“40 percent of Germans have no goals”

Insurance & understanding, 13.04.2018

Early retirement, strong government, health traffic light. The ERGO Risk Report shows that Germans’ risk competence and sense of personal responsibility are lagging. Gerd Gigerenzer, Max Planck Professor and scientific pioneer of the report talks about the findings here.

Professor Gerd Gigerenzer          Photo: © David Ausserhofer

Mr Gigerenzer, the ERGO Risk Report shows how Germans deal with the subject of risk – such as regards health, security and money. What do you think are the study’s most important findings?

Gigerenzer: It's apparent that Germans are still very strongly reliant on the government when it comes their hopes and objectives. An example: Hardly anyone is yet ready to take the step towards independence. Instead, most of those surveyed look forward to an early retirement – also in hopes of an adequate, government-funded pension. A further important finding is the general sense of a lack of purpose or prospects for the future: 40 percent of Germans have no goals

...how surprised are you by this? Or does nothing surprise you anymore?

Gigerenzer: Even after decades of risk research, I still enjoy being pleasantly surprised from time to time. That's what makes my work so exciting. It is however very apparent that so many Germans have no goals at all – that goes not only for older people but has already long been the case for young people. Their goals fade away already relatively early on: It starts in the 30s to 40s.

What does the risk report tell us about what Germans hope from the strong government you favour so much?

Gigerenzer: There are three very clear messages to politicians here. Firstly: 93 percent of those surveyed by no means want the abolition of cash currency – a decisive “no” to any such political notions. Secondly: 68 percent are calling for a “health traffic light” – in other words, the labelling on food product packaging indicating their sugar, salt and fat content. Thirdly: Only ten percent want to end up in a nursing home in their old age – every government should then consider that most Germans would much rather prefer to spend their last years at home with their family or in residential communities with friends. You could say: The people have spoken!

The study also shows that Germans simply lack the sufficient risk competence. Such as with the risk of smoking or their old-age provision requirements. Why is it so hard to recognise risks, to properly evaluate them and then to act autonomously?

Gigerenzer: Quite simply because most people have never learned to do so. No one teaches us risk competence in school. We don't acquire any knowledge about how to properly read statistics, to expose disinformation or to learn from our own – often overblown fears.  Realistically estimating risks also includes the ability to find reliable sources on the internet. And then to make the right decision independently.

What can we do here – each individual, ERGO as a big insurance company and you as the risk expert?

Gigerenzer: We at the Harding Centre for Risk Competence work in many small and big projects on closing the discrepancy between risk assessment and reality. We provide comprehensible information, reliable statistics and correct statistical errors. For this purpose we publish our “unstatistic of the month”. One study, for example, claimed that every fourth person dies from environmental pollution. That's a double oxymoron: The statement “every fourth person” should of course refer to the number of deceased persons and not to the entire world population; moreover, this statistic includes not only victims of environmental pollution but also the victims of traffic accidents, crimes of violence and household accidents. Everyone who reads our “unstatistic” will learn a new life lesson: What can I do to subdue my fears and what benefits will this bring me? The bottom line: Everyone can reap the benefits of increasing their risk competence.

What can ERGO do to contribute?

Gigerenzer: ERGO now has the task of making these risk reports available to people. Through media, through their own publications and through their intermediaries. Also – and in conjunction with this study – ERGO could contribute by providing more reliable information on the internet. For example, what if ERGO published statistics from the area of “health” there – with lots of exciting contents from reliable sources?

That's an idea we’d be glad to pass on! Apropos: What's the next step with regard to the risk report?

Gigerenzer: This study should, as is planned, come out every two years. Because the risk report shows that the state of the knowledge concerning risk is not where you would expect it to be in the 21st century. We live in a society in which so much is invested in new technologies yet so little in the competence of people. We aim to close this discrepancy once and for all. It's the only way we can help people sensibly cope with the challenges of Digitalisation and Co.

Further information

Interview: Uli Dönch

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