Social Trends in Germany 1914

HideShow resource information

Social trends in Germany

  • In Germany, the population rose by 60% from 1871 to 1914, making it 68 million. 
  • By 1911, there were more children who reached their teenage years than before. 
  • 80% of the population wee the age of 45 or younger, which helps to explain the mobile and dynamic nature of Wilhelmine society.
  • However, this dynamism created new divisions and reinfprced old divisions. 
1 of 17

Longer Lives

More German people were living longer than before. This was because:

  • Infant mortality fell from around 25% in the 1870s to 15% by 1912. 
  • This was due to improvements in hygiene and medical care.
  • In 1874, compulsory immunisation against smallpox had been introduced.
  • In the 1890s, there was a diptheria serum available which cut the number who died of the disease from 1/2 to 1/6.
  • The impact of medical research. 
  • The number of hospital sharply increased.
  • More doctors and nurses.
  • There were also improvements in living standards.
  • All of these ensured that those who survived childhood, lived longer.
  • As a result, the life expectancy increased:
    • A man born in the 1870s would expect to live to the age of 36 and a woman to 38.
    • However, men born in the first decade of the 20th Century could expect to live to 45 and women 45.
2 of 17

An Urban Society

There was increase in the number of German people who moved to towns:

  • 2/3 of the German population lived in towns by 1910.
  • In the 48 big cities, there were more than 1/5 of people living there, exceeding 100,000.
  • Berlin had more than 2 million people by 1907, in which 60% were born out of the city.
  • Those who lived in suburbs would expect to eventually be incorporated in the formal city limits.
  • Hamburg had a million people by 1914.
  • Other cities, such as Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig, Munich and Breslau had more than a 500,000 people.
  • Many moved to towns because of the better standard of living. 
  • However, in the late 19th Century Germans changed from being a net exporter to a net importer of people.
  • This was because the largest single group of immigrants were made up of the Poles.
  • Also, there were a significant number of Italians, Dutch and non- Polish Slavs.
3 of 17

Rural Soceity

Germans who worked on the land, found the urban life more attractive because:

  • Agriculture workers worked very long hours, such as a 100 hour week, for low wages, who were employed by estate and large farm owners. 
  • Farm work was physically hard, especially during haymaking and harvesting because mechanisation came slowly to many area.
  • There labour shortages as a result of the increasing numbers of Germans moving from the land to the city.
  • This led to high levels of family self- exploitation and extensive child labour.
  • However, there were still more than 7 million agriculture workers (many on short term contracts) in 1907, despite the harsh conditions. 
4 of 17

Rural Society Part 2

Rural dwellers were often isolated from the rest of society because:

  • Around 1/3 of the population had no access to the railways.
  • Rural dwellers were also disadvantaged in regards to education provision and medical care.
  • A rural child was more likely to die before the age of one, than an urban child by the early 20th Century.
  • In comparison with the modern urban lifestyle, the countryside were still very old fashioned. 
  • A source of rural pessimism was the constant flow of people from the countryside, moving to towns.
  • Many farmers and agricultural workers felt outcasted by the rest of Germany and exploited by the growing cities. 


  • Prices in agriculture rose at the end of the 19th Century.
  • By the 20th Century, many rural inhabitants became better dressed and housed. 
  • There was a decrease in farm houses where animals and people who lived together. 
  • Many peasants who owned 100-300 acres of land became successful commercial farmers. 
5 of 17

The Standard of living

By 1914, the standard of living increased because:

  • There was an increase by over 30% of real wages, between 1885 and 1913, in Germany.
    • Whereas, in Britain real wages decreased in the decade before 1914.
  • The proportion of Prussian taxpayers assessed on incomes of under 900 marks a year, fel from 75 to 52% of the total, between 1896 and 1912.
  • Those who were earning between 900 and 3000 marks doubled from 22% to 43%.
  • Workers now had more lesiure time and money to spend.
  • This was because of the decrease in working hours in mining and industry by 1/3 in 1914.
  • The typical working day in the non-agricultural sector was 9 and a half hours. 


  • The mass of the German population remained agricultural and industrial workers by 1914.
  • Urban living and working conditions remained dismally small because:
    • 1/3 of the population lived at or below the poverty line.
    • There was a lack of urban housing and a rising problem of homelessness. (200,000 men were accommodated a year, between 1900 and 1914, by the Berlin Homeless Shelter Association.)
6 of 17

The Working Class

The working class was far from united because:

  • Men and women were divided as they rarely did the same work, and if they worked together, women would usually have subordinate 'unskilled' tasks.
  • There were divides in ethnicity workers, where Polish and Italian migrants created their own subculture. 
  • The division between Catholics and Protestants remained large.
  • Skilled workers considered themselves as superior to unskilled workers. 
7 of 17

The Working Class Part 2

Nevertheless many women and men were bound together by common experiences, problems and attitudes such as:

  • Workers were more often ill, died younger and were smaller in physique than those who were better off in life.
  • There was overcrowded housing and spent the majority of their wage on food,
  • They were dependent on the women's and children's earnings.
  • 1/3 of the workforce experience some time of unemployment in a year:
    • Due to employer's lockouts, where employees were prevented from working, by shutting their factories.
    • By 1910, there were almost 250,000 victims of almost 1000 lockouts.
    • There was an increase in strikes, at an average of 200,000 workers striking every year between 1905 and 1913. 
8 of 17

Labour Movements

Labour movements were encouraged by the increase in bad conditions:

  • By 1913, members of trade unions increased to 3 million.
  • The SPD became the largest Socialist party in the world because it had almost a million members.
  • The labour movements, who insisted on the dignity and worth of their members, provided workers a sense of self respect and common identity.
  • They offered hope for a better world in the future and sustained workers through a host of worker organisations such as:
    • Unions
    • Co-operatives.
    • Choral societies.
    • Drama groups.
    • Lended libraries, educational courses and clubs in cycling and gymnastics.
  • They also provided working men opportunities to exercise responsibility
9 of 17

Social Mobility

There were material and mental barriers to upward mobility:

  • Higher education was expensive: it was paid for by the state until a student reached the age of 14.
  • Working class families preferred their children to go into skilled jobs rather than an expensive education.
  • They also looked down on white collar workers. believing they were soft. 
  • Workers had a source of pride which included strength and manual dexterity, even if most of them hated their jobs.
  • Lower middle classes of foremen, clerks and petty officials were more likely to be upwardly mobile workers.
  • Movements from the proletariat to the professions was rare, but would usually take 2 generations.
10 of 17

Lower Middle Class

The lower middle class was different from the working class because:

  • There was a fast rate increase in the number of white collar workers.
  • These workers were generally paid better than manual workers. 
    • However the wage difference was only little.
  • The lower middle class had greater aspirations for their children, by making good use of the educational system. 
  • Enrolement in German Universities greatly expanded
    • 23,000 in 1875 to 72,000 in 1912.
  • , This lead to more students being from a lower middle class background. 
    • Almost half of all Prussian enrolements were from the lower middle class by 1914. 
11 of 17

The Bourgeouisie

The Wihelm period was a golden age for the Bourgeoisie:

  • This consisted of professionals such as:
    • Doctors, lawyers, merchants, business people and high civil servants.
  • They had an increasing amount of wealth.
  • This allowed them have high levels of consumption, fine houses, servants and holidays. 

However, members of this class had little in common because:

  • They had major differences between:
    • Industrialists and Professionals.
    • Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
  • Whilst a few great industrialists had far greater wealth than many junker families, most middle class families didn't possess such wealth. 
  • Therefore, some bourgeouisie families tried to ape the manner of the aristocracy or inter-marryy with the Junker land owners. 
  • The Bourgeois values remained to include seriousness, respect and percieved to be 'manly' virtues. 
  • They feared organised labour and working classes. 
12 of 17

The Position of Women

Women in Wilhelmine Germany:

  • They were not expected to work after marriage. There was an increase in the number of women working in industrial or clerical jobs rather than traditional employment (e.g. domeestic service).
    • However, many working class women had no option but to do so.
    • In 1907 there were 1.25 million female domestic servants, which was the same in 1882. 
  • There were growing work opportunities for middle class women, in professions such as teaching, welfare professions and social work. 
    • in 1899 German women were finally permitted to acquire medical qualifications after long male resistance. 
  • By 1914, women became increasingly more publically active at work, in charities and in politics. 


  • Few women went to university.
  • Women remained inferior to men in the eyes of the law: their husbands were their legal guardian.
  • Abortion was illegal.
13 of 17

Order and Discipline

Imperial Germany saw itself as an orderly peaceable society:

  • This is true to an extent because they Germans lived increasingly in a world of institutions that sought discpline themselves. 
  • These institutions might encounter resistance, particularly from the lower classes.
  • However, their capacity to shape society was considerable.
14 of 17


Crime statistics are hard to unravel:

  • There was a growth in the police and their was an addition of many new offences. 
  • Offences, such as murder and property crimes, remained constant. 
  • Crimes recorded in urban areas increased, whilist it declined in rural areas. 
  • Working class districts could be violent places as many young men carried clubs, knives and guns.


  • Germany was not a lawless or violent society, by the standards of the time. 
  • There was far less unrest or 'collective protest' in towns and countryside than elsewhere in Europe. 
  • There were improvements in living standards and Germans had respect for authority, which both may have led to German cities enjoying a reputation for being 'safer perhaps, than any other in the world.' (American Ray Stannard Baker's observation in 1901)
15 of 17

The Police

Ex soldiers often set the tone of German officialdom in dealing with the public:

  • This was apparent in the police who recruited mainly former servicemen.
  • They intervened greatly in everyday life because so many activities were regulated.
  • This resulted in many minor infringments of the law.
  • Regulations were often resented but had certain benefits:
    • Strong measures against truancy created an enviable literacy rate.
    • The police also had to apprehend the work-shy.
  • Anyone guilty of homelessness, vagrancy or begging could have been sent to the workhouse.
  • The workhouse functioned as cross between poorhouse and prison.
  • The police force didn't have a reputation for efficiency enjoyed by other branches of Germany's bureaucracy.
16 of 17

The culture of Militarism

The army discplined German society:

  • Schools and clubs promoted soldierly virtues.
  • Legal privileges were given to soldiers and citizens were expected to step aside to let a soldier walk past.
  • A man in an army officer's uniform was percieved to be powerful:
    • 1906: a cobbler with a criminal record wore a captain's uniform who led 10 soildiers to the Kopenick hall and arrested the mayor and stole 5000 marks.
  • Military legal privileges caused resentment among the propertied and educated.
  • The officer corps tried to exclude the unwanted such as the Jews, Catholics and middle class progressives. 
  • All German men were expected to do military service, which some resented, whilst some took pride in their toughness and bound them in a male camaraderie. 
  • 3 million Germans belonged to ex-servicemen's organisation by 1914.


  • Soldiers were not the only ones who wore uniforms: customs officers, postal workers, policemen and railwaymen wore uniforms.
17 of 17


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The rise of Germany from 1871 resources »