Germany’s Lifelong Dreams for 2030

Even dreams can be measured in figures. As part of our Legacy Study, a major survey, we collected, catalogued, and analysed over 3,100 of these dreams. These dreams came from men and women aged between fourteen and eighty years, living all over Germany, in the east and west, the north and south, in cities and in the countryside, and with or without migration experience. We did not discuss today’s dreams, for the here and now. Instead, we wanted to find out what kind of world these people desire for the future generation.

Ranges of generations are not easily defined. We cannot accurately say whether those involved in the survey pictured Germany in the year 2030 or 2040. However, there are strong indications that they envisioned a relatively short time span. These people did not express any futuristic dreams, but rather looked to the near future, which seemed comprehensible to them. Similar to Germany in 2030.

What did we find out? First, we must emphasise and cannot rate the fact highly enough that people’s dreams, their legacy for the next generation, do not differ very much from one another.

Legacies Connect People

Despite all the differences in their social and ethnic backgrounds, education, employment status, gender, and family situation, people share a common vision of how they want to live in the future. In their recommendations for the next generation, people di er far less from each other than in their attitudes today. This applies to all areas of life. They have similar ideas about the distribution of educational opportunities, the organisation of the social welfare state, and the role that technology should play in our lives. We can derive this realisation from the fact that in their recommendations for the next generation, people differ far less from each other than in their attitudes today. This applies to all areas of life. Why is this important? Today, many people feel left behind and social inequality between people is, without a doubt, very high; however, their shared ideas of a desired future unite them in many areas of life.

People Are Open to Self-criticism

Individual attitudes, spanning all areas of life, are not simply passed down to the next generation. There are great differences in perceptions on learning between today’s attitudes and the recommendations for the next generations. People are aware that they should be more interested in technology and the opportunities presented by the Internet, and that they should be better informed about political and cultural developments. In a similar vein, they are aware that household and family tasks should be divided more fairly and that they should pay more attention to their own well-­being, healthy eating, and the way food is produced. These suggestions are passed on to the next generation. Their self-criticism is clear. However, our studies also show that most people are convinced that they are still doing better than the rest of society. This justification hinders progress. Self-reflection is all well and good, but on its own, it is not sufficient. What is needed is an external impulse.

The Legacy Study proves this through many examples. Self-reflection and openness towards change show that people do not complain about global developments. People’s expectation of the future is not subject to hysteria. Things do not always turn out the way they want them to, but it’s not all that bad either. We can even detect this pattern with those who are less fortunate today. There is not a trace of resignation. Instead, people indicate that they need help and that they do not know who can help or support them.

People Know What They Want

People differ widely in how they evaluate social dynamics in specific areas. Employment status is extremely important to people. In their legacy, almost all participants express their wish for this to remain the same. Perceptions on family matters are different. The ‘normal family’ is no longer the measure of all things, diverse models are practised, and each one is held in such high esteem by the respective people that they want it to be passed on to the generation that follows. Variety and plurality prevail. And how do they assess their interaction with technology? People know they need to move forward to keep up with dynamic developments. That they have to educate themselves, make an effort, and take interest in what happens around them. The message to future generation hence is: Do more! But this can yield in excessive demands, and we can already observe first signs of that.

After this brief overview, we may now turn to what the Legacy Study has to say on current political and social discourse. Can it inform policy? I will particularly look at the broad field of social inequality and close with a few observations on social dynamics.

How Do People Rate Social Justice in Germany?

Performance is key. All respondents agreed that those who perform better, should also earn more. This is the concept of distributive justice. The equivalence principle is alive, which is not a matter of course. In some ways, it is even brutal, as various opportunities for accessing important resources are not taken into account. People know they need to move forward to keep up with dynamic developments. Only today’s performance and appropriate returns are considered. We know that in Germany children from so-called poorly educated households have significantly fewer opportunities to receive proper education and training and, consequently, get well-paid jobs. However, people seem to place less value on this more-­comprehensive definition of justice, or they are not always aware of the connection. Even with a restricted focus on outcomes and equivalence, people still recognise that there are problems. The respondents point out deficits in three areas: the excessively high wage differentiation, the undermining of equivalence through unduly low wage-replacement benefits – especially concerning pensions –, and discrimination, or unequal wages for equivalent work.

  • German people criticise the excessively broad range of performance remuneration. Performance is naturally restricted to the top and bottom; the range is not endless. In other words: one working hour must be worth a certain minimum which cannot exceed a specific amount. The respondents of the survey also find bonus payments unacceptable that are guaranteed even when the performance is bad or not delivered at all. They therefore call for a minimum wage and minimum pensions on the one hand, and upper limits for income on the other hand. Here, there is room for political leeway, be it through primary income or fiscal policy.
  • German people lament insufficient wage-replacement benefits. They are witnessing an undermining of the equivalence principle from within the system. A high number of pensioners describe themselves as subjectively poor, even though they are not considered poor from a purely statistical perspective. Despite having performed over the entire time of their careers, they are unable to maintain their standard of living in old age; they see it as the responsibility of the state to solve this issue. Another reason for people to feel subjectively poor is discrimination. This includes people in the region of former East Germany, whose average wages are lower than those in the west; or people who come from an immigrant background, who often receive lower incomes, sometimes because their qualifications are not formally recognised in Germany. Meanwhile, women also feel discriminated against; they are convinced that remuneration for their work is not fair. All official statistics confirm this perception.

Gainful Employment – (Also) a Path to Increased Social Cohesion

People in Germany want to be employed. As our studies show, the vast majority would even work if they did not need the money. When thinking about which attitude to pass on to the next generations, respon­dents place the greatest emphasis on this preference.. Why? Gainful employment is more than performance and income. It is also about togetherness, belonging, participation, new experiences, and self-development. Employment represents a part of life outside of family, with environments that often bring different social circles together.

Over the decades, however, we have lost many of these environments. The importance of the traditional religions in Germany has declined. With it, the social interaction in churches and congregations, in Communion and Confirmation classes is lost. Schools, too, are increasingly becoming a place where children from similar social backgrounds meet. The same applies to city districts. Due to at times dramatic increase in rents and high property prices, people from different classes are increasingly segregated into different neighbourhoods. As a result, further meeting places are lost. We have abolished military service and, even more crucially, civil service. With this, we lose even more intersections between different social circles. I see no way that we can grant people the togetherness they need, and society a sense of community, when we systematically take meeting spaces away from people, including those that often come about through gainful employment.

Of course, people will still organise, meet, and share each other’s company. The big question, though is: To what extent will this continue to happen across social and ethnical barriers? We should therefore do everything we can to re-establish social market places. Obligatory civil service for men and women as a social innovation would be one of many options. There is a compelling need to change housing, property, and rental policy. Investment in the equipment and quality of kindergartens and schools are urgently required, to make sure that the further segregation of our children does not happen already at an early age.

Promoting Employment and Reducing Income Differentiation

Social justice is therefore less likely to be achieved through an unconditional basic income scheme. Rather, the minimum wage must be raised, and very high incomes must be restricted or taxed more extensively. Also, it must be guaranteed that the minimum wage is as comprehensive as possible, and for example also includes people working in new forms of employment outside of collective agreements, such as so-called crowd workers.

Collective agreements should be expanded to include semi-subordinate forms of employment, as demanded in the White Paper of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, as well as by the Commission Arbeit der Zukunft (“Work of the Future”). We should therefore do everything we can to re-establish social market places. Obligatory civil service for men and women as a social innovation would be one of many options. In turn, the Wage Transparency Act can help to break down the gender wage gap and the associated discrimination, especially of women. This must additionally be accompanied by salaries in the care sector which are appropriate to the performances rendered. Furthermore, it would be necessary to raise the calculated pension level of forty-eight per cent and in doing so, to address what people perceive as an undermining of the equivalence principle.

On the other hand, a more-progressive income tax, with higher maximum tax rates or an upper boundary for tax deductions, would probably be a more feasible approach to income distribution than the maximum wage supported by most respondents. If companies were to voluntarily enact obligations to restrict their wage ranges, for example by linking board member salaries to the average income of employees, this would send a clear message. Of course, this only applies if, unlike with the number of women in board member positions, the target figure is not set at zero, thereby replicating the status quo.

Reinforcement of Equal Access

Today, attitudes to all aspects of life in Germany are particularly shaped by the level of education. Those with a low level of education feel insecure, primarily in relation to their income, the security of their job, the influence of technology, and the stability of partnerships and families. The same applies to people with a medium or even high level of education who work in professions that they consider endangered by the shift towards digitalisation. Measures against social inequality, also regarding the perception of insecurity, must therefore deliberately take education, training, and continuing education into consideration. Specifically, we have to put a stronger focus on professional development, in addition to the aforementioned investments, be it in quality or equal opportunities of our early childhood institutions and schools.

Participation in continuing education varies greatly according to level of education, profession, and company size, not to mention the duration and the contents, which range from a brief refresher in a foreign language to a complete retraining. Many employees in routine professions, in semi-subordinate employment relations of the digital economy, and self-employed individuals do not have any access to professional development.

Establishing a Proactive Qualification Policy

One of the good news of our legacy studies: People with a low level of education are certainly motivated to stay alert when it comes to (continuing) education. They have not given up. Nevertheless, if left alone, they lose confidence in their own abilities over the years, and experience invitations to lifelong education as a threat and imposition. Every knowledge-based society must be measured by how well it manages to remain a community and not leave anyone behind. A community lives off mutual respect. People with a low level of education are not daft. They sense the social upheavals very accurately and often first hand. Lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners perform their work themselves. “For how long will I manage?”, street cleaners then ask themselves. “Who can I turn to?”

We therefore need a culture of continuing education, and it must be established as the rule. Institutionalised further training must be a self-evident and integrated component of our education system.

We therefore need a culture of continuing education, and it must be become the rule: Institutionalised further training must be a self-evident and integrated component of our education system. There is no other way – changes over individual’s life course have become too radical to withstand through one-off education and training at the beginning of one’s life. One important requirement for lifelong learning has already been fulfilled: we have more time. Our average life expectancy in good health is steadily rising. If we assume a timeframe of around fifty-five years between entry into and exit from the labour market as a starting point, anyone could take a total of ten years off, while still meeting the traditional target of forty-five years of employment as a basis for calculating pension insurance. We would not need to extend our duration of employment, but rather would require a reshuffling of the prevailing, traditional sequence of education, employment, and retirement. Such occupational trajectories, interrupted by caring for children and parents, qualification, and time out for oneself, demand new consulting and financing tools.

While we already have the appropriate tools for bringing up children and caring for parents, and have more or less appropriate financial security during these periods, this applies to a much lesser extent when it comes to continuing education. There is no qualification consulting service for lifelong learning. From a financial perspective, up until now there has merely been one funding programme focused on career advancement in Germany, known as the Meister-BAföG, which by legislators is described as “funding for continuing education with the aim of career advancement”. Just like many previous studies, our research proves that single parents and their children are particularly affected by statistic poverty. Financial support is also available if you are already unemployed and have been unsuccessful in finding another job. Some jobseekers additionally receive further education, which in fact more closely resembles occupational therapy, as it does not meet market requirements and does not promote active participation.

All this does not suffice. We need a proactive, strategic qualification policy. Here, in my opinion, the established ‘division of responsibility’ between businesses and the community of solidarity needs to be readjusted. Until now, it is largely understood that, during an employment relationship, companies are responsible for the professional development of their employees. After entering unemployment and after a failed re-entry into the labour market, the community of solidarity is responsible for further qualification. We therefore need a kind of unemployment benefit for qualification. Currently, this idea is indeed being discussed in Germany, but without being unemployed as a precondition for receiving this benefit. Social partners and policy makers must urgently agree on the funding of this service.

Equal Recognition of All Family Models and Direct Support for Parents

Our study shows that many family models exist, and that people wish that they continue existing. Essential parts of the tax system are, however, still tailored to just one model: marriage. An alternative to spousal income splitting is needed, one which better supports parents with children, including single parents. A new assessment study of the equality report shows – like many previous reports and assessments – what new tax models could look like if they moved away from the institution of marriage and towards additional funding for parents. This is just one example of many: we need equal rights for different forms of family.

The Legacy Study also verifies that parents want to provide for their children together. Fathers recommend making more sacrifices for children. Women advise working more than just part-time in the future. However, care and gainful employment are still very unequally distributed between men and women. This gender care gap also results in the gender pay gap, at twenty-one per cent, with a resulting gender pension gap of twenty-three per cent in the regions of former East Germany and forty-two per cent in the West – remaining as high as they ever were. Women in management positions are still found all too rarely. To prevent part-time employment becoming a trap, long overdue measures are urgently needed. These include the right to return to full-time employment, which is already being discussed in politics. Furthermore, redistribution of gainful employment between the genders – as is set out in the Elterngeld Plus parental benefit programme –, can help in aligning care and employment work between men and women. An expansion to the entire employment phase would, however, support the equality of women and men much more significantly. I have already outlined such a redistribution in the form of a thirty-two hour week for everyone elsewhere. Additionally, businesses could do a lot for cooperative distribution of care and employment work. In a major study, we demonstrated which framework conditions are necessary and possible in businesses to accomplish this goal: in addition to a clear commitment to the compatibility of family and career, measures for career promotion of parents are needed – without mommy (or daddy) tracks.

Just like many previous studies, our research proves that single parents and their children are particularly affected by poverty that can be measured statistically. If we acknowledge that this family form is now widely accepted and in existence, we have to implement measures such as the Act of Advance Child Maintenance Payments with greater urgency than before. In the same way, all-day institutions that span from nursery to school, as well as further support in case of sickness or during children’s school holidays, help reach our objectives.

However, the promotion of all forms of partnership and family also means that childless workers should be taken into account. Ensuring that a ‘helping hand’ is extended at the right time, in the right place, and with the right means is worth fighting for. Practice has shown that the added burden of training substitutes for young mothers and fathers, or the temporary assumption of additional work by colleagues, is usually shouldered without complaint and seen as a matter of course. Then again, the postcards sent by young parents on parental benefits, from holidays with their child travelling the world, do seem to be cause for complaint. Against this background, it is not surprising that we also see among childless people an increasing desire to free themselves from their daily routine for some time. We need to take account of this justified concern.

Such ‘unconditional time off’ is a valuable concept for many reasons. It increases employee satisfaction and motivation and thus contributes significantly to a preventative and inclusive health, work, and social policy. No comprehensive financing models have yet been developed. Here, the fixed account for everyone proposed by Anthony Atkinson is worth considering, as well as a savings account built up over the course of employment, with which all employees would be able to claim twenty-four hours for further training each year, which could also be accumulated over the years.

On Social Dynamics – the Germans and Change

Our Legacy Study shows clearly: The driving force and zest for change embodied by Generations X and Y and Millennials is overestimated. Of course, younger generations nowadays often have different attitudes than their older counterparts. Many, however, are growing out of this and the differences have disappeared in the legacy. In terms of their ideals, the younger and the older generation are in agreement. Gainful employment is and remains important, different concepts of love and forms of partnership know no age, and the generations even agree on the importance of health and residence. Naturally, the younger ‘digital natives’ are often miles ahead of the others; however, the older population in Germany for their part do not seem to be waiting for them. They accept changes and are sometimes more progressive than the youth.

In many areas of social importance, people in Germany appear to be very open-minded regardless of their socioeconomic characteristics. They want to understand technology and are interested in politics and culture. They actively strive for the equality of men and women, and above all: Germany professes solidarity. This is a major asset. Here, however, we can recognise differences between individual social groups.

Parents look to the future with great optimism. They are less insecure and have less fear of the future. Analyses suggest that they view their children as an extended arm into the future. Children accompany them into the future and, through their children, parents can shape the future and prepare for it. Even people with migration experiences possess this optimism and a certain fearlessness. Certainly, this is for a completely different reason: they are convinced that the future will be better than the past and the present. It is the vision of upwards mobility, of arriving, the expectation of and the hope for respect. In several areas, we can still see these tendencies in people from the new federal states today.

On the other hand, people with a lack of resources, sick persons, lonely older people, and those with low incomes and low levels of education are almost fearful. Their fear of the future not only deprive social dynamism of its power, it also and especially saps people’s energy. The approaches laid out earlier, to create greater justice of access and distribution, can give these people courage and enable them to look to the future with more confidence. But friends and community can also help bring about a sense of togetherness and feeling of belonging that all people in Germany desire so deeply.

People in Germany are on the move. Most of them are optimistic, look to the future with confidence, and help new arrivals with starting their new lives. However, uncertainty and fear of the future robs many of the power to change. They need respect, advice, guidance, and helping hands.

Most of those involved now identify many of these problems, and face them head-on. They move and position themselves around these topics in different ways, without a very systematic approach, which renders the division into ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ of rather limited assistance. Ensuring that a ‘helping hand’ is extended at the right time, in the right place, and with the right means is worth fighting for. This is often not the task of leading politicians, but rather of policymakers in departments, who can really make a difference if they have sufficient freedom to act.

Concepts of Life

How We Must Act

Policy can deduce four key objectives from the dreams of people in Germany:

  • Protecting gainful employment: people see the value of work as extending beyond breadwinning. Gainful employment creates closeness to other people; it breaks down stereotypes and provides recognition and a feeling of self-worth. An active and forward-looking labour market policy is needed.
  • Increasing distributive justice: people accept differences in wages and wealth. The concept that ‘performance must be rewarded’ is embedded deep within their DNA. But the wage differences are too great, just like the bonus payments and the height of financial assets. Differentiation reductions and a clear upper cap are required.
  • Increasing fairness of access: education still determines access to valuable resources. This access strongly depends on the education of the parents. Significantly greater and more direct investments in better educational opportunities for children from disadvantaged families must be made. This applies for basic education as well as continuing education.
  • Paying attention to communal and gathering spaces: closeness and cohesion are very important to people. Simultaneously, cities are fragmenting along socioeconomic and age lines. Meeting places – and time spent together at school, during civil or military service, in libraries – are lost. A compulsory social year, social housing in good city locations, and inclusive schools would be appropriate political measures.

Prof. Dr. h. c. Jutta Allmendinger, Ph. D. (61) has been President of the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) and Professor of Educational Sociology and Labour Market Research at the Humboldt University in Berlin since 2007, as well as Honorary Professor of Sociology at the Free University of Berlin since 2012. From 1992 to 2007, she was a Professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and from 2003 to 2007, Director of the Institute for Employment Research under the Federal Employment Agency in Nuremberg. In autumn 2018, she was one of the first fellows at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles.