Is individualism the root of all conflict

The individualization of the world

Customization is not just a question of the individual. As a megatrend, it shapes societies right down to their deepest roots. Because of the personal differences in definitions and demands of what one's own life should represent and bring about, individualization massively changes the image that we generally have of a successful life. The "rules that apply to all" are dwindling. The “normative biography” common in the industrial age with its strictly linear sequence of youth, employment / family phase and retirement is increasingly losing its validity. New phases of life are developing, such as post-adolescence, in which adolescent behavior patterns are cultivated into adulthood. Life-changing decisions, such as having children, are being postponed longer than in the past in order to lengthen the phase of the variety of options. Individualization often shows itself - to the annoyance of demographers - simply as a refusal to finally commit. Today, on average, the first child is born when the mother is 30 years old - in 1960 women had their first child at the age of 25. One of the reasons for this is the longer training periods, which are also related to the megatrend of individualization.

Most of the opportunities to shape one's life independently result from a high level of education with a well-paid job afterwards. Both sexes are now realizing this realization. Because it is also clear: there are hardly any guard rails that guide you through life without much effort. The duty to make something of yourself is also a consequence of individualization.

But modern biography also has more breaks. That affects both professional and private life. Several job changes characterize the modern employment biography and, positively interpreted as an increased variety of options, employees and self-employed today have to map many more facets in order not to lose touch with employability in the rapidly changing world of work. Today, employees and self-employed people have to map many more facets in order not to lose touch in the rapidly changing world of work. In private life, the departure from linear résumés manifests itself in an increasing divorce rate. Every third marriage today ends in divorce, and every second in large cities. That won't change anytime soon, because divorce has a psychological effect that sociologists describe as “social inheritance”. Through the separation of their parents, children learn to come to terms with changing family forms. After the positive interpretation, they learn that a happy life is also possible outside of two-way relationships. They increase their social adaptivity, so to speak. According to the negative interpretation, children from divorced marriages lack security of attachment and the ability to deal with conflict, which makes it difficult for them to enter into long-term partnerships. Whichever interpretation one may follow, the result is the same: "Divorce creates an individualistic learning effect, which in the generation sequence then leads to further divorces." (Family researcher Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim)

Myth of the single society

As a negative side effect of the megatrend of individualization, the tendency towards anti-social values ​​such as egoism is generally lamented, because the "I" is too much in the foreground. This is also cited as an explanation for the high number of divorces. The reasons, however, lie less in morality than in economics. The financial dependencies of couples are lower today, so that more people can “afford” a divorce in the first place. The demands on relationships are growing to the same extent: for purely practical reasons, very few people want to stay together today. A no longer existing sanctioning of separations also reduces the hurdles. Recently changed legal regulations on the economic consequences of divorce do the rest. Individualism makes the marriage model on the one hand free from considerations of purpose (which is to be welcomed from a romantic point of view), but on the other hand it also makes it much more disposable, which romanticism does quickly if the compromise requirements become too high.

The development towards a single society is cited as a further meaningful indicator for the negative side effects of increasing individualism. The statistics on the increase in single-person households seem to speak for themselves. A total of 15.9 million people in Germany live in one-person households. That is one in five. In terms of the total population, the proportion rose from 14 percent in 1991 to almost 20 percent in 2011.1 In cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants, every third person lives in a one-person household, according to the statistics. What the statistics cannot say, however: do people actually live as singles or are they couples who only live in two apartments? Does the resident of the one-person household actually go through life alone or is he a modern commuter who has rented a small apartment for during the week at the place of work and at the weekend goes to the family in the cottage in the country? Statistics no longer keep pace with the pluralization of lifestyles. In addition, the fact that one in five, i.e. 20 percent, live in single-person households also means that 80 percent live in multi-person households. Seen in this way, the much-used term “single society” is put into perspective.