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Social cohesion in Germany better than its public reputation


December 11, 2017

Social cohesion in Germany is strong. However, poverty and social exclusion threaten to jeopardize it. Mostly owed to weaker basic economic conditions, social cohesion is lower in the East than in the West. Increasing cultural diversity does not weaken societal cooperation. These are the core results of the newest “Social Cohesion Radar.” The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Jacobs University Bremen, consisting of Dr. Regina Arant, Georgi Dragolov, and Professor Klaus Boehnke as its principal investigator, commissioned by Bertelsmann Stiftung. The research is based on a representative survey of 5.041 participants, conducted by the Institute for Applied Social Sciences infas in spring 2017.

Results show: Against all prophecies of doom that one can read in the media, social cohesion is good in Germany. Growing cultural diversity in particular does not endanger it. There are, however, threats: First and foremost, there is a justice gap perceived by a majority of Germans, and a pronounced split in social cohesion between the East and the West as well as between economically disadvantaged and prosperous regions. In all East German states social cohesion is weaker than in West German states. Reasons are more fragile basic economic conditions, higher unemployment rates and poverty levels in the East. Highest cohesion scores were found for the Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, and Bavaria. These are the results of Bertelsmann Stiftung’s new “Social Cohesion Radar” that measures cohesion in Germany in nine single dimensions, which are then converted into a single overall cohesion score.

On a scale from 0 to 100 points the German federal states reach scores between 57 and 63. In spite of these good results, about three-quarters of the participants of the study have the impression that social cohesion is at least in part endangered in Germany. At the same time, 68 percent of the participants evaluate social cohesion in their residential areas as good, only 7 percent as weak. “Concrete everyday experience is better than what people presume for the entire country—or what public debates mirror,” says Stephan Vopel, Program Director at Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Single dimensions offer differential insight

Across the entire country, people accept societal diversity to a high degree. The index score for this dimension is at 79 points; this is the highest score for all nine single dimensions of social cohesion. At the same time, scores on the dimension of perceived justice are distinctly lower. Only a very small part of the study participants is of the opinion that goods and resources are distributed fairly in Germany. This perceived injustice corresponds with empirical data that point to factual inequality and a lack of chances for parts of the population to participate in societal life. Social cohesion clearly is lower wherever many unemployed people live, or people who are poor or threatened by poverty—this becomes yet more strongly evident in a cross-regional comparisons than when looking at federal states. Youth unemployment in particular is detrimental to cohesion. Similarly, a high percentage of students leaving Hauptschule (the lowest German school track) without a school leaving certificate, and an overaged population go along with a low cohesion index. Social cohesion is higher, to the contrary, where the average economic prosperity is higher and where globalization is welcomed. The study furthermore finds that the number of foreigners and migrants living in a given region or federal state does not play a role in determining the level of social cohesion there.

“In order to strengthen cohesion it is important to reduce social inequality, prevent poverty, and, in particular, improve the economic situation in the new federal states,” says Kai Unzicker, expert for social cohesion at Bertelsmann Stiftung. On a local level, in particular, additional measures should be implemented that foster inclusive participation and contact between diverse groups of the population. The advancement of community activities (German: Ehrenamt) and the further development of civil society infrastructure are further important building blocks of strong social cohesion.

While also pointing to the challenges of migration, Georgi Dragolov and Regina Arant, main authors of the present study, in unison emphasize their delight with the pole position of Bremen for the dimension ‘acceptance of diversity:’ “Hanseatic cosmopolitanism is a reality.”

The study allows a comparison of the 16 federal states and of 79 regions. Social cohesion is understood as a multi-dimensional phenomenon that can be assessed in nine single dimensions from three life domains: social relations (social networks, general trust in others, and acceptance of diversity), emotional connectedness (identification, trust in institutions. and perceived justice), and an orientation towards the common good (solidarity and readiness to help others, acceptance of social rules, and civil society participation).

The study can be downloaded here (in German):

Questions will be answered by:
Dr. Kai Unzicker | Bertelsmann Stiftung
kai.unzicker [at] | Tel.  + 49 52 41 81 81 405

Prof. Dr. Klaus Boehnke | Jacobs University
k.boehnke [at] | Tel.: +49 421 200-3401

Dr. Regina Arant | Jacobs University
rarant [at] | Tel.: +49 421 200-3401

About the Reinhard Mohn Prize:
The present study is published in the context of the Reinhard Mohn Prize 2018 “Living Diversity – Shaping Society,” which addresses the chances and challenges of culturally diverse societies. The prize commemorates the founder of Bertelsmann Stiftung, Reinhard Mohn, who died on October 3, 2009. It is awarded annually to internationally renowned individuals, who have rendered outstanding solutions for societal and political challenges. The award ceremony takes place in Gütersloh Theater in June 2018.