Most people only speculate behind closed doors as to what their colleagues will find out at the end of the month. The question “What do you earn?” Is usually avoided. But why is money such a taboo subject in Germany?
The fact is that envy and resentment prevail in many offices, at least subliminally. For the satisfaction of the employees, what the employees earn is less important than how much MORE than others they have.
Germans are naturally envious
There is hardly a topic that people in this country are so persistently silent about as about money. For 70 percent of Germans, discussions about finances are taboo, a recent Kantar survey on behalf of Postbank shows. So why is money a taboo subject?
In other countries it is quite normal to talk about wages and salaries. Everyone seems to be hiding it here, as if it were a secret to somehow get stamped because one earns so little or so much, depending on the situation. Read more on why Germans view money as such a taboo subject.
Accordingly, the majority in public avoid talking not only about debts (60 percent), investments (59 percent) and their income (44 percent), but also about their economic successes. According to the survey, 39 percent of those questioned describe themselves as financially successful, but prefer to keep it to themselves. Only just under six percent of German citizens (5.5 percent) who say they have a good hand in financial matters make no secret of this.
“Germany is one of the most jealous countries,” the Postbank quotes the psychologist and book author Dr. Wolfgang Krüger in a press release on the survey. “People are afraid of the envy of others when they are financially successful.” The reason for the “culture of envy” in Germany is a claim to equality and justice, which is much less pronounced in the USA, for example.
- What do the colleagues in the room next to you actually earn?
- Has your partner put something aside for retirement?
- How much do your friends still have in their account at the end of the month?
If we are honest, then we are interested in the finances of the people around us. A lot. How else are we supposed to find out how we are doing if we don’t have a benchmark? But are we really talking about it? Do you ask your co-workers, your partner and your friends about their incomes, their expenses and their savings – and in return tell them how things are going with your finances?
If you answer this question with a resolute “no”, then you are like the majority of people in Germany. According to a survey by Postbank, money is an absolute taboo topic for around two thirds of Germans.
So what does science say about this German condition?
Tests have shown that the thought of money generally negatively affects people’s behavior. This applies to three areas in particular.
- Egoism: People in whom the thought of money was unconsciously aroused were much less helpful than their peers.
- Impulsivity and Greed: Thoughts about money activate areas in the brain related to lack of impulse control.
- Risk appetite and pain tolerance: Test subjects who think of money report in experiments that they have less pain (with the same pain stimuli) and are less afraid of loss and risk.
Why aren’t Germans actually talking about money?
To bee honest, most Germans are financially illiterate. This is probably due to the poor financial education of most Germans. They are satisfied with the simple knowledge of what credit and debit are and what a current account is. Most will tune out if you ask what the difference between a central bank and a normal bank is or what an effective interest rate is. At the latest with current account and current account agreements, you are in the small group of those who are familiar with the basics.
Even with things that are not so commonplace, things are looking bleak: Most of them at least know that there are stocks. Know a little less the fund gives and then maybe bonds come into the knowledge portfolio of most people and then the small circle of those who know their way around better begins, they then still know ETF and P2P loans and then the elite start with their swaps, CFDs , Futures and co.
However, it is not only the individual learning history that is responsible for the fact that Germans of all people are so stubbornly silent about their finances: our cultural background also contributes to the fact that this peculiarity is so widespread.
“You have money – or you don’t
► In Germany, the topic of salaries is not only taboo in companies, but also often in the private sphere (family, friends). Why actually?
Because German children have always heard the sentence: ‘You don’t talk about money!’ Most children do not know what their parents deserve – let alone that they are allowed to tell the neighbors. There are two reasons not to talk about money in Germany: because you have it – or because you don’t have it. So there is great silence. As simple as that!
Why financial differences bother Germans so much
In Germany, equality is very important: Taxes and social contributions finance services that support weaker members of society. Ideally, the money should be redistributed by the state in such a way that everyone has the same resources and the same opportunities. At least that is the theory. In practice, the gap between rich and poor has been open since the beginning of the welfare state and has made no move to close on a sustainable basis.
Anyone who lives less affluent in a system that is actually supposed to ensure equal opportunities is upset. As a result, instead of indulging in prosperity, Germans tend to view financial gain as unfair and undeserved. Those who earn better tend to hide it in order not to be targeted – and those who earn less, reluctantly reveals himself to be a weaker member of society. The result? Tense silence on all sides.
Salary as a taboo subject – why it is problematic
In Germany, people don’t talk about salary – that seems to be an unspoken rule. This brings with it some problems: unequal pay for men and women as well as different pay in the same job with the same job profile. In addition, unclear salary structures induce employees to speculate about their colleagues’ salaries. In the worst case, this stirs up envy and causes a crack in the collegial relationship. This lack of transparency also means that employees do not dare to go into salary negotiations or to deny them with completely wrong ideas.
On the other hand, talking to colleagues about salary can trigger negative emotions. Either it turns out that you earn too much yourself or too little. And that’s both uncomfortable. Such salary discussions create hierarchical gaps that are often fraught with negative emotions.
How can you skillfully save yourself from the situation when you are asked about your salary but do not want to answer it?
It always depends on who asks! There is a great trick in the interview: just tell your current boss that you have contractually agreed not to talk about the salary – and that is what you want to adhere to. This proves exactly the loyalty that the new employer expects. You can say to colleagues: ‘Please don’t be angry, I only talk to my family about my salary.’ This is how you react confidently in such a situation.