It’s Not About East and West, It’s About Top and Bottom

New study shows the influence of income and education on everyday experiences of social appreciation and disrespect in Germany. Illustration by Lucy Topp

Overall, 93 percent of the German populace feels valued in their everyday lives, whereas far fewer – but still one out two (52 percent) – feel disrespected. Most Germans experience high levels of appreciation overall, especially in private contexts such as among family or friends. Disrespect, however, is most commonly experienced in the workplace. East and West Germans feel equally appreciated in their everyday lives – yet also equally disrespected. Rather, how much appreciation and disrespect a person experiences strongly depends on levels of income, education, and the employment status.

These are the results of a study conducted by a team of sociologists at the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg (OvGU) in Germany. The study is based on the question module “Status Confidence and Anxiety” which was developed for the Innovation Sample of the German Socio-Economic Panel, a long-standing representative survey in Germany. Building on these data, sociologists Prof. Jan Delhey, Dr. Christian Schneickert, and Leonie Steckermeier (MA) investigate who experiences social appreciation and disrespect in Germany, in which contexts and why. According to Prof. Delhey, the study reveals quite surprising results.

Regarding both, experiences of appreciation and disrespect in daily life, individuals’ position on the socio-economic ladder makes a huge difference: the higher a person’s income and level of education, the more they feel recognized, and the less disrespected. “An individual’s employment status is also crucial.” Prof. Jan Delhey continues, “Being unemployed goes hand in hand with a significantly higher risk of experiencing less social recognition and more disrespect.” In contrast, a person’s regional or ethnic background prove negligible: The study does not find significant differences between East and West Germans, nor between migrants and non-migrants

“Anyone interested in the unequal distribution of social recognition and disrespect in everyday-life in Germany,” Dr. Christian Schneickert concludes, “should devote attention to socio-economic inequalityies rather than to socio-cultural diversity.”

In addition, the researchers investigated the consequences of these everyday-life experiences for individuals’ evaluations of their own lives and their satisfaction with democracy: The more people feel socially appreciated, the more satisfied they are with their lives as well as with democracy.

The study was carried out as part of the project “Recognition, Depreciation and Status Seeking” at the Chair for Macrosociology at the OVGU and was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

The empirical analysis was based on survey data from a representative sample of the German population covering 3,580 respondents. The data were collected in 2016 as part of the Innovation Sample of the German Socio-Economic Panel. The data provide detailed insights into the distribution and significance of feelings of appreciation and disrespect.

The study has been published in the prestigious German social science journal Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie (KZfSS).

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