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A Connecting or Dividing Force: How does Germany Deal with Diversity?

Regina Arant
Regina Arant, Postdoctoral Fellow, studies how citizens deal with increasing diversity in Germany (source: Jacobs University).


April 5, 2019

Acceptance of diversity is an important lever for promoting social cohesion in Germany. Although acceptance of diversity in Germany is generally high, it differs by region and with respect to particular social groups. In order to address this topic, a research team from Jacobs University Bremen presents the 2019 Diversity Barometer, commissioned by Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Germany is a diverse country. Not only immigration but also the increasing individualization of life styles shape our times. Rising diversity has been often discussed critically in the public discourse; sometimes it has even been regarded as a threat to social cohesion. What is actually the case around the acceptance of diversity in our country?

This question has been addressed in the representative study “Cohesion in Diversity: The 2019 Diversity Barometer of Robert Bosch Stiftung”. It draws on a telephone survey of 3,025 respondents aged 16 or above from all over Germany about their opinions and behavior vis-à-vis different social groups. Headed by Prof. Dr. Klaus Boehnke, the study was conducted at Jacobs University by Dr. Regina Arant, Dr. Georgi Dragolov, and Björn Gernig, with the assistance of Jonas A. Seppälä. The team of the Jacobs University was able to show that a majority of Germans perceives increasing diversity as enriching and that acceptance of diversity is on a relatively high level. Measured on a scale from 0 to 100 points, the average level of acceptance of diversity is currently at 68. At the same time, there are relatively strong west-east and north-south differences: Hamburg (72 points), Schleswig-Holstein (71), Bremen (71), Berlin (71) and Lower Saxony (70) – the three federal city-states and two northern German federal states – occupy the top five positions, followed by the remaining western and subsequently eastern federal states.

Aside from these regional differences, there are also notable differences with respect to the single aspects of diversity. The acceptance of people with disabilities (83 points), of people with a non-heterosexual orientation (77) and of people with a different ethnic background (73) is high. The majority of Germans is additionally open to people of considerably different age (‘the Youth‘/‚the Elderly‘), of different gender, and of lower socio-economic background (‘welfare recipients‘). Skepticism, however, prevails vis-à-vis religion and religious pluralism (44 points). A closer look at the results suggests that this skepticism is in no way solely attributable to critical attitudes towards ‘Islam’, which is typically in the focus of the public and media discourse. The low acceptance is rather a manifestation of widespread distancing from religious lifestyles and traditions.

In addition, the study shows that the German society encompasses four groups with different approaches to diversity. These are: the Cosmopolitans (about 23 % of the population), who exhibit high levels of acceptance of all diversity aspects; the Secular Liberals (about 40 %), who take a more skeptical view on religion than Cosmopolitans do; the Socially Conservative (about 15 %), who are somewhat critical towards diversity on the basis of gender roles, sexual orientation, religion, and socio-economic weakness; and the Skeptics (about 22 %), who reject all aspects of diversity with the exception of disability.

Furthermore, the Diversity Barometer of Robert Bosch Stiftung shows that acceptance of diversity – next to institutional and interpersonal trust – is a decisive lever for strengthening social cohesion. It is also for this reason that the Jacobs University team investigated factors that could positively influence the endorsement of pluralistic societies. A core finding of the Diversity Barometer is that acceptance of diversity is less of a matter of structural conditions than of citizens’ attitudes. In this regard, it is important to promote individuals’ capability for empathy and to reduce their anxieties towards different social groups. Encounters and getting to know each other are necessary for this purpose. According to the Diversity Barometer, the place for such encounters is the neighborhood, since there the willingness to interact with different others is highest.

Further information:

Please direct your questions to:
Klaus Boehnke | Professor of Social Science Methodology
k.boehnke [at] | phone: +49 421 200-3401

Georgi Dragolov | Postdoctoral Fellow | Psychology and Methods
G.Dragolov [at] | phone: +49 421 200-3409