Press release

Elite: Demographic change is the biggest challenge

WZB Study of Elite: Executive managers perceive themselves as responsible shapers and tend to see ambition in others

Demographic change is viewed as the biggest challenge for society by 60 percent of German leaders. In second place are the economic, financial and government crises (48 percent). Only 28 percent consider overcoming social inequality and safeguarding social cohesion as the most important problem, as shown by results of a survey conducted among 354 top-level leaders from the fields of politics, administration, economics, law, military, churches and media by a WZB research team. It is the first comprehensive census among executives in Germany since 1995.

Only 19 percent of those interviewed consider education and science a problem. Sixty percent lean towards the statement that success in Germany depends on education and abilities, rather than social status. Views are divided on whether social differences develop and are related to one’s family’s social status.

The survey focused on the elite’s values and attitudes. Almost everyone interviewed stated the desire to participate in shaping society (92 percent) as a motivation for conducting his or her respective positions. Two-thirds name social responsibility as his or her most important personal driving force. Ambition plays a central role for 31 percent of males and 23 percent of females interviewed.

Whereas the positive connotation of motives like “determination” and “responsibility” are often mentioned as their own values, top-level leaders consider their peers less oriented toward the common welfare. Only 22 percent of those interviewed consider the motive “taking responsibility” to be the most or second to most important motive of their peers.

The survey also shows differences between sectors in society. The political and administrative elite is highly focused on contact within their own environment. Those in economy are, according to their own statements, oriented rather toward the outside and especially foster contact with the sphere of federal politics. There is broad agreement among Germany's elite on questions of democracy: 90 percent of people interviewed would prefer not to allow direct participation of citizens in making very important laws.

The survey, which was held between October 2011 and October 2012, offers insight into the attitudes of the elite on other social topics like charity, development aid, satisfaction with institutions and the integration of migrants.

A summary of the study “Decision makers in Germany: Values and Attitudes” can be found in this brochure. Our Discussion Paper provides additional information on how the survey was designed.

Elisabeth Bunselmeyer and Marc Holland-Cunz summarized important results in an article for the upcoming issue of the quarterly journal WZB-Mitteilungen.

Dr. Paul Stoop
Referat Information und Kommunikation
fon: 030 254 915 13
paul.stoop [at]