Report: German wealth shrank by 15% in decade

Report: German wealth shrank by 15% in decade
A house for sale. A report shows that a slump in housing prices led to Germans' private assets dropping. Photo: DPA.
A new study shows that the value of private household assets has actually dropped over the past decade, contradicting prior reports.

The report by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) released on Wednesday showed that the real net assets of private households in Germany shrank between 2003 and 2013.

Though private households’ net assets grew by an average of 0.4 percent, or €500, the report stated that when inflation was accounted for, households actually lost nearly 15 percent of their net assets, or about €20,000 on average.

Looking at a second dataset from between 2002 and 2012, the researchers also found a decline of 11 percent in real household assets.

Study co-author Christian Westermeier told The Local that a major reason for this could be the German housing market.

“In the 2000s, property prices were falling, especially in rural areas, and that is a big reason for overall asset decline,” Westermeier said.

Another reason is the way the Germans invest – or don’t invest. Germans are, famously, savers, and don’t always trust banks to hold onto their money, opting to invest in low-risk and therefore low-return areas, which often do not make up for inflation.

“Germans save a lot, but in the wrong way,” Westermeier explained. “They choose checking accounts, savings accounts, building loan contracts, but this isn’t paying much back.”

Westermeier also said that because “Germany is a country of renters” tenants see the lowest capital gains.

Only around 40 percent of Germans own their own home, despite a report last year that showed a third of renters could afford to buy.

Social mobility

The researchers said a key way to reduce the high level of wealth inequality in Germany would be to encourage more people to grow their own wealth.

The report stated that when looking at the time periods between 2002 and 2007, as well as between 2007 and 2012, 40 percent of respondents lost real assets.

Another 45 percent had tangibly increased their assets, while around 12 percent had stagnated.

People between 30 and 39 saw the largest increases, while those hitting retirement age spent more for health reasons, or perhaps wanted to pass inheritance on to relatives early.

Differing calculations

The study authors acknowledged that their conclusions differed from federal government numbers that have shown German households getting richer.

Westermeier explained that one reason could be that the datasets their study used did not include multimillionaires and billionaires.

“The super-rich can overshadow other data,” Westermeier said. “But the data collected in Germany is not very clear.”

But the main reason for the discrepancies could be the way that wealth is calculated, which the researchers said reflects how this kind of data needed to be improved.

Spokesperson from Berliner Sparkasse Constanze Stempel told The Local that the study did not mean people have changed their behaviours over the past decade and that the discrepancies between the DIW and federal reports are due to methodological differences and the calculation of real estate values.

If anything, Stempel said, Germans have been acting in their typical ways.

“This has nothing to do with German’s investment behaviour and their aversion to risky investments,” Stempel told The Local.

“They have not changed anything in the last ten years, on the contrary… Many saw their attitudes confirmed by the financial crisis and remained conservative in terms of investment, even with low interest rates.”

Properties in Germany

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