Why should we live life for others

Germany: How do we want to live?

ZEIT will be 70 years old next Sunday. Instead of looking into the past, we want to look ahead: What is important to the people in Germany today? And how do you want to live in the future? And how do people think our society will actually develop? In 3,000 discussions with people of all ages, income classes and origins, ZEIT, together with the Berlin Social Research Center (WZB) and the Bonn social research institute infas, examined these questions and obtained representative results.

Origin of food

For example, they asked how important it is, where and how food is produced. The graphic clearly shows that 43 percent of people already pay close attention to the origin of what they eat.

Missing percentage points up to 100%: no answer / don't know

That's the reality today. If you ask whether this should also be important for future generations, a bigger leap becomes apparent: More than 70 percent believe that good food production should definitely be taken into account in the future.

In the difference between reality and the desired state, self-criticism shows behavior today. The hope that future generations will really do better, however, is not very great.

Only a fifth are sure, around two thirds are unsure. There is a social dilemma in this result: although the individual knows that it would be better for society if all people paid attention to the origin of their food and boycotted factory farming, he or she buys what is cheapest. And believes that the others act even more so.

Better medicine for those who pay more for it?

The Germans do not necessarily consider what they are doing today to be the best solution. This can also be seen in the question of how the health system should work. Should those who can pay more money for medical treatment receive preferential treatment from doctors and hospitals?

In the here and now, the different income relationships * become apparent: high earners use their advantage and buy better medical care.

But if the perspective changes, the picture also changes: When asked what they would recommend to future generations, i.e. legacies, the high earners distance themselves from their privileged actions and show solidarity with people with lower incomes (only 22 percent of the Top earners agree to keep the privilege).

Almost three quarters of Germans would therefore like a solidarity, income-independent health system. However, there are cross-income doubts that politics and society will actually implement this wish.

The desire to have children of your own is a very personal one. Three quarters of people say in the here and now: Yes, your own children are important - and they recommend this to future generations as well.

An interesting detail in this answer: men do not want to dramatically, but measurably more often, pass on the idea that their own children are important to subsequent generations.

Respondents who have children of their own naturally find them very important (94 percent). When asked about their recommendation for future generations, 84 percent still agree.

Do Germans also believe that future generations will make room for children in their lives?

Less than a quarter of people are absolutely confident that society will continue to value their own children in the future.

Let children keep their secrets

When it comes to the question of how parents best treat their offspring, the attitudes of the generations differ. When asked whether it is important to keep children secrets, the phenomenon of helicopter parents shows up in the age groups of those who are raising children today.

Only 55 percent of parents under the age of 35 and around two thirds of parents aged 36 to 50 can bear not knowing everything about their children's lives. In contrast, the majority of people of grandparenthood are more relaxed about this topic. Today's parents, however, expect that the need for control will even increase in the future.

Introduce children to the Internet at an early age

Another generation question: is it good for our children if they are introduced to the Internet at an early age? The majority are skeptical here, both in the here and now, as well as with regard to the recommendation for future generations.

The greatest reluctance is shown by people between the ages of 14 and 35 who grew up with the Internet and are very familiar with the medium.

In the case of the very young, almost half oppose dealing with the Internet as early as possible, only eleven percent are in favor. The digital natives don't want to change that in the future either. On the other hand, there is less internet skepticism among older people.

So much for my convictions. When assessing future developments, a different picture emerges: all age groups agree that the earliest possible contact with the Internet will become a reality in the future. Regardless of whether they approve of it or not.

Understand the latest technology

The fact that they tend to be critical of early Internet use by children does not mean that Germans are fundamentally skeptical of technology. Understanding new technology is considered important by half of those surveyed. Today, however, men and women rate the topic differently: Almost 40 percent of women consider it important to understand new technology and almost 60 percent of men.

The legacy in this question, i.e. the recommendation to the following generations, is clear: Almost 70 percent of women and almost 80 percent of men consider dealing with technical innovations to be important for the future - and women are even more optimistic that people will find themselves in Germany will actually endeavor to understand these innovations.

Importance of starting something new

This openness to new things is not limited to technology. Basically, the legacy study shows Germans as willing to innovate. Almost half are open to starting something completely new.

This openness will also be important in the future, as recognized by a majority of 65 percent. Even today, people with a migration background are particularly open to new things - and thus also to potential breaks.

Skepticism becomes clear among all those questioned when asked about their assessment of the development that can actually be expected. Only 35 percent are of the opinion that a certain optimistic mood will spread throughout society.

Germans are even more uncertain about the importance of a feeling of togetherness. Currently, more than 80 percent feel a sense of togetherness is important - although the question remains open as to whether the personal environment or society as a whole is meant. And so it is recommended for the future as well. But a gap opens up between the wish and the expected reality: only 22 percent are convinced that it will actually still be important for our descendants to feel a strong sense of community.

Despite the uncertainty in this question of meaning: Germans enjoy life and recommend that future generations do the same. After all, almost 50 percent of Germans also believe that this will be possible in the future.

25 years after reunification, it is exciting to see how the joy of life in the formerly separate halves of the country is going.

The people who live in the so-called new federal states (and East Berlin) emphasize the fun of life even a little more than the people in the old federal states (84 to 81 percent). This applies to personal attitudes as well as to the question of what is to be desired for future generations. People in the East are also more confident that it will really be possible to enjoy life (55 to 47 percent).

How important is it to look good?

Enjoying life - that should be easy, not least for those who are satisfied with their appearance. Almost 50 percent of Germans think good looks are fundamentally important for everyone - and probably for themselves too.

One concern, however, becomes apparent in the difference between the desired and expected future. Only 39 percent would recommend that future generations attach great importance to good looks - but over 60 percent expect that appearance will increase dramatically in value in the actual future.

The difference between desire and assessment of future social reality is most evident among teenagers - the age group for whom appearance is a particularly important issue.

This picture solidifies when Germans are asked about the need for cosmetic surgery. The question "Would you have an operation to look younger longer?" they clearly deny across all age groups.

An equally clear majority would recommend this rejection to future generations. But: "Will people actually have an operation in the future to look young longer?" A good third of teenagers and under 35-year-olds answered this question with a clear yes. It is the others who the respondents think are more vain than themselves.

Work even if you don't need the money

We put the final spotlight on the relationship between Germans and work. Do they just go to the office or factory to earn a living - or is work fun too? Does she create meaning in her life?

More than half of Germans would also work if they didn't need the money and strongly recommend this attitude to future generations as well. Can we deduce from this that the Germans generally consider an unconditional basic income to be a good idea? Not if you take their assessment of the overall development of society as a basis, which is strongly influenced by their own view of others. Only just under 16 percent expect that in the future they will actually work without financial hardship.

Legacy Study

The study

The legacy - This is the title of the study for which DIE ZEIT and ZEIT ONLINE have collaborated with the Berlin Science Center for Social Research (WZB) and the social research institute infas. The study is more than just one of the usual snapshots used to get the pulse of the country. It's about the past, the present and the future of society. How do Germans live and what would they like to bequeath to future generations? What would they advise against? What future do you expect? Unusual: The interviewers not only had 3,000 conversations with representative selected people, but also let the respondents smell and touch them. How does the future smell: more like grapefruit, like rose petals, like hay? How does it feel - smooth, rough, hard or soft?

The result

The result reveals where people agree and where there are differences. So also: where politics must act. DIE ZEIT and ZEIT ONLINE present the results in a four-part series. The overview of the most interesting results will be followed in the coming weeks by insights into the topics of gainful employment, the relationship between the generations and love.

The director of studies

Jutta Allmendinger is President of the WZB and Professor of Educational Sociology and Labor Market Research at Berlin's Humboldt University. Her research focuses on social inequality and life-course issues.

* Income groups:

  • Below the poverty threshold: below 60 percent of the median of the net equivalent income (NÄE) (according to the 2013 microcensus below 892 euros)
  • Middle income: people between 60 and 200 percent of the median of the NEE
  • high income: people with at least twice the median of the NEE (according to the 2013 microcensus over 2972 ​​euros)

Scientific advice: Patricia Wratil (Berlin Science Center for Social Research)

Image rights: Carsten Koall / Getty, Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters, Christopher Furlong / Getty, Herwig Prammer / Reuters, judithhaeusler / Getty, Sean Gallup / Getty, Philippe Huguen / AFP, David Becker / Getty, Westend61 / Rainer Berg / Getty, Chris McGrath / Getty