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Impatient, dissatisfied, divided? Germans at the end of Merkel's grand coalition

September 15, 2021

After 16 years of Angela Merkel's leadership, the country feels tired. Many believe the grand coalition dragged its feet on reforms and failed to resolve social conflicts. Fears of a schism in society are growing.


Climate strikes by schoolchildren, large farmers' demonstrations, miners in fear of losing their jobs and numerous protests against anti-COVID measures suggest growing dissatisfaction with the government and politics. Is this impression correct? Maybe it just feels that way, but is it borne out by the statistics?

The statistical data paints a surprisingly different picture: German life expectancy has gone up by nearly two years since 2005, the year Angela Merkel replaced Gerhard Schröder as chancellor. Unemployment fell from 13% to less than 7%. Average living space per person has grown from 42 to 47 square meters, and the school dropout rate has fallen from 8.2% to 6.3%. And there are 1 million fewer registered crimes.

Not only that: Surveys on life satisfaction show that it has risen steadily since 2005, and was back at 1990 levels shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic. The dissatisfied? No: The satisfied!

So, all is well after all? No, it isn't. Those statistical averages conceal enormous disparities: In Bremen, for example, life expectancy in wealthy neighborhoods is seven years higher than in poor ones. The average household income in Gelsenkirchen is not even half of what it in Heilbronn. The school dropout rate has been on the rise again for several years — especially in the poorer German states, primarily in eastern Germany. In terms of biodiversity and climate balance, Germany lags far behind its own goals.

Who has benefited from the positive developments, and who has lost? Why are farmers so angry? Why are miners and climate activists so irreconcilably opposed? "The Dissatisfied?" is a critical, nuanced, in parts unsparing and yet surprisingly positive assessment of the Merkel era as it draws to a close.

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