Standing together in family and society

Standing together in family and society

A network of family and friends that you can rely on, help with everyday things and in times of need. A sense of community through clubs or voluntary work, along with values and standards that bind us. These were all important aspects for people in the national dialogue. They provide a foundation for co-existence in families and society.

A network of family and friends that you can rely on, help with everyday things and in times of need. A sense of community through clubs or voluntary work, along with values and standards that bind us. These were all important aspects for people in the national dialogue. They provide a foundation for co-existence in families and society.

Going through life without family and friends is like being a bird with no wings.
from the national dialogue event of UNESCO in Magdeburg on 4 May 2015

Marriage remains the most common form of cohabitation

If things are going well within the family, things will also go well elsewhere.
from the national dialogue by the Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie und Energie in Leverkusen on 22 June 2015

This quote is representative of the majority of people in Germany who describe their family or partner as being central to their lives. The national dialogue confirmed that family and society are very important to people in Germany. Our main source of wellbeing are the people we are living with.

Nowadays family life in Germany is very diverse. Alongside the traditional nuclear family, other familial and non-familial lifestyle are becoming more common.

The life and family forms indicator shows how living arrangements and family lives have changed in Germany over the years. It distinguishes between legal family statuses such as marriage and civil partnerships.

Family forms and life forms 1996 and 2017

Life and family forms have changed over recent years, and today more than one in three adults live alone. In 2017, this are close to 34 per cent. The number of non-marital partnerships has also increased. The same holds true for stable same-sex relationships.

However, more than half of all people in Germany still live with their husband or wife. In 2017, 56 of 100 persons live in a marriage. In 1996, it were 66 of 100 persons.1

Most children still grow up with married parents. However, the proportion has gone down by ten per cent over the last 22 years. The number of single parents is continuing to increase, with one in five children in Germany now being brought up by one parent.

It is worth noting that there are regional differences. In the less densely populated states of eastern Germany, so-called Flächenstaaten fewer children grow up with married parents (about 56 per cent) than in similar states in western Germany (about 76 per cent). In the east German Flächenstaaten the share of children brought up by a single parent is significantly higher (around 24 per cent) than in the west German Flächenstaaten with less close to 18 per cent. In the city states, Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg, the share is highest with 26 per cent of the children being brought up by a single parent.

Proportion of unmarried children within their parents’ household by family form 1996 and 2017

It is still the case that most single parents are female − In nine out of ten families the single-parent is a mother, which corresponds to 1.35 million women million are women, corresponding to 90% of all single parents. Children brought up in single-parent households have one particular characteristic: they face a higher poverty risk.

What Does the Government Do?

Now and in the future, the German federal government aims to support people's family preferences stable relationships through a good basic framework.

Friends and helpers in life

Friends and acquaintances can help people cushion many of life’s hardships and in doing so make a significant contribution to a good life.
from an online response submitted on 14 September 2015

Besides close family, a stable and social network is highly important. Participants in the national dialogue said it was important to be able to talk to friends, neighbours and relatives. They are particularly valuable when people need help outside of their close family.

The help from others indicator describes whether a person is in a position to ask friends, neighbours or relatives for help. Individual social ties are specifically measured via the proportion of people who say they are able to ask other people for help.

The good news is 97 of 100 people in Germany feel they have someone to turn to if they need help.2

Persons stating that they can expect help from others 2015

The picture is generally similar for men and women and across age groups, but there are differences when it comes to people's employment status. It is much harder for unemployed people to find friends, neighbours and relatives to help them. Only 86 out of 100 people report that they have someone to turn to if the need help.

Compared to other European countries Germany is about three percentage points above average.

In future, welfare structures will rely on the fact that people turn to their family and immediate circle of friends first when they need help. These networks may become weaker in a society that is aging and becoming more mobile, so state institutions have to react accordingly.

What Does the Government Do?

The federal government is supporting states and municipalities with its "Social City" (Soziale Stadt) joint programme. Under the roof of about 540 multigenerational housing projects younger and older generations come together and and connect for more social cohesion. The "Our Village has a Future" (Unser Dorf hat Zukunft) competition recognises the work of volunteers in creating a liveable future in the rural areas.

Volunteering more important than ever

Many people are prepared to do more than simply help in informal and spontaneous ways. They carry out voluntary work and play an active role in society. "Many people would like to volunteer but do not have the time." These were the words of a participant at the national dialogue event of the Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester in Mannheim on 30 June 2015, and they reflected the thoughts of many people. People who did voluntary work alongside their job felt they should receive more recognition from politicians and society.

Volunteer work is a priority to me. I want to do something useful for others, even in my free time.
from an online response submitted on 14 July 2015

The indicator civic engagement measures how many people are engaged in volunteering in Germany, and for how many hours. The data is based on the German Survey on Volunteering (Freiwilligensurvey). This is the most comprehensive survey of volunteering in Germany. It has been carried out four times, most recently in 2014. The next wave of data for the Survey of Volunteering is currently collected (2019). First results can be expected in fall 2020.

Volonteers in total and by age group

Whether it is for their church, workers' welfare organisation, a women's café, the parents association or as a youth trainer in the local sports club – around 31 million people are having an impact on life in our community by doing voluntary work. In 2014, almost 44% of the resident population above the age of 14 were involved in volunteering.

That is almost 10 per cent more than at the turn of the millennium. Volunteering has increased across all age groups, but there has been a particular increase among young people aged 14 to 29, and in the oldest age group of 65 and above. The number of volunteers in the older age group is below average because it falls dramatically after the age of 75.

Do you volunteer? Compare yourself with other people who volunteer in Germany.

How much time do you spend each month on voluntary work?

In studies such as the German Survey on Volunteering carried out by the German Centre of Gerontology, selected people3 were asked about their civic engagement.

The data shows how many minutes people spend each month on voluntary work, such as clubs, church or sports. 100 points are allocated from the lowest to the highest amount of time spent. Each point represents 1 per cent of volunteers in Germany and shows how many minutes they spend each month on voluntary activities.

Compare your voluntary activities with those of other people in Germany. The black circle represents your level of engagement. You can see the proportion of people who volunteer more or fewer minutes in a month.

Source: Freiwilligensurvey 2014.
Volonteers by type of migration background 2014

To date, migrants volunteer much less than people without migration background. Civic engagement is closely linked to two factors: their migration background and nationality.

For people with a migration background who were born in Germany and have German nationality the proportion of people who volunteer is 43.2%, almost as high as for people without migration background.

In schools and kindergartens and in the area of church and religion, men and women with migration background are involved relatively frequently in voluntary work.

The civic engagement of people with migration background can be used as an indicator for integration into society.

Encouraging volunteering is a key task for the community. The federal government, federal states, municipalities, associations and clubs have to support civic engagement.

What Does the Government Do?

The German Foundation for Commitment and Volunteering will support civic commitment and voluntary work especially in structurally weak and rural regions. With the German Engagement Award (Deutscher Engagementpreis), the federal government honours those who dedicate time to volunteering and to bettering their communities. More and more people are also volunteering on international programmes such as worldwards (weltwärts) and culture-wide (kulturweit).

Sport – the heart of club life in Germany

Sport is the heart of Germany's unique club life. Many people know that regular exercise improves their wellbeing and is an important part of healthy aging. Sport also brings people together and transmits values such as fairness and tolerance. Sport is a driver of inclusion and encourages integration.

Sport brings together many different people, regardless of where they come from.
from the national dialogue event of the Forum Menschenrechte in Herne on 20 May 2015

The indicator membership in sports clubs shows how many people in Germany are active in sports clubs. It measures the proportion of people who are registered as members of at least one sports club belonging to one of the 16 state athletic federations.

Germany's 90,000 sports clubs have almost 24 million members. Children and teenagers are particularly active in clubs; older people a little less so.

Members of sports clubs by age group and region 2018

There are some striking regional differences: in the federal states of eastern Germany only 16 in 100 people are members of a sports club, whereas in western Germany this holds true for 31 in 100 people . There are historical reasons for this: when the Berlin Wall came down many company sports clubs were dissolved. It took time for these regions to gradually build up new clubs.

There is also a positive trend for clubs in general – in Germany there are more than 600,000 different clubs and associations by the end of 2017. They include music and youth clubs, animal protection and art associations, cooking and computer clubs. Many people voluntarily take on duties in clubs in order to help achieve common goals and interests, or at least they join as members.

Disabled sports associations in Germany bring together around 560,000 sportspeople in 2018. Many of them wish they received more recognition and were more involved with able-bodied sportspeople.

Inclusive sport is still very much in its infancy in Germany – but sport for people with disabilities is even more important.
from the national dialogue event of the wheelchair basketball team at USC Munich in Munich on 3 October 2015

Sports clubs make a major contribution to the co-existence of people with and without migration background. Differences in culture and religion can be overcome by playing sport together and social cohesion can be strengthened.

The federally funded programme Integration through Sport confirms the considerable potential sport has for integration and inclusion. Of the 750 clubs who took part in the programme throughout Germany in 2014, more than half of their members had a migration background.

What Does the Government Do?

With the support of the federal government, the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) has been running its Integration through Sport (Integration durch Sport) programme for more than 30 years. The government doubled its budget to more than 11 million euros in 2016. Since then, a total of 11.4 million euros are available per year.


  1. 1

    The 2017 statistics distinguished between individuals who are living "with their spouse" and those who are living in "same-sex partnerships even though the Marriage Opening Act (Eheöffnungsgesetz) for same-sex partnerships came into force on 1 October 2017.


  2. 2

    In the EU-SILC survey the number of answer categories has changed. In 2015, the respondents had the choice between the categories "yes" and "no". Compared to previous waves, the category "don't know" was dropped from the questionnaire.


  3. 3

    The statistics distinguish between the general population and the sample. When applied to Germany's resident population, the general population includes everyone who lives in Germany on a particular reporting date. A sample is when certain people are selected from the general population, for example for the purposes of the survey. This selection process is random, so it is not determined in advance who will take part in the survey. A basic law of statistics states that conclusions about the general population can be drawn based on an adequately large sample.


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