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Germany performs very well in many measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top ten countries in several topics in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Germany, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 28 799 USD a year, more than the OECD average of 23 047 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn more than four times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, some 73% of people aged 15 to 64 in Germany have a paid job, above the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 77% of men are in paid work, compared with 68% of women. People in Germany work 1 413 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 776 hours. Some 5% of employees work very long hours, lower than the OECD average of 9%, with 8% of men working very long hours compared with just 2% for women.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In Germany, 86% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, more than the OECD average of 74%. This is truer of men than women, as 88% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 83% of women. Germany is a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system. The average student scored 510 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 497, making Germany one of the strongest OECD countries in students’ skills. On average in Germany, girls outperformed boys by 6 points, lower than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Germany is almost 81 years, one year higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 78 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs –is 16 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably lower than the OECD average of 21 micrograms per cubic meter. Germany also does well in terms of water quality, as 93% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, more than the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community and moderate levels of civic participation in Germany, where 92% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, higher than the OECD average of 90%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 71% during recent elections, close to the OECD average of 72%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is 80% and for the bottom 20% it is 59%, much broader than the OECD average gap of 12 percentage points and suggesting there is room for broader social inclusion in Germany’s democratic institutions
In general, Germans are as satisfied with their lives as other OECD citizens, with 81% of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc), close to the OECD average of 80%.
OECD in Action
Germany - Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education
When the first PISA tests in 2000 placed German students well below the average in OECD countries for reading and literacy, the nation was shocked. The revelation sparked a nationwide debate about Germany's school system and what was needed to improve it.View this video on youtube
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Germany in Detail
Housing – Germany expand
Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family. All of these elements help make a house a home. And of course there is the question whether people can afford adequate housing.
Housing costs take up a large share of the household budget and represent the largest single expenditure for many individuals and families, by the time you add up elements such as rent, gas, electricity, water, furniture or repairs. In Germany, households on average spend 21% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, in line with the OECD average.
In addition to housing costs it is also important to examine living conditions, such as the average number of rooms shared per person and whether households have access to basic facilities. In Germany, 93% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87% and one of the highest levels in the OECD. This high level of subjective satisfaction reflects Germany’s good performance in objective housing indicators.
The number of rooms in a dwelling, divided by the number of persons living there, indicates whether residents are living in crowded conditions. Overcrowded housing may have a negative impact on physical and mental health, relations with others and children’s development. In addition, dense living conditions are often a sign of inadequate water and sewage supply. In Germany, the average home contains 1.8 rooms per person, more than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person. In terms of basic facilities, 99.1%of people in Germany live in dwellings with private access to an indoor flushing toilet, more than the OECD average of 97.8%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – Germany expand
While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, healthcare and housing.
Household net-adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after tax. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In Germany, the average household net-adjusted disposable income is 28 799 USD a year, higher than the OECD average of 23 047 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In Germany, the average household net financial wealth is estimated at 44 938 USD, higher than the OECD average of 40 516 USD. While the ideal measure of household wealth should include real assets (e.g. land and dwellings), such information is currently available for only a small number of OECD countries.
Despite a general increase in living standards across OECD countries over the past fifteen years, not all people have benefited from this to the same extent. In Germany, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 53 978 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 12 544 USD a year.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Germany expand
Having a job brings many important benefits, including: providing a source of income, improving social inclusion, fulfilling one’s own aspirations, building self-esteem and developing skills and competencies. In Germany, close to 73% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is higher than the OECD employment average of 66%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in Germany an estimated 88% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 46% for those without an upper secondary education. This 42 percentage point difference is higher than the OECD average of 37 percentage points and suggests the job market in Germany is relatively restrictive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Germany, 68% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 60% but less than the 77% employment rate of men in Germany. This 9 percentage point gender difference, however, is smaller than the OECD average of 12 percentage points and suggests Germany could further improve employment opportunities for women but has generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face accessing work.
Young Germans, aged 15-24, face an unemployment rate of 8.5% compared with the OECD average of 16.2%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. In Germany, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at 2.8%, lower than the OECD average of 3.1%. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. In Germany, the long-term unemployment rate for men is slightly higher than for women, with respectively 3.0% and 2.6%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Germany, people earn 39 593 US dollars per year on average, more than the OECD average of 34 466 USD. Not everyone earns that amount however. Whereas the top 20% of the population earn 51 081 USD per year, the bottom 20% live on 23 625 USD per year.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Employees working on temporary contracts are more vulnerable than workers with an open-ended contract. In Germany, about 8% of total employees have a contract of 6 months or less, lower than the average of 10% for 30 OECD countries. This figure suggests Germany has been successful in stabilising working contracts and encouraging open-ended contracts.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Germany expand
Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society. On average, people in Germany spend 7 minutes per day in volunteering activities, more than the OECD average of 4 minutes per day. Around 50% of people reported having helped a stranger in the last month, slightly more than the OECD average of 48%.
A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as provide access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. In Germany, 92% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, more than the OECD average of 90%. There is little difference between men and women, as 92% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 93% of women. While on average in the OECD there is a clear relationship between the availability of social support on the one hand, and people’s education level, on the other, in Germany levels of social support are similar across society: around 93% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 94% for people who attained tertiary education.
A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Socially isolated individuals face difficulties integrating into society as a contributing member and fulfilling personal aspirations.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – Germany expand
A well-educated and well-trained population is essential for a country’s social and economic well-being. Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. Most concretely, having a good education greatly improves the likelihood of finding a job and earning enough money. Across OECD countries, 83% of people with university-level degrees have a job, compared with just below 56% for those with only a secondary school diploma. Lifetime earnings also increase with each level of education.
Following a decline in manual labour over previous decades, employers now favour a more educated labour force. High-school graduation rates therefore provide a good indication of whether a country is preparing its students to meet the minimum requirements of the job market. In Germany, 86% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 74%. This is truer of men than women, as 88% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 83% of women. This 5 percentage point difference is higher than the OECD average of 2 percentage points. Among younger people – a better indicator of Germany’s future – 86% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, also higher than the OECD average of 82%.
Germans can expect to go through 17.9 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, more than the OECD average of 16.5 years. This high level of education expectancy echoes Germany’s good performance in the educational attainment of its 25-34 year-old population.
But graduation rates, while important, speak little to the quality of education received. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reviews the extent to which students have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. In 2009, PISA focused on examining students’ reading ability, skills in maths and level in sciences, as research shows that these skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.
The average student in Germany scored 510 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, higher than the OECD average of 497. On average, girls outperformed boys by 6 points, less than the average OECD gap of 9 points.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In Germany, the average difference in results, between the 20% with the highest socio-economic background and the 20% with the lowest socio-economic background is 125 points, much higher than the OECD average of 99 points and one of the largest gaps amongst OECD countries. This suggests the school system in Germany tends to provide higher quality education for the better off.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Germany expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health. Having access to green spaces for example, is essential for quality of life. An unspoiled environment is a source of satisfaction, improves mental well-being, allows people to recover from the stress of everyday life and to perform physical activity. In Germany, 14% of people feel they lack access to green spaces or recreational areas, more than the 12 % average of OECD European countries.
Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of peoples’ lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short-term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long-term. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.
PM10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In Germany, PM10 levels are 15.8 micrograms per cubic meter, lower than the OECD average of 20.9 micrograms per cubic meter and lower than the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. In Germany, 93% of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is higher than the OECD average of 84% and suggests Germany has been successful in providing good quality water to its inhabitants.
More ResourcesOECD Environmental Outlook to 2030 How's Life?: Work and Life Balance
Governance – Germany expand
A cohesive society is one where citizens have a high degree of confidence in their governmental institutions and public administration. In Germany, 53% of people say they trust their political institutions, close to the OECD average of 56%. High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout in Germany was 71% of those registered. This figure is slightly lower than the OECD average of 72%.
Even if the right to vote is universal in all OECD countries, not everyone exercises this right. There is little difference in the voting rates of men and women in most OECD countries. This is the case in Germany, where the voter turnout of men and women is similar, at respectively 72% and 70%. While on average there are few differences between men and women concerning participation in elections, income can have a strong influence on voter turnout. In Germany, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 80%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 59%. This 21 percentage point difference is larger than the OECD average difference of 12 percentage points, and points to shortcomings in the political mobilisation of the worst-off.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Germany expand
Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades, thanks to improvements in living conditions, public health interventions and progress in medical care. Life expectancy at birth in Germany stands at almost 81 years, one year above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 83 years, compared with 78 for men, a difference close to the average OECD gender gap of six years with a life expectancy of 83 years for women and 77 years for men.
Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher healthcare spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyle, education and environmental factors). Total health spending accounts for 11.6% of GDP in Germany in 2010, more than 2 percentage points higher than the average of 9.5% in OECD countries. Only the United States (17.6%) and the Netherlands (12.0%) allocated more of their GDP to health than Germany. Germany also ranks above the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, at 4338 USD in 2010, compared with an OECD average of 3268 USD. Between 2000 and 2009, total health spending in Germanyincreased in real terms by 2.0% per year on average, a slower growth rate than the OECD average of 4.7%, but then continued to increase by 2.6% in 2010.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. Smoking rates among adults in Germany have decreased from 28.5% in 1978 to 21.9% today, a slightly higher rate than the OECD average of 21.1%. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In Germany, the obesity rate among adults based on self-reported height and weight is 14.7%, lower than the OECD average of 17.8%. Obesity’s growing prevalence foreshadows increases in the occurrence of health problems (such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma), and higher health care costs in the future.
When asked, “How is your health in general?” 64% of people in Germany reported to be in good health, less than the OECD average of 69%. Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use. Gender, age and social status may affect answers to this question. On average in OECD countries, men are more likely to report good health than women, with an average of 71% for men and 66% for women. In Germany, the average is 66% for men and 63% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 77% of the top 20% of the adult population in Germany rated their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 51% for the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Germany expand
Happiness or subjective well-being can be measured in terms of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Such measures, while subjective, are a useful complement to objective data to compare the quality of life across countries.
Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings. It captures a reflective assessment of which life circumstances and conditions are important for subjective well-being. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Germans gave it a 6.7 grade, slightly higher than the OECD average of 6.6.
There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. This is true in Germany, where both men and women gave their life a 6.7 grade. Education levels do, however, strongly influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education in Germany have a life satisfaction level of 6.1, this score reaches 7.3 for people with tertiary education.
Happiness, or subjective well-being, is also defined as the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings. In Germany, 81% of people reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is slightly higher than the OECD average, of 80%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Germany expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals, and largely reflects the risks of people being physically assaulted or falling victim to other types of crime. Across the OECD, assault rates have generally declined in the past five years. In Germany, 3.6% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, slightly less than the OECD average of 4.0%. There is a 1 percentage point difference between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 3.1% and 4.1%.
The homicide rate (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants) is a more reliable measure of a country’s safety level because, unlike other crimes, murders are usually always reported to the police. According to the latest OECD data, Germany’s homicide rate is 0.8, much lower than the OECD average of 2.2. In Germany, the homicide rate for men is 0.9 compared with 0.8 for women.
Fear of crime is another important indicator as it can constrain behaviour, restrict freedom and threaten the foundation of communities. Despite a general reduction in assault rates in the past five years, in many OECD countries feelings of security have declined. In Germany, 75% of people feel safe walking alone at night, higher than the OECD average of 67%. While men are at a greater risk of being victims of assaults and violent crimes, women report lower feelings of security than men. This has been explained by a greater fear of sexual attacks, the feeling they must also protect their children and their concern that they may be seen as partially responsible.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Work-Life Balance – Germany expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. Some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.
People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are more likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer in unpaid domestic work. Men in Germany spend 164 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 131 minutes but still less than German women who spend 269 minutes per day on average on domestic work.
Another important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. People in Germany work 1 413 hours a year, one of the lowest rates in the OECD and much less than the average of 1 776 hours. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large across OECD countries. In Germany, some 5% of employees work very long hours, less than the OECD average of 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Germany 8% of men work very long hours, compared with 2% for women.
The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as time with others or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. People in Germany devote 68% of their day, or 15.3 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socializing with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) – more than the OECD average of 14.9 hours. Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time. In Germany, both men and women devote approximately 15 hours per day to personal care and leisure.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Addressing gender inequalities can help families grow
In 2009, only three countries in the OECD had fewer babies per woman than Germany. With a fertility rate of 1.36, compared to 1.74 on average in the OECD, Germany’s fertility rate has been below 1.5 children per woman since 1983.
In Germany, women often postpone having children, and they are 30 years old on average when they have their first child (a record high they share with women in the United Kingdom). Postponement increases the likelihood of not having children at all and childlessness in Germany is high: over 40% of German women aged 25 to 49 live in childless households (compared with an OECD average of 34%). Otherwise families are small: around half (52%) of all German families with children are one-child families compared with 44% on average across the OECD.
Women with high levels of educational attainment in Germany are most likely to postpone childbirth. The career costs for German women having children can be substantial: German mothers with adult children have, on average, earned less than half of the total working-life earnings of otherwise similar female employees.
At 25% of median earnings, gender pay gaps are well above the OECD average (16%). Mothers spend twice as much time on care than men (over 20% against less than 10%). For German policy to reconcile work and family life for both parents a number of serious barriers to female labour market participation need to be addressed. Germany is the only OECD country where the tax/benefit system does not favour second earners in families with children.
Germany has taken steps to increase fathers’ participation in child raising which will help more women engage with the labour market. The OECD commends Germany for the recent parental leave reform which is among the most generous of OECD systems with leave entitlements for the exclusive use by fathers.