Younger generation in Germany would rather ‘live in the past’

Young people generally have a reputation for rebelling against society, but rather than dreaming of a better future, a majority of 18-35s in Germany would rather live in the past, an April poll found.

Young people in Germany demonstrate for climate and social justice.
Young people demonstrate for climate and social justice. Better environmental conditions was one of the reasons given for why many said they would rather live in the past. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Fifty-six percent of the 18-34-year-olds asked said they would prefer to live in the past, according to an online survey of 2,000 people conducted by the Hamburg-based Foundation for Future Studies (financed by the British American Tobacco company), news agency DPA reported.

Only forty-four percent said they would prefer the future.

But a decade ago, a similar survey had very different results: In 2013, only 30 percent said they would prefer to live in the past, with 70 percent choosing the future as the better option for them.

“This is completely new and very unusual,” Ulrich Reinhardt, the foundation’s scientific director, told DPA, explaining that as young people, they still had their lives before them so were typically very future-oriented.

Respondents would usually associate the term ‘past’ with their childhood and youth.

In the 35-54 age group, the number of those nostalgic for the olden days rose to 66 percent from 54 percent previously.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of over-55s who longed for the past had not changed very much over ten years: 68 percent now versus 70 percent in 2013.

“More security”
When asked why they would prefer to live in the past, 42 percent of respondents across all age groups said there was greater solidarity in the past. Thirty-five percent said “because it used to be better”. 

There was “more security and stability,” explained 34 percent of respondents.

Other reasons given included “People were happier” (29 percent), “fewer wars and crises” (23 percent), “environmental conditions were better” (22 percent) and “fear of the future” (20 percent).

Young people in particular missed solidarity and community, Reinhardt said, pointing to the fact that in today’s predominantly digital world, people met less frequently to take part in activities outside of their homes.

Reinhardt said it was obvious to many that having friends on Facebook or Instagram was not enough. “It doesn’t replace the friends you can rely on when issues arise, when there’s a lot of uncertainty and when you just want to have fun,” he said.

However, the war in Ukraine did not play a major part in the survey results. 

Reinhardt has repeatedly found in surveys that the younger generation strives for security, including in the world of work. 

This represents a change from previous decades when the desire to change the world for the better was the prevailing attitude. Under-35s now are looking to the past.

“It’s also a generation that was completely pampered by their parents,” he added.

Member comments

  1. The last generation that came anywhere near to rejecting the status quo were the punks. Since then it would appear that the young strive more and more for stability and security, not realising they have more stability and security now, especially in Germany, than anyone has had anywhere at anytime for the past 5000 years. Bloody snowflakes!

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Living in Germany: Exploring locally, Bargeld and the NRW state election

In our weekend roundup for Germany we look at exploring the country this summer, the country's obsession with cash and some facts about North Rhine-Westphalia, which goes to the polls on Sunday.

Living in Germany: Exploring locally, Bargeld and the NRW state election

A chance to explore Germany 

Although we’re still in the pandemic, it feels like life in Germany is beginning to feel a bit more like it did before Covid hit us. With many restrictions easing, people have been really enjoying spring and looking forward to summer.  So it’s no surprise that many of you have been reading our stories about travel. Our articles on the €9 monthly ticket as well as train travel in Germany and beyond have been particularly popular. The public transport offer will also give many people the chance to explore closer to home. I know I am really looking forward to seeing more of Germany, whether it’s around the Brandenburg area near where I live, or going further afield (Heidelberg, I’m looking at you). I’d love to know if you want to use the €9 ticket or if you have any plans to explore Germany this summer. Please fill in this survey on the €9 ticket (it’s open until Monday) and get in touch with your opinions or other travel plans by emailing [email protected]. Thanks so much to those of you who’ve already been in touch.

Tweet of the week

The German love of cash or Bargeld in 2022 while the rest of the world goes contactless is indeed one of life’s greatest mysteries, as this tweet highlights. We’ll definitely be using our ‘ask a German’ series to try and find out more about this habit… 

Where is this? 

Pankstrasse U-Bahn

Berliners or those who’ve visited the capital may recognise this U-Bahn station which is situated in the north. The station is actually part of the Pankstrasse nuclear fallout shelter. Built in 1977 during the Cold War, this “multi-purpose” facility was intended to protect the citizens of West Berlin in case of a nuclear conflict. The bunker serves not only as an U-Bahn stop for commuters but also, in an emergency, could have sheltered 3,339 people for up to two weeks. For those interested, we’d recommend checking out a tour like those run by Berliner Untervelten E.V. Due to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to massive tension between Europe and Russia, the tours have become even more topical.

Did you know?

Since people in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) or Nordrhein Westfalen are going to the polls this Sunday, we thought we’d look at some facts about this western state. This is Germany’s most populated state with about 17.9 million people. It’s also home to the most foreigners – around 2.5 million non-Germans live in NRW. With cities such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and Essen, the state is a culturally rich and diverse part of Germany. Many people don’t know that Bonn was the capital of the former West Germany all the way up to reunification, before Berlin took the title. Many federal buildings and institutions still have their base there. 

The state is led by Christian Democrat Hendrik Wüst who took over last year after Armin Laschet resigned as state premier following his unsuccessful federal election bid. The CDU is currently in a coalition with the Free Democrats. But it looks like change is on the horizon. The CDU and the Social Democrats are both polling at around 30 percent, with the CDU having a slight lead of two to four percentage points. Meanwhile, the FDP appears to have lost support. It’s going to be a tight race – and the Greens party – polling at around 17 percent – will likely be the kingmakers. Important topics for voters include the future of German industry, and how to secure jobs in the move to renewable energy. Many people see this election as a test for the federal government which is led by the SPD’s Olaf Scholz. 

Thanks for reading,

Rachel and Imogen @ The Local Germany 

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