Germany’s Bertelsmann foundation has compared 34 OECD and EU countries for social cohesion. The study shows that economic hardship drives people apart, immigration has no impact - and tolerance is declining in Germany.
The study finds that social cohesion is strong in the wealthy Scandinavian countries Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, whereas it is weak in the southern European countries hardest hit by the economic crisis, with Bulgaria, Greece and Romania at the bottom of the list (see below).
"Solidarity (social cohesion) is important for shaping the future of a society, " said Liz Mohn, deputy chairperson of the Bertelsmann foundation, as she presented the study in the western German city of Gütersloh on Tuesday.
"Solidarity has a positive effect on individuals in society. More solidarity means a rise in subjective well-being," she added.
Sociologists at Jacobs Bremen University gathered relevant data from 34 countries going back 25 years .
The countries include European Union countries, as well as other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), such as North America, Oceania and Israel.
Germany is in 14th place, just ahead of Great Britain and France and well ahead of the Baltic States, but below the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In small European countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg there is a strong feeling of togetherness.
People were asked a series of questions about their social networks, whether they had friends and got along well with their neighbors. They were asked how they felt about the justice system and fairness in society.
In Germany the trend is looking up and the researchers attributed this to the strong economy.
They found that an even distribution of wealth, a small income gap and high education standards are conducive to a feeling of togetherness. Economic hardship, however, has the opposite effect: It leads people to fend for themselves rather than close ranks, the researchers found.
They saw confirmation that while trust in the banking sector has declined dramatically, Germans have great faith in political institutions and the police - more so now than when the collection of the data began in 1989, just before reunification.
Back then there was a measurable distrust in institutions in the Eastern part of the country, which had shaken off communist rule to find themselves struggling to adapt to a capitalist system.
Immigration, however, has no measurable impact on social cohesion. The researchers found no indication that a higher number of migrants affected the answers in any way.
They did, however, point to what they see as an alarming trend in Germany to reject diversity. Questions included those on acceptance of people with different skin colors, different religions or sexual preferences.
The full ranking: Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Germany, UK, France, Spain, Belgium, Estonia, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Slovakia, Israel, Republic of Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania
rg/kms (dpa, AFPD, KNA)