Social inequality, digitization, globalization and demographic change – these megatrends determine our everyday life as well as our economic, political and cultural life. At the Bertelsmann Stiftung, we try to understand these trends with all of their impacts, interdependencies and challenges.

Demographic Change

Ever older and more diverse, but not necessarily fewer

Photography: Getty Images/Cultura RF/Ian Nolan

Demographic change has taken place differently in Germany than many people believed it would. The decline in the population has been indefinitely postponed due to increased immigration. On the other hand, society generally continues to age as it has in the past. It is also becoming more diverse, thanks to greater variation in the backgrounds, family structures and lifestyles of its members.

This is impacting almost all policy areas, including employment, social security, education, health care, nursing care, families and seniors. Moreover, Germany has considerable regional differences which are confronting communities in particular with diverse challenges. Customized solutions must thus be developed for each of the relevant issues.


The world is online

Photography: iStockphoto/dem10

These days, 80 percent of the people living in OECD member states use the Internet. Among 16 to 24-year-olds, the figure is 95 percent. Digitization is affecting all areas of life. It also offers many opportunities: Democracy is becoming more transparent, political participation easier. It is making the economy more productive, and helping people achieve work-life balance. Education and health care are changing rapidly and meeting individual needs more than in the past. Yet digitization is also giving rise to major challenges. Can the flood of information be controlled? How can we ensure that those who have not transitioned to the digital world are still able to participate? Do algorithms and big data need taming? Those are some of the questions that will determine our future.

Social Inequality

Poverty’s vicious circle

Photography: plainpicture/Lubitz + Dorner

The gap between rich and poor is growing. In addition, escaping poverty has become more difficult in Germany in recent years. This is particularly problematic since people living in poverty often find themselves stuck in a downward spiral: They have less to invest in their health and education and less access to political processes and cultural offerings. Their employment opportunities are also more limited.

This vicious circle often persists in subsequent generations, since children from socially disadvantaged families have fewer educational opportunities. In addition, they often have health issues and experience social and cultural exclusion. Social inequality thus becomes entrenched, depriving children of their chance to get an education and participate.


The world is shrinking

Photography: plainpicture/Lubitz + Dorner

Countries and people are connected like never before. The distances between them are shrinking. The growing interdependence in the political, business, social and cultural spheres has a name: globalization, a trend that is resulting in economic, demographic and political shifts. Technological advances and the international division of labor have produced greater global economic growth and made it possible for developing countries to catch up, although absolute differences between industrial nations and the rest of the world have increased.

What can we do in response? How can business activities be made more sustainable? And how can we reduce the potential for conflict that results from social, cultural and religious diversity, and make better use of diversity’s opportunities instead?

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