Jugendliche, die sich an den Händen halten.

Social cohesion in Baden-Württemberg: strong and stable – but not for everyone

More than 80 percent of people in Baden-Württemberg perceive social cohesion in their community to be either good or very good. A representative survey of 1,398 people shows that cohesion in the federal state remained stable in the period between 2017 and 2019. For some groups in society, however, life circumstances remain challenging.


Our current study confirms that social cohesion in Baden-Württemberg has remained stable at a high level since 2017. Figures for seven of the nine dimensions assessed by the Social Cohesion Radar did not change over this period. Slight increases were even recorded in the areas of “acceptance of diversity” and “identification with the community.” In addition, inter-regional differences within Baden-Württemberg have decreased.

The foundation of community has proven to be solid.

According to Dr. Kai Unzicker, social cohesion expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Growing openness to diversity

An increased openness to diversity is evident, for example, in attitudes toward different sexual orientations: while in 2017, 14 percent of respondents reported that they would prefer not to have homosexuals as neighbors, in 2019, this number fell to five percent. Attitudes toward people of different religious backgrounds and immigrants, however, remain unchanged. This is notable given the tendency to expect a growing aversion to diversity as a result of the intensified public debate on these issues in recent years.

People are turning to their local communities

One striking feature is that the general mood remains gloomy despite the broader sense of cohesion reported by Baden-Württemberg citizens with regard to the own federal state. Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed in Baden-Württemberg currently perceive cohesion in Germany to be somewhat at risk. This figure is three percentage points above that recorded in 2017. This less-than-rosy perception of cohesion is accompanied by a notable turn among respondents to their local communities.

The extent to which citizens of Baden-Württemberg identify with their region as well as their specific neighborhoods and places of residence has increased in recent years. For example, whereas in 2017, 76 percent of those surveyed stated that they felt relatively or very connected to their place of residence, that figure rose recently to 81 percent. This also fits in with the fact that the percentage of those who report strong levels of cohesion in their residential area rose from 70 to 81 percent.

These findings are not a contradiction: In times of deep concern about social cohesion, many people focus more closely on their local community.

Stephan Vopel, social cohesion expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Society less inclusive for at-risk groups

Not all population groups profit to an equal extent from strong social cohesion. On closer inspection, we see certain at-risk groups that face barriers to participation. Among the groups reporting comparatively low perceptions of cohesion are the chronically ill, people with migration backgrounds, low-income individuals, single parents and women. The study shows women are more likely to view certain aspects more critically and express a sense of their own disadvantage in society. Among other things, women experience social conditions as significantly more unfair than men and/or they feel less safe when traveling alone.  “Considering these findings, it is not surprising that 74 percent of the women we surveyed said that the measures currently in place to battle gender discrimination are insufficient,” notes Kai Unzicker, director of the study.

Volunteer work is a key pillar of cohesion

Volunteer work is a key component of social cohesion. Forty-three percent of those surveyed stated that they engage in volunteer work. The vast majority of them, 79 percent, feel sufficiently appreciated for their engagement. However, roughly half of them would like more support from political and administrative bodies. For example, they would like access to financial support for professional training opportunities and/or rooms and materials to be used for their activities. The different opportunities for participation are also evident in the realm of volunteer work. While roughly 63 percent of the wealthiest individuals in the population are active in an association, this number drops to only 37 percent among the group of people with the lowest income. In rural areas, only 45 percent of respondents reported that they engage in voluntary work rarely or never; in metropolitan areas, this figure is at 60 percent.

Social policy can nurture cohesion

Examining the extent to which the quality of measures undertaken in specific sociopolitical action areas affect cohesion, the study shows that government policies can have an impact in this regard. The study focused on topics relating to volunteer work, family, senior citizens, long-term care, women, health, poverty and integration. Its findings reveal that cohesion is stronger in those regions where the population is aware of policy measures and in agreement with them. Three action areas were shown to have the strongest influence: support for families, poverty prevention and the integration of refugees.

In other words, if the goal is to maintain stability in social cohesion or even strengthen it in the future, we need to apply targeted and effective measures that improve the opportunities for participation available to at-risk groups while increasing efforts to support families, lower-income individuals and refugees.

Social cohesion is strengthened by smart social policy that is effective in fighting social segregation as it fosters equal opportunities and social inclusion for different social groups.

Dr. Kai Unzicker, Bertelsmann Stiftung