What exactly are Germans most afraid of?

What exactly are Germans most afraid of?

Have you ever wondered what keeps the people of Germany up at night? What sends shivers down their spine? Well, wonder no more, as an annual study has recently revealed what Germans fear the most in 2021.

Financial worries at the top of Germany’s fear list

Despite coronavirus spreading like wildfire across the country over the last two years, with hospitals overrun, society shutting down, and the rise of the aggressive Delta variant, financial woes are more of a worry to Germans than health issues. This is according to an annual study, undertaken for one of Germany’s largest insurance companies, R+V Versicherung, which seeks to rank the things that the people across the country are most afraid of.

Perhaps it is understandable as to why Germans are more worried about wealth than health right now; Germany has shouldered large debts while attempting to fight coronavirus and, just last April, the federal government approved 240 billion euros' worth of loans for its COVID recovery fund, a record amount that has seen the country’s total debt soar to 2,2 trillion euros - the highest it’s ever been.

Since 2016, Germany has implemented a debt brake that prohibits federal and state governments from running a budget deficit higher than 0,35 percent of GDP. The political commitment to a balanced budget, without taking on any new debt, has come to be colloquially known as “black zero” and reassured the people of Germany that the country was financially robust. However, the rising national debt is evidentially playing on people’s minds.

The 10 things Germans are most afraid of

R+V’s annual study has been asking people about what they are most afraid of since 1992 and covers topics like politics, economics, the environment, health and family. The study helps the insurance company consider important aspects relating to risk assessment. This year, researchers surveyed 2.400 people over the age of 14 between the end of May and the beginning of July, 2021.

The following list ranks the 10 things Germans are most afraid of by the percentage of respondents, according to the R+V study:

  1. Tax hikes due to COVID - 53 percent
  2. Rising cost of living - 50 percent
  3. Tax hikes due to EU debt - 50 percent
  4. Refugees - 45 percent
  5. Pollutants in food - 43 percent
  6. Care for the elderly - 43 percent 
  7. Conflicts due to immigration - 42 percent 
  8. Natural disasters - 41 percent 
  9. Politicians overwhelmed - 41 percent 
  10. Deterioration of the economy - 40 percent

Germans fear tax hikes

The head of the R+V department responsible for the research, Brigitte Römstedt, explained why financial worries are so scary for Germans compared to health concerns arising from coronavirus. "The mountain of debt which has piled up at the federal, state, and local levels to deal with the coronavirus pandemic is causing Germans the greatest worry this year," she said. "People like to push thoughts of illness away, we all know that. But when it comes to money, then, also in my experience, the fears are always very large."

Financial woes dominate the top half of the list, with Germans equally as worried about the rising cost of living and tax hikes due to EU debt. The percentage of people worried about these issues has remained largely the same as in last year’s ranking. However, fears over the country’s economy have eased somewhat since last year, when business was threatened across several industries due to the lockdowns. Back then, 48 percent of people said they were worried about the economy, which landed in at fourth place on the list.

Refugees and climate change also a worry

The fear of the state being overburdened by refugees has once again landed in the top 10 list, despite there being no large influx of refugees in 2021. Last year, only 43 percent of people stated they were worried about this issue, placing it in eighth place.

The survey also showed that natural disasters and climate change are in the top 10 biggest worries for Germans, with only 41 percent of people expressing their fears. However, the survey took place before the floods in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate earlier this summer.

Römstedt has since explained that another survey was undertaken at the end of July to discern people’s fears for the environment. In this survey, 69 percent of respondents indicated their fears towards natural disasters and extreme weather, whilst 61 percent of respondents believed that climate change was having dramatic consequences for humanity. According to Römstedt, fear levels rose "because people were seeing disturbing pictures from the flood-affected areas every day [during the survey period]. I can well imagine that these fears will somewhat recede in the coming year, if we stop seeing these images so much."

Germans pragmatic with their fears

Over the years, the study has not pointed towards any specific fear; as it turns out, Germans are pretty pragmatic when it comes to their fears and worries. "In the many years I have managed the study, one thing has become clear to me: The oft-cited term "German angst" is fundamentally wrong. Germans are not fearful," Römstedt explained.

The studies have shown that Germans react to real threats. For example, fear of terrorism rose sharply after 9 / 11, fear of unemployment rose after mass layoffs and environmental fears increased after the floodings earlier this year. "As the threats subside, the fears also decrease. There is no one fear that is always on top; rather, it depends entirely on the current situation," Römstedt said.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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