The five trends shaping Germany to 2030

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Chancellor Angela Merkel’s election campaign highlighted a lack of focus on the longer-term issues facing Germany, says academic Horst Opaschowski.

Her reluctance to articulate a vision for the future reflected a more general failing among policymakers and chief executives to think hard about the changes to the social and economic backdrop over the next 20 years. Challenges include new attitudes to work, structural shifts in the labour force, the role of women and an increasingly aged population. “Mrs Merkel does her homework, but she doesn’t really think in those terms,” said Professor Opaschowski, a futurologist who advised former chancellor Helmut Kohl. “In terms of policy, she will continue her current approach. Nothing will change.” The French cabinet, by way of contrast, recently presented its vision of France in 2023.

The subsequent vision of gleaming factories, full employment and social harmony may have lacked detail and been criticised as a stunt - but for Opaschowski that kind of ‘future gazing’ is an essential part of a politician’s brief.

Here are the trends Opaschowski thinks will shape Germany:

  1. The new work formula - 0.5 x 2 x 3: In the new jobs market, 50 per cent of employees will earn twice as much as before, but have to work three times as hard in return. The ‘lucky’ half risk stress and burn-out, while much of the remaining 50 per cent will have to take on side jobs to make ends meet. Inflation and old age poverty are already growing concerns in Germany where many workers agreed to reduced salaries during the economic downturn in return for continued employment.
  2. Women in power: Angela Merkel’s rise to power is no isolated incident. Women's influence will also grow considerably in companies, particularly in upper management, reflecting the qualifications gap that is already opening up between the sexes. For this to happen, Germany will need to address its childcare system but that does not necessarily mean more state support. “The market will regulate so the best women will go where they get the best work-life balance. Companies have to offer them support, either by providing their own crèches or giving vouchers for childcare” However higher female participation is also a response to poorer families’ need for dual incomes.
  3. A new kind of prosperity: Germans increasingly define prosperity in broader terms than just money. Prosperity will be founded on four pillars – wealth, ecology, social harmony and individual health and wellbeing. “Prosperity will mean something different. Yes, people still want money but quality of life is just as important. That doesn’t mean a return to the sixties when people refused to perform, but rather a new balance between performance and life.
  4. Retirement on pause: Older generations will demand the right to decide when they want to stop working rather than retiring at a predetermined age. Companies will also be keener to hold onto older employees – often as advisers and coaches – to retain institutional memory and know-how.
  5. Smarter immigration: Since the 1970s, immigrants to Germany have largely been ‘guest workers’, employed in often-menial positions. Germany will need to follow countries such as Canada and Australia in pursuing a “best heads” policy and attracting highly qualified graduates if it wants to maintain its advantage over other economies.


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