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Germany: Coronavirus widens the social divide

August 12, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has not just laid bare the limits of our health systems, it has also changed the fabric of society. A new study by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation takes a closer look.

food donations being distributed
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Schuldt

The study, entitled "social cohesion radar 2020," finds that the majority of German citizens approve of the authorities' emergency measures to cope with the coronavirus pandemic — at all levels of government. It also reports a greater sense of solidarity in Germany.

The study analyzes how people assess the sense of solidarity in society. 

The survey asked 3,000 citizens over the age of 16 a range of questions by telephone in February, March, and again in June. Questions covered attitudes to social diversity or equal distribution of wealth. Analysts found that people in Germany are more positive about social solidarity in June than they were at the beginning of the year, before the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus: A social magnifying glass

At the same time, the emergency has exposed and exacerbated the problems faced by some parts of society. "Like a magnifying glass, corona has produced a high-definition image of existing social problems," says the sociologist Kai Unzicker of Bertelsmann Foundation. "Anyone who was already underprivileged finds themselves in an even more difficult situation now."

Living conditions vary for people in Germany, depending on their level of education, wealth, health, age, region, and place of residence (whether they live in big cities or rural areas). 

The younger or less well-off a person, the more likely they are to say social solidarity is lacking. Citizens with lower levels of education or income tend to see less cohesion in society. Ethnic minorities are also more likely to fall into this category, as are people living alone, or single parents. 

It's the opposite among people with a higher income, who are frequently also older — they tend to see a high level of cohesion and solidarity in society. 

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Taking care of the weak

Supporters of the mainstream parties, including the Greens, all return more positive verdicts on solidarity in Germany than supporters of the Left party or the far-right AfD. 

AfD voters demonstrate an aversion to diversity and a lack of trust in state institutions. Supporters of the Left party tend to see a lack of social equality. 

People who describe themselves as insecure and fearful are likely to say they experience a lack of solidarity. They also tend to express more concern about the future. However, the study also shows that in June people were less worried about the coronavirus pandemic than in March.

"We are seeing an uptick in the general mood of our snapshot up until early June," says Kai Unzicker. "Many people are relieved that the first effects of the pandemic were not as severe as they expected. At the same time, most people experienced a sense of solidarity and considerateness."

The authors of the study recommend that politicians and other opinion leaders should focus on population groups that experience poor levels of social cohesion or who live in areas with poor social and economic infrastructures. 

"Experience in the current emergency tells us that single parents, immigrants and people with low education levels are more likely to fall through the social safety net," warns Kai Unzicker. He points to the difficulty of providing adequate childcare facilities and says that if the situation doesn't improve, or worsens further, these are the groups that will suffer. Preventing that, he says, is an urgent priority. 

Living on the breadline