[Translate to English:] Menschenmenge

Social cohesion has declined significantly in the pandemic

Our current study shows that social cohesion in Baden-Württemberg has become significantly weaker since 2019. Younger respondents in particular have suffered from the pandemic. The results also allow conclusions to be drawn about a nationwide development.


Foto Kai Unzicker
Dr. Kai Unzicker
Senior Project Manager

Study examines social cohesion in Baden-Württemberg

The impact of the pandemic on social cohesion is clear to see. In 2019, more than 90 percent of respondents said they had friends whose help they could count on at any time. Currently, only 83 percent say this. Now almost 25 percent of respondents also believe they can no longer rely on anyone. Before the pandemic, just 9 percent said this. Trust in social institutions has also weakened: The proportion of those who distrust the police and the courts has increased by around 10 percentage points in each case.

These are the results of our current study "Social Cohesion in Baden-Württemberg 2022". For this study, we compared the results of previous surveys from 2017 and 2019 with current figures from the turn of 2021/2022. This showed that there had been a significant decline in eight of the nine dimensions surveyed and in all regions of the state between 2019 and 2021/2022. Overall, our index for cohesion, which can take on values from 0 to 100, has fallen significantly from 64 to 54 points over the past two years.

This weakening of cohesion is also remarkable because in all our previous studies, the values either remained stable or even tended to increase. We have never seen such a decline as now in the pandemic.

Kai Unzicker, Social cohesion expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung

Pandemic with strong impact on society

Two-thirds of our respondents report in the survey that they perceive increased conflict among the population. Around 60 percent believe that the pandemic is weakening social cohesion.

This is not surprising, either, because the months of the crisis, in addition to the direct health consequences of the Corona pandemic, were also stressful beyond that: around 30 percent say they have suffered constantly or frequently from exhaustion and fatigue since the outbreak of the pandemic, 20 percent report difficulty concentrating, and over two-thirds of respondents say they feel anxious and nervous at least occasionally.

Also revealed in the context of the pandemic was the great potential for conspiracy beliefs among the population; for example, one-third of respondents believe that secret organizations exert great influence on political decisions in the background.

For the first time, only a minority still rates local cohesion as good

All this also has an impact on the perception of one's own local area. Earlier studies regularly showed that while a large majority considered overall social cohesion to be at risk, at the same time the majority of respondents considered cohesion in their own neighborhood to be good or very good.

In the current study, for the first time a majority also assesses cohesion in one's own neighborhood skeptically. Whereas in 2019 80 percent of respondents thought that cohesion in their own neighborhood was good or even very good, in the latest survey only 47 percent said this.

In the long series of crises that society has experienced in recent years, the pandemic is an exception insofar as it is the first crisis to have tangible consequences for almost all people across the board in their own everyday lives. This is probably also the reason for the pessimistic view of local cohesion in our survey.

Kai Unzicker, Experte für gesellschaftlichen Zusammenhalt der Bertelsmann Stiftung

Younger respondents significantly more burdened by the pandemic

In our study, we also focused on the situation of younger people. This showed that younger respondents were more stressed during the months of the pandemic. For example, 47 percent of those aged between 16 and 24, but only 29 percent of older respondents, say they have often or even always felt tired and exhausted since the start of the pandemic. Fifty-eight percent of younger respondents also say they have suffered from the Corona pandemic measures, while only 37 percent of older respondents say this.

More than 40 percent of all respondents, regardless of their specific place of residence, believe that during the pandemic the situation for young people in their own neighborhoods became worse. In general, respondents rate the situation for young people in large cities more critically than in small towns or rural regions. Whereby both recreational and support services are considered better in larger localities than in smaller communities.

Results from Baden-Württemberg provide evidence for situation in Germany

The survey presented here took place exclusively in Baden-Württemberg. Nonetheless, we assume that it is possible to derive insights for developments throughout Germany from the  results.

This is supported, among other things, by the results of a Germany-wide survey that was published in mid-March, but which only examined partial aspects of cohesion. There, similar trends were found for the whole of Germany, as have now also been identified in Baden-Württemberg. It can therefore be assumed that, despite all the regional differences and peculiarities, the developments in Baden-Württemberg represent a general trend rather than being specific to the state. 

More dialogue and meeting places lead to more cohesion

In our study, we have formulated numerous recommendations on how to strengthen cohesion more generally, but also on how policymakers and society can respond to weakened cohesion now in the aftermath of the pandemic and in the face of new crises. 

For example, we propose a whole range of targeted measures for those population groups that experience weaker cohesion, such as reducing disadvantages for women or providing more opportunities for people with an immigrant background to participate.

We also recommend dialogue formats and meeting places to rebuild the interpersonal trust that has been lost, as well as the promotion of civil society organizations to achieve a fresh start for social life in the communities as quickly as possible.