What do people least know

What is important to the Germans : Whining is a thing of the past

What do people in Germany want to pass on to the coming generations and to know that they are preserved? What do you want to part with? These questions form the core of the legacy study, which was designed and carried out jointly by the Berlin Science Center for Social Research, the infas Institute for Applied Social Science and the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”. Over 3,100 people between the ages of 14 and 80 were surveyed throughout Germany.

What do their answers tell us, for example about people's wishes for the future or the role of age, generation and the current social division in our society? What is the meaning of the many faces of poverty, wealth and gender? How would people like to work tomorrow and how do they deal with new technology? What family models do people hope for? What about your ideas about solidarity? The answers to all of these questions tell us about the respondents' plans for society and help us understand the areas in which political reforms are appropriate and necessary.

We developed each of these topics in our study using three questions: How is it today? How should it be? How is it going to be? Just looking at the answers, broken down by topic, is revealing. It gets really interesting when we compare them with one another.

Desire for more community

If we look at the here and now, for example, three areas emerge clearly: togetherness, health and employment. These topics are important to everyone, whether old or young, poor or rich, women or men, with or without a migration background. In many other areas, however, opinions differ widely. Let's take political interest, where huge differences emerge: while young people and people with little education are very little interested in politics, the topic is very popular with the elderly and the well-educated - by the way, the topics of marriage and family, technological change or environment.

Let's look at the legacy of people: on some issues nothing changes; others who are already valued today are particularly recommended to future generations. With a view to the future, people are speaking out even more in favor of community, health and employment. Other areas - such as a sustainable lifestyle or the partnership-based division of work and household tasks - are not particularly important to the people themselves. At the same time, however, they emphasize that they should actually be.

What about the expectations about the future? When asked what it will actually be like, people give significantly lower scores on most topics. People expect, for example, that closeness and togetherness, health or gainful employment will be less important than they would like. The reassuring thing is that people don't panic at this prospect.

The Germans are self-critical

If we consider at the same time how people see the here and now, the legacy and the future, we can already derive some important insights from this synopsis.

First of all, the legacy connects people. Their recommendations to future generations differ much less than their attitudes towards today. People have a common vision of what life and the country they want to live in should look like - regardless of their social and ethnic background, their education, their employment status, their gender and their family situation. They have similar ideas about how educational opportunities are distributed, the welfare state is organized and what role technology should play in our lives. This is an important finding because: Although many people today feel left behind due to the undoubtedly great social inequality, they are united by the common idea of ​​a good future.

Another significant result: people in Germany are self-critical. Your own settings are not simply passed on equally across all topics. For all questions that deal with learning, the attitudes today and the recommendations for future generations are far apart. People know, for example, that they should be more interested in technology, politics and culture. You recommend this to future generations. At the same time, they see that they themselves often fail to meet these expectations. In turn, they are convinced that they can still do better than their contemporaries.

We don't see hysteria

As far as social processes are concerned, people express clear expectations, but judge the individual subject areas very differently. For example, gainful employment is extremely important to people: In their legacy, almost everyone formulates the wish that it should continue to have a high priority. Nevertheless, people see clear changes in the world of work on the horizon: It will be less secure and less predictable. The assessments of the family are different. Also because the “normal family” is no longer the measure of all things and diverse models are lived. Each of these designs is so valued by the people that in their eyes it should also be bequeathed to the next generation.

A look into the expected future therefore does not reveal a collective break as in the case of gainful employment. Diversity and plurality dominate. In the field of technology, too, people know that they have to move in order to keep up with dynamic developments. That means: educate yourself, make an effort, be interested. But technology will spread faster than desired - people are becoming overwhelmed.

Nevertheless: The people in Germany are not whimpers. The legacy study demonstrates this with many examples. Their openness to new things and their ability to reflect on themselves show that they are relatively relaxed about the many changes in the world. We don't see any hysteria in what people expect in the future either. It doesn't always turn out the way people want it to, but it doesn't always turn out badly either. This is what even those say who are not doing so well today. No trace of resignation. People are not afraid to admit that they need help. More importantly, you are in principle open to breaking new ground.

The author has been President of the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) since 2007 and Professor of Sociology of Education and Labor Market Research at the Humboldt University of Berlin and, since 2012, Honorary Professor of Sociology at the Free University of Berlin.

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