this would not have been a common thing for women to do at thetime. In 1973 she graduated with a Ph.D. Two academic careers in teaching and research developed during their years in West Virginia, followed by stays at Pennsylvania State University and Stanford University, then subsequently in Germany. In 1980 the family now with two children moved to Berlin. There Margret Baltes became Professor of psychological gerontology at the Free University and director of the respective research department. Her husband became Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, one of the highest possible positions in the German academic system. They maintained professional contacts to their second home, as visiting professors at Stanford University and at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto.

As famous researchers, the Baltes received numerous honors and were often asked for their expertise in science as well as societal and political affairs. Margret Baltes was awarded a honorary doctor from the University of Saar and was a member of several governmental commissions. Among other things, she headed the governmental commission for reporting on aging and was a member of an expert committee on aging installed by the European Commission. She was a popular academic teacher. Receiving the Distinguished Mentorship Award of the Gerontological Society of America in 1994 as recognition for this effort. Paul Baltes was active in the US Social Science Research Council and the German-American Academic Council. He was Vice President of the German Academy Leopoldina and member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and of the European Academy of Sciences. He received a honorary doctorate from the universities of Jyväskylä, Stockholm and Geneva as well as from the Berlin Humboldt University. He was a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy and of the American Academy of Sciences and received the German Order Pour le mérite for Arts and Sciences and the Great Federal Cross of Merit.

Biographical websites of Margret Baltes and Paul Baltes

Cf. Paul B. Baltes: Autobiographical Reflections. From Developmental Methodology and Lifespan Psychology to Gerontology. In: A History of Geropsychology in Autobiography, ed. by James E. Birren/ Johannes J.F. Schroots, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, pp. 7-26.

Margret und Paul Baltes in Lund 1987

Margret Baltes in her office at the Berlin Free University in the 1980s

Paul Baltes in Berlin 2005