A few drinks with friends in a relaxed atmosphere, at some point between Christmas and New Year. After discussing children, careers and holiday plans, a conclusion is reached: Hopefully 2017 will be a better, more peaceful year than 2016 for us all. Terror, refugee crises, victims of war – these are all associations which are likely to linger in our collective consciousness when pondering the last few months. These events have also left their mark on our values: In this regard, 80% of German respondents now identify security as a value increasing in importance.
The issue of security had already increased in importance in the previous year’s survey on the changing relevance of values, extending its lead at the top against 2014 in the process. However, in the current survey, the proportion of respondents to once again assign increased relevance to the topic of security rose by a further 7%. Overall, 83% – a clear majority of respondents – currently take the view that this issue is becoming increasingly important. Just 2% take the opposing view. The remaining 15% believe that the importance of security will remain at around the same level. This issue therefore occupies top spot again this year, way ahead of the other 12 values investigated. These are the findings of a survey conducted by GfK Verein in the first half of December 2016 in face-to-face interviews with nearly 2,000 people (representative of the German population aged 14 and over).
The issues of performance, trust and home follow some distance behind the top-ranked value, although there is not much to separate these values themselves. Despite being very different in nature, nearly 60% of respondents believed these issues to be growing in importance. The increase noted in the issue of performance should probably be viewed within the context of an increasingly globalized working world, with our own homes acting as a corresponding counterpart to this development. Where better to recover from a hard day at work – as well as from all the terrible news in the media – than in the comfort on our own four walls? However, anyone who now believes that Germans are happy to sit at home in isolation, gloomily pondering what the future holds, would be mistaken. After all, trust is also a value to which respondents assigned increasing importance. After trust follows responsibility. This aspect was seen by 55% of respondents as being of increasing importance moving forward. Next in the rankings, and also backed by 50% of respondents as becoming increasingly relevant, comes the issue of innovation. This development is also more than likely attributable to globalization.
It was certainly one of the most-quoted political soundbites in recent years: Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das!” (We can do it!) attracted both acclaim and criticism among the German population. Solidarity with those less fortunate is an issue with future potential for many respondents again. Nearly one in every two respondents are of the opinion that solidarity is currently a subject of increasing relevance. However, it is clear that people are split as to how far solidarity should be extended. One in ten respondents assigns this value decreasing relevance. Is it therefore possible to say that society will approach this issue with less enthusiasm in future? Do we need to worry about this? Or will suitable solutions eventually be found? Nearly half of German respondents take an optimistic view of the situation: 46% are of the opinion that, despite the multitude of challenges facing us today, we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand. Optimism is therefore in eighth place in the rankings.
Overall, 44% of German respondents opined that the subject of competition will assume an increasingly important role in the future. However, not everybody was in agreement: In this respect, one in ten respondents offered the view that measuring ourselves against other people will be less relevant moving forward. Even fewer respondents were convinced that the issue of power will increase in importance. While one in three respondents certainly still feel that this value will be increasingly relevant for society, 20% disagree and take the opposing view.
There is even greater disagreement among respondents as to whether we should be tightening our purse strings and cutting expenditure at the moment. In total, 24% believe that the concept of going without is an important topic of the future. However, just as many reject this notion. In terms of the subjects of luxury and adventure, which bring up the rear in these rankings, the majority ratios shift. In this regard, 22% and 19% of respondents respectively believe these values are on the rise, whereas around a third (33 and 35% respectively) take the opposing view that we neither need more of the finer things nor more action in our lives.
A glance at the survey findings last year reveals exactly what our primary concerns were and the consequences of these on our values. In comparison with 2015, the main issue of security was not the only winner in terms of importance. In the face of a growing threat at home and abroad, the need for increased security registered a rise of seven percentage points. However, this was not the most marked increase. The social values of trust and responsibility recorded a plus of 11 percentage points. Innovation, another subject to enjoy an above-average increase of 11 percentage points, is also evidently at the forefront of respondents’ minds. The values of home and performance were also well up on the previous year, recording an increase of nine and eight percentage points respectively. On this occasion, respondents also assigned greater relevance to the issue of competition than in the previous year – here there was an increase of six percentage points. In contrast, the remaining values were only subject to marginal changes in terms of their importance over the coming months from the respondents’ perspectives.
However, what do these findings reveal about our individual attitudes to life? Would we now be more likely to avoid major events, install alarm systems and contemplate how we can make society more efficient and innovative from the comfort of our own homes? One thing is for sure: issues which we see as being important for the future of our society as a whole do not trouble us to the same extent in our private lives. In this way, although security is also in first place for personal assessments, although the discrepancy is huge between personal and general expectations relating to increased importance for many values. Take performance as an example: 58% of respondents expect that this value will become increasingly relevant in future. However, only around one third also anticipate that this value’s importance will rise on a personal level. With regard to the question concerning increased competition, the difference is even larger at 29 percentage points. For innovation, it is (again) 26 percentage points, followed by the subject of power at 23 percentage points. These differences evidently have a lot to do with individual life situations. A retiree may well see how the relevance of certain values is becoming greater for the workforce of today, although this (often) does not apply to their own reality. The differences for the values of responsibility, luxury and solidarity (between 12 and 10 percentage points) are much less pronounced. This can also be said of the concepts of going without, security and adventure (differences of 8 and 7 points). However, these values are also viewed as increasing more in importance in general terms than in relation to one’s individual situation. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that we tend to view our own lives developing more positively than society as a whole. We already act responsibly and practice sufficient restraint – although we expect others to do so even more. Alternatively, respondents have the feeling that it is not possible to change things on their own and, with regard to the value of responsibility, it is down to society in general to effect change. Germans certainly believe that the values of optimism and trust are (almost) equally as important for society as for individuals. These are values which not only have positive connotations but are also – for all generations – necessary for our individual wellbeing. And, moreover, when it comes down to our own homes, respondents’ assessments are flipped: in terms of their private places of retreat, more respondents take the view that this value will become increasingly relevant to them personally.
It is no secret that the various stages of life which respondents find themselves in can influence their personal values. You only have to think about mealtimes, a family sat around the table, with older and younger generations all offering their views on topics of discussion. It is therefore interesting that relative unanimity reigns on the subject of security: all age groups, young and old alike, assign the largest increase in importance to this issue. However, clear differences begin to emerge for some
values from second place in the rankings downwards. Respondents aged 14-24 estimate the increased relevance of performance to be highest. And they place much greater emphasis on the related topics of innovation and competition. However, this does not necessarily mean that young people are averse to adventure. Overall, 27% take the view that we need to experience the world. This is the highest percentage across all age groups. And given that, as we are all aware, excitement and action (often) come at a price, it is little wonder that younger respondents are less keen than other age groups on the concept of going without. The subject of our own homes is another to which younger respondents pay less heed. Those who embark on intrepid adventures around the world are evidently less interested in the comfort afforded by our familiar four walls. Nevertheless, 46% still assign a rise in importance to this value.
The picture is a little different for respondents aged 25-34. These respondents have recently started out in the working world or have taken their first tentative steps on the career ladder. In terms of adventure, they are also (still) keener than older generations. However, they evidently consider the consequences more seriously – and without any doubt more often have families and responsibilities to factor in. With this in mind, this age group identifies responsibility as a value with future potential more often than others. Luxury and power are of particular importance to this age group. Respondents aged 35-49 tend to focus on performance-related and social values. This generation believes that a combination of performance, responsibility and trust is the ideal value mix for their future. As the years roll by, our inclination to knuckle down and assert ourselves at work evidently diminishes. In this regard, just one in four respondents between the ages of 50 and 64 identify performance as a value of increasing relevance. For respondents aged 65 and over this falls to just 14%. Respondents above the age of 50 also tend to focus on the issues of innovation and competition less often. This applies equally to the issue of responsibility too.
The future will reveal whether or not we have been accurate in our predictions regarding the increased importance of values. How will we manage to overcome the looming societal challenges? How will the social climate change? Only with the benefit of hindsight will we be able to answer these questions – perhaps once again over a few drinks in a relaxed atmosphere with friends as we ring in the New Year.
Data source: GfK Verein; Value-Survey 2016/2017; CAPI BUS December 2016
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