Many of us do this: Take a few moments at the end of the year to review the year just gone and make New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s Eve is an opportunity for many of us to think about what is important in life. Which values are relevant? What will be more significant in 2015? For people in Germany, the answer to this question left no doubt. The vast majority – almost 70% – believes that security will become more important. In the eyes of many Germans, performance-related and social values will also remain relevant in the future.
Although Germany emerged stronger from the financial crisis of 2007 and has continued to record positive economic figures, this recent period of uncertainty seems to have imprinted itself on people’s minds. The global crises and conflicts of the past year probably contributed in making Germans think of security above all in the context of future values. A total of 68% of people believe that security will become a more important value for our society in the future. Only 4% are of the opinion that, in future, it will be less important. The figures put this topic in first place, as was also the case in the 2010 ranking, and by a large margin compared with all other values. These are the findings of the latest GfK Verein survey on the changing importance of values, conducted at the end of 2014, for which more than 1,000 respondents were asked to assess a total of 13 values according to their future relevance.
Just over 50% of respondents also stated that they think performance will become more important than it has been to date. This means that performance is now in second place of the value ranking. Does this mean that there is no room left for acts of humanity and a sense of community alongside work and ambition? Far from it, given that social and sound values such as trust, owning a home and responsibility also rank among the top 5 values. Approximately, one in two respondents is of the opinion that these aspects will gain in importance as well.
Germany succeeded in one of the biggest contests last year when ‘we’ won the Football World Cup. In other areas, Germany is also well positioned. Yet, for many people, resting on the laurels of previous success is not an option. A total of 43% of respondents indicated that competition would remain a value with a future. According to Germans, people should not hesitate to approach new goals with courage. The same percentage of respondents believes that optimism is a value which will suit Germans even better in the future. After all, believing in ultimate success can help you get through tough times, especially when it comes to developing something new. The willingness to innovate is highly rated in Germany. In 2013 alone, the European Patent Office (EPO) recorded 32,000 new patent applications from Germany, putting the country at the top in the world after the USA and Japan, as Handelsblatt reported in March 2014. A total of 41% of respondents were certain that the future belongs to those who dare to innovate.
According to some people, rather than benefiting only a few, new developments should be for the benefit of as many as possible. A total of 40% of survey participants believe that solidarity is a value for the future. Conversely, consumers ranked the aspects of power, luxury and adventure lowest in the list. These values are perceived as egocentric and play a secondary role according to consumers. Going without is no longer seen as important as it previously was, with only 23% stating that it would be important to show restraint more often in the future.
How much has changed compared with the first survey, which was carried out in 2010? Are Germans holding onto their values, or have crisis and wars as well as success changed established values? Although security remains of primary importance in the eyes of Germans, other priorities have shifted to some extent. Family-related and social aspects, including owning a home, solidarity and responsibility, lost a few percentage points compared with 2010. It seems that once the threat of the financial and economic crisis had been averted, people relaxed a bit and Germans are taking charge of their future by investing and competing. Indeed, values such as competition, innovation and luxury rose by five percentage points. People in Germany do not necessarily want a posh car or penthouse in a prime location, but they do intend to spend more on themselves again. Today, going without is a value seen by less than one in four Germans as having future importance, whereas 35% believed this to be the case in 2010.
Differences are evident in the assessment of values by gender and origin. Men focus more on performance-related aspects than women. An above-average share of men believe that competition, innovation and performance are forward-looking values. However, men and women largely agree when it comes to many other values – most of all as far as security is concerned. There also is considerable agreement between the views of eastern and western Germans, although people in eastern Germany are more inclined to believe that competition and optimism are on the rise and power, luxury and adventure will be more significant in the future. Conversely, western Germans believe that the importance of responsibility and solidarity will be above-average in the future.
Similar to the survey conducted five years ago, the youngest age group again showed a surprising level of agreement when it comes to performance. The age group of 14 to 24-year-olds was the only age group that did not give top priority to security. Almost two thirds of this group believes that a proactive approach will be even more important in future. Apparently, restructuring of the German educational system, for example at secondary school level, and the Bologna reforms – aimed at making young people fit for competition at European level – have left their mark. However, youngsters do not only think about their duties. Fun is also important to them, with almost 40% in this age group stating that adventure will be a relevant value in the future. Enthusiasm for experiencing the unknown rapidly decreases with age. In the group of 25 to 34-year-olds, the focus is also on performance-related values. Competition, power and luxury are far more important to this age group than later in life when people seem to be more concerned with their roots. Accordingly, owning their own home is, for more than one in two aged over 35, a value that has a future.
Another important aspect is whether or not respondents are interested in the latest trends. An above-average number of those who are less concerned with trends believe that home-ownership will become an increasingly important value. Of the respondents who showed little interest in new trends, 52% and 53% respectively stated this. Performance is particularly important to those who like to follow trends. Two thirds of this group thinks that performance is an increasingly important value. They see its importance as being similar to that of security. Above-average agreement was also recorded for competition, innovation and adventure among people with an interest in new developments.
Irrespective of whether people focus on owning their own home in the future or dream of adventure far afield, whether they believe that responsibility and trust will be values of the future or back new trends, the common denominator for Germans is a basic sense of security. Wilhelm von Humboldt, scholar and co-founder of Berlin University, was well aware that this basis is essential in life and once stated: ‘Without security man is neither able to develop his strengths nor to enjoy the fruits thereof; for there is no freedom without security.’
Data source: GfK Verein, BUS survey, January 2015
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