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German angst on the rise amid cost of living crisis

October 13, 2022

Lack of affordable housing and a stagnating economy dominated this year's comprehensive study into what Germans worry about most. Authoritarianism and war also weighed heavily on people's minds.

Empty shopfront in Bonn,Germany
Shops across the country have been shuttered as the rising cost of products and energy becomes too much to bearImage: Ying Tang/NurPhoto/picture alliance

A year ago, Germans were most preoccupied with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – not the prospect of getting sick, but rather the effect it would have on their wallets. According to the latest annual study on what Germans fear the most, eight months of war in Europe and inflation have now sent money anxieties into overdrive.

"Germany is experiencing its highest inflation in almost 50 years. Around half of this is due to the sharp rise in energy and food prices," the report published on Thursday said. "Accordingly, the fears of an explosion in the cost of living are correspondingly high." Indeed, the 67% of respondents who said they feared they could not cope with increasing costs represents a massive increase of 17 points on the previous year.

Financial fears 'skyrocket'

Conducted by insurance giant R+V Versicherung every year, the study polls some 2,400 people across the country about what most weighs on their minds. While in previous years, study leaders have noted that "Germans aren't by nature worrywarts" and are simply reacting to the acute challenges around them, this year's study paints a different picture.

In 2022, "the general anxiety index…rose by six percentage points and, at 42%, reached its highest level in four years," said study leader Grischa Brower-Rabinowitsch. "That anxious peek into one's bank account balance is causing financial fears to skyrocket. Overall, people are significantly more worried than they were a year ago."

Affordable housing crisis looming

Indeed, in a country where debt has long been a taboo, the study revealed that in 2022, financial fears have reached new heights – with different economic worries taking over the top five spots.

Study co-author Manfred Schmidt, professor emeritus of political science at Heidelberg University, told DW that in a country where "inflation is seen as a societal illness," it is no wonder money worries have overtaken fears about the climate or the pandemic.

This includes the worry of being able to find affordable housing, something that has never appeared before in the study's 36-year history, and jumped straight to the number-two biggest worry in the minds of Germans, affecting more than half of respondents.

While other countries have struggled for decades with rising rents and large investors scooping up homes that previously would have been sold to single families, Germans felt relatively unaffected by these issues until recently. Although Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government has presented a plan to build 400,000 new affordable homes per year, experts have warned that inflation and the lack of qualified personnel will make this goal difficult to attain.

According to Germany's Federal Statistical Office, or Destatis, the number of new apartments available has plunged since the 1990s, and stagnated since a short uptick in the early 2010s. At the same time, rents have increased drastically while wages have not, especially in big cities, where rents are about 21% higher than the national average.

Schmidt explained that on top of increasing real estate costs, there is "a much greater need for housing for smaller households," meaning those comprising fewer people, than there has been in the past. "The demand for this far outweighs what is available."

Charities in need amid rising energy costs

Public wary of war, climate change

Besides driving inflation, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has also brought the prospect of war to the forefront of people's minds. In a country where defense spending has long been deeply unpopular, the idea of entering a war has now become even more anathema to Germans.

In that vein, the rise of authoritarianism worldwide – something that had never come up in the study before – jumped in the top ten concerns, and the worry that Germany could be dragged into a war rose by 26 points to place eleventh.

Another major worry was climate change. Although Germany did not experience any natural disasters this year on the same scale as the catastrophic flooding in the west of the country in July 2021, summer droughts and heatwaves, as well as disasters elsewhere in the world, coupled with perceived government inaction, ensured that climate breakdown was not far from people's minds. Some 46% of respondents told R+V they were worried about the climate in 2022, compared to 40% in 2021.

"Climate worries are no longer theoretical, they are tangible," said Brower-Rabinowitsch on Thursday.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.