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Why are people in Germany getting 'unhappier'?

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
Why are people in Germany getting 'unhappier'?
Two people hug in Hanover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Germany has fallen to 24th place in the UN's World Happiness Report, with the under 30s ranking significantly lower. It's still a stable and economically prosperous compared to many countries, so why is happiness on the decline?


The UN’s World Happiness Report, published this week, puts Germany in 24th position on its national happiness ranking, down from 16th compared to last time the index was updated.

This puts Germany just behind the US (23rd), which has also fallen from a top 20 ranking for the first time this year. Just ahead of the US and Germany is the United Arab Emirates (22nd) and Slovenia (21st).

Immediately following Germany are Mexico (24th), Uruguay (25th) and France (26th).

Finland and Denmark continue to rank as the world’s happiness leaders.

What’s causing German unhappiness?

Germans are not known to be the most smiley bunch. But the country’s economic prosperity and reliable health and welfare systems have been credited with promoting a generally positive outlook on life for the majority of Germans.

But this year’s World Happiness Report joins a growing list of indicators that suggest that satisfaction in the Bundesrepublik is on the decline.

In the 2023 EU happiness index, Germany was ranked second to last among the 27 member states.

Nordic countries, such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland have consistently come at the top of the UN World Happiness Report since the report began in 2012. 

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"The fact that Germany lost so many places surprises me - I would have expected a less severe decline," Catarina Lachmund, Senior Analyst at the Happiness Research Institute, told The Local. She added that there is not yet an established explanation for the decline in happiness across the country, although there are some possible ones.

As opposed to the Nordic states, Germany has gotten some criticism recently for leaning towards austerity during a time the economy has stopped growing and the cost of living is rising.

Speaking to our sister site, The Local Denmark, Lachmund said, "The Nordic model turns out to be doing a lot of good for its citizens. There's a lot they are doing correctly, mainly funnelling wealth into wellbeing." 

Russia’s war in Ukraine and severe inflation likely also contributed to Germany’s falling happiness score, researchers found. The 2024 report is based on data collected between 2021 and 2023, during which time the conflict and related effects, such as soaring energy prices, made headlines on a daily basis.

Unfortunately for fresh arrivals, the slipping happiness of German natives is compounded by the perpetually low satisfaction scores of foreign nationals in the country.

woman in the rain

The 2024 World Happiness Report suggests satisfaction in the Bundesrepublik is on the decline. In the EU happiness index, Germany is ranked second to last. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

According to surveys published by InterNations, the world's largest community of foreign nationals, Germany has continuously ranked among the bottom of list with some of the unhappiest and loneliest foreign residents worldwide.

The categories that new arrivals tend to rank Germany most harshly on include making friends and the friendliness of locals.

Racism and the growing popularity of far-right politics that include anti-immigration policies are also among many foreigners' concerns.


The kids aren’t alright

Young Germans are significantly less happy than their more elderly counterparts – the country’s under 30 population ranks 47th for happiness.

As noted by the World Happiness report, traditionally in the West “the received wisdom was that the young are the happiest and that happiness thereafter declines until middle age”, but lately youth happiness has fallen sharply in North America and Western Europe. “By contrast, happiness at every age has risen sharply in Central and Eastern Europe," the report added.

“Objectively it’s not a great situation," Leonard Frick, a 28-year-old German and trainee at Holtzbrinck journalism school, told The Local. "There are many things to be unhappy about. Living expenses are rising, affordable housing is scarce in big cities, good jobs are hard to come by…there’s war in Europe, and all the while our planet is slowly becoming inhospitable.”

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He added that social inequality and the rise of populism are serious concerns.

All of that said, Frick suggests it’s important to keep things in perspective: “Germany is still a wonderful country to live in and compared to other regions, we’re incredibly privileged and should be thankful.”

Lachmund agrees that growing unhappiness among the younger generations in Germany is a real issue: "Germany should definitely focus on the well-being of younger people and take their concerns and needs seriously."


How is the ranking determined?

The UN’s World Happiness report is based on Gallup World Poll data, and is analysed by wellbeing scientists. Around 100,000 people from 130 countries participate in the Gallup World Poll each year.

Those polled are asked to fill out a ‘Cantril ladder survey,’ in which they score their lives on a scale of zero to ten, zero being the worst possible life and 10 being best. 

A country’s individual score is then based on an average of those scores, called the Average Life Evaluation. The Happiness Report takes an average of the numbers given by those surveyed in each nation across the last three years. This year's rankings are from polls carried out between 2021 and 2023. 

"You can't name a whole country as happy but you can ask the people in the country if they're happy or not and then say if an average population is happier than other average populations. That is what the UN Happiness report does well," Lachmund told The Local Denmark.

In the 2024 report, Germany’s overall happiness score was 6.72. In comparison, the highest ranked country was Finland with a score of 7.74.


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