Our Next Generation Germany report surveyed young people in the country for their views on identity, immigration and education. The British Council’s Christine Wilson summarises the findings.
The report shows that German youth are content with their lives, and feel they have a lot to be content about. Seventy-four per cent express pride in their local areas, in their free and accessible education system, and a sense that their country offers security and stability to its citizens. While only 40 per cent say they're proud of Germany, many speak with pride about local food, universities and breweries.
However, despite this broad contentment with their lives, there was a sense of Unbehagen or ‘unease’ from the report. While they acknowledge they are complaining from a place of comfort – Wir jammern auf hohem Niveau – they are anxious about the future. This includes concerns that they share with their peers in Next Generation studies globally, such as the education system not being fit for purpose, and how the German economy will cope with the need for innovation and flexibility in the future.
Concerns about violence outweigh experiences of violence for young Germans
Forty-nine per cent of respondents reported being worried or very worried about violence in the future, while only 33 per cent had been personally affected by it. Forty-seven per cent were concerned about the rise of extremism, although 24 per cent had had personal experience of this.
Concerns about violence are significant for policy makers, even if they are speculative. If people feel concerned about crime levels, they’ll temper their behaviours and expectations accordingly, regardless of whether crime levels are going up or down. In social policy, this is known as the Thomas theorem.
This research is a snapshot of an uncertain time
In looking to explain some of the findings, the research team noted that this work was carried out during a period of uncertainty. Germany, so often seen as the stable centre of Europe, had undergone an election, followed by a protracted process of forming a coalition. The far-right AfD party had won 13.5 per cent of the vote, and Chancellor Merkel and her party were weakened by evidence that support for her has diminished. She subsequently announced her plans to stand down.
Immigration is distinct from immigrants for young Germans
Despite the advancement of the AfD party and its stance on immigration, our research shows that young Germans make a distinction between immigration and immigrants. With the latter, many of those surveyed expressed pride in Germany’s open approach, and concerns that not enough has been done to support new Germans into their communities.
On immigration itself, there were a range of views, and a recognition that it’s complicated. The young Germans we surveyed would like more public discussion about the issue, so they can better understand the government’s long-term strategy. They also want government to acknowledge the impact immigration has had on housing and employment.
Many of the young people surveyed felt that immigration isn’t discussed honestly for fearing of seeming right-wing. They also felt that other European countries expect Germany to pay the debts of the past by accommodating the flow of refugees into Europe over the last few years.
Young Germans are cautious about their national identity
This also spills into their personal sense of identity. The young Germans we surveyed prefer their city (77 per cent) or local area (74 per cent) as a source of identity ahead of their country (68 per cent).
Some spoke of caution about their national identity, both due to the shadow of Germany’s history, and because they associate national pride with the rise in populist movements globally.
Young Germans identify as European, but are influenced more strongly by the USA
Many of the young Germans we surveyed reached for stereotypes when describing the UK. Those included fish and chips, the Royal Family, and rain. But, there is affection and perhaps admiration as well. As one young German woman put it: 'A friendly and joyful nation that values its traditions and its past.'
As for Germany’s place in Europe, and the world, 66 per cent of young Germans identify strongly as European. However, 36 per cent identify the USA as the country with the most influence on them.
Young people in Germany want more financial literacy and digital skills in education
This research shows that young Germans have much in common with their global peers. As we have seen mirrored in other Next Generation research, including the UK, Turkey and Colombia, only 41 per cent of young Germans felt their education had prepared them for the world of work. Only 31 per cent felt it had prepared them well for life in general.
They do find much to praise about the education system, such as its affordability and accessibility, and recent government reforms. However, to prepare them for the world of work, and life in general, they would prefer more emphasis on financial literacy and digital skills.
They also have concerns about future housing, as also seen in Next Generation Ireland-Northern Ireland, and financial security. While young Germans spoke of their pride in efficiency and good craftsmanship, they also predict that this is not the way the world will work in future and they fear they may be left behind.
Young Germans want politics to better reflect what matters to them
Forty-one per cent of the young Germans we surveyed say they feel politically engaged, and 35 per cent feel the system overall is ineffective. Yet they also expressed a desire to be more engaged, and would do so if politics reflected more what mattered to them.
Lack of engagement with the formal system does not mean they do not care. One young woman from Berlin said: ‘I am engaged politically in the things I care about – I have done some volunteering with refugees to help them learn German. But national politics feel very complex and out of reach; it is good to do small things where you can.’
Read the Next Generation Germany report summary. The full report will be available on 24 May 2019.