Germans anxious? No, happy and unfazed about the future | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.05.2019
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Germans anxious? No, happy and unfazed about the future

Despite gaps in wealth and world crises, Germans are satisfied with life and relaxed about their legacies for future generations. Berlin-based sociologists also found many simply want to work, but not as an obligation.

Two-out-of-three Germans are satisfied with their individual lives and only a third fear losing their jobs, according to a follow-up study on how they perceive the future by the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) and the pollster agency Infas.

Results published Thursday by Die Zeit newspaper — based on interviews last year with some 2,070 persons aged between 14 and 80 as the latest in a survey series begun in 2015 — exposed apparent contradictions.

Read more: Millions of Germans have trouble reading and writing

Key findings 

Despite ever-present headlines highlighting issues such as climate change, migration, trade disputes and EU disintegration, the survey showed that: 

  • 90% of respondents said that over the next 10 years they did not expect positive or negative changes in their social status
  • Only 30% worried about losing their jobs, the same number as in 2015.
  • Work was still a top priority, said respondents, with 86% describing it as "very important."
  • Most were seemingly relaxed about economic change through digitalization. 
  • Three-quarters believed digitalization would cost jobs, but only 3% believed it was possible that robots or computers would take over their paid tasks.

"People in Germany perceive changes in society very precisely, but deny that they themselves are affected by them," said Professor Jutta Allmendinger, the head of the study and WZB president.

Die Zeit, also a participant in the long-term study, wrote: "Satisfied and unfazed by the storms of the time - this is how people in Germany portray themselves in the new Legacy Study. But the idyll is deceptive." 

Watch video 02:04

What makes people happy?

Divided society but close in attitudes

Eighty percent rated high their desire for social cohesion — through family, clubs and work — but only a quarter believed that others regarded this as significant, said study authors in an earlier summary of their survey series.

That underlying togetherness prevailed, despite other studies showing income disparity among German households. Respondents saw access to education "very unevenly" distributed  and "wealth even more" so, said Allmendinger.

"One could speak in many respects of a divided society, she said. "But underneath the surface, inside, when it comes to values and norms, the (seemingly) diverse groups of society lie close together."

That gave "reason for hope and political action," she said, while warning of an increasing risk that families and circles of friends would "seal themselves off."


Interviewees were asked what they would renounce if born a second time; what values they hope future generations will adopt as legacy; and whether assumptions on age, household and income had lost explanatory power?

They were asked to compare their own lives with what they perceived to be the thinking of "others."

And, to elicit underlying emotive attitudes and wishes, respondents were handed sensory survey tools, including small scent boxes: Their responses: "sunshine," "good health" and flower garden."

Less obsession with material wealth

Material wealth and a sense of workplace duty was "no longer an exclusive motive," concluded the study authors in their previous summary, alluding to pre-war, 19th century industrialization that saw rural inhabitants drawn into cities and to factories.

Today, work in the minds of Germans is simply part of a fulfilled life, said Allmendinger.

"Many of them have the feeling that they don't have to accumulate any more possessions. Nevertheless, they want to work."

Watch video 42:36

Germany - Land of Inequality

ipj/rt (AFP, KNA)

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