How Consumer Structure Is Changing in the Regions


by Jochen Corthier, Vera Kreuter, Reiner Klingholz

Full Study (German)


A Study by the Berlin Institute Investigates How Consumer Structure Is Changing in the Regions

Market research gathers data about the consumer behaviour of the population. It analyses the purchasing power, wishes and attitudes of potential consumers. Depending on their age, phase of life and lifestyle, people have different product preferences, pay more or less attention to price, watch different TV programmes and read different newspapers. Information about these kinds of factors helps companies decide which products to supply in the future or which regions to invest in.

Market researchers structure the large amount of information they obtain about the population by dividing people into different consumer groups according to certain criteria. The Nuremburg-based market research association Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (GfK), one of the world’s largest market research institutes, has developed a method that takes two dimensions into account. Consumers over the age of fourteen are assigned to one of fifteen biographical lifeworlds (after Kleining) defined according to phase of life and financial situation. The GfK has found that phase of life – i.e., whether a person is in full-time schooling or further education, working, bringing up a family or retired – largely determines their purchasing, consumer and media behaviour, while consumers’ disposable income is determined by their economic status. With respect to consumers in the mid-life phase, market researchers distinguish between people with high, middle or low socioeconomic status and in the retirement phase between the working class and the middle class.

The distribution of the population over the various lifeworlds changes with demographic shifts and with regional economic development. The GfK regularly uses representative surveys to analyse how the population is distributed over these lifeworlds. The Berlin Institute was commissioned by the GfK to investigate on the basis of these data how the lifeworlds are distributed among Germany’s thirty-eight government regions (Regierungsbezirke) and how this structure is likely to change by 2025.

How Lifeworlds Change in Germany and Its Regions

The average age of the population in Germany is rising and the population as a whole is shrinking. This does not apply equally to all age groups, however: the proportion of those under the age of 20 and of the 20- to 59-year-olds is decreasing, while by 2025 the number of older people will have increased not only proportionately but also in absolute terms. Therefore by 2025 there will be fewer people in the lifeworlds of the working and family phases of life. This also applies to adolescents and students. By contrast, the number of people over 60 will probably increase by about a quarter.

Overall we can say: the younger the members of a lifeworld are on average, the more this lifeworld is shrinking. Therefore the lifeworlds consisting of younger people in the working and family phases will lose more members by 2025 than those consisting of people in mid-life. The older members of the lifeworlds of these phases who have a medium or high income include many people aged 60 and older who are still working, and the number of people in this group is likely to go on rising. These lifeworlds will therefore not shrink as much. Working-age women and men who belong to the lifeworlds with low socioeconomic status are on average younger and retire (in some cases taking early retirement) before people with a higher status.


Regional Distribution and Future Trends in the Lifeworlds: Two Examples

We can see that the share of young people differs between east and west. This is due to the low birth rate in eastern Germany during the years directly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The regions with the greatest proportion of young people are those in which fertility was higher than average in the recent past, such as Weser-Ems and Münster in north-western Germany. In future the number of 14- to 19-year-olds will decrease sharply almost everywhere, because the trend is for ever fewer children to be born. The decrease is not as sharp in urban areas which attract many migrants from other parts of Germany and from abroad of middle age with children (Data based on Omnibus survey conducted by the GfK/Bundesinstitut für Bauwesen und Raumordnung [Federal Institute for Construction and Regional Planning] and our own calculations).


The Lifeworld of Single Older People as a Percentage of the Total Population in 2010 and Projections of Their Absolute Numbers by 2025


Although purchasing power is on average lower in eastern Germany than in western Germany for all age groups, the share of the lifeworld of single older people with greater purchasing power is comparatively large: most of today’s pensioners in the east earned their pension rights in the GDR. Although the level of wages in the GDR was not particularly high, wage differentials were very small so that there were few employees who earned very little and most people had no major gaps during their working lives. In addition, most women went out to work and were thus able to earn pension rights. Because of the overall aging of the population this lifeworld is likely to increase everywhere in Germany by 2025. The expected increases are likely to be smaller in the regions that today already have a large share of people over the age of 59 and a small share of 20- to-59-year-olds: in those regions comparatively fewer people will reach retirement age over the next few decades. Many older people are moving out of the urban areas of Bremen and Hamburg to the more attractive surrounding countryside (Data based on Omnibus surveys conducted by the GfK/Bundesinstitut für Bauwesen und Raumordnung [Federal Institute for Construction and Regional Planning] and our own calculations).


Developments in some regions diverge considerably from national trends. This applies both to the current distribution of the population over lifeworlds and to projected future developments. The central determining factor here – alongside demographic developments – is the economic situation of the regions. This decides what chance people have of getting a good job and hence a higher income and professional standing. The economic situation also determines how attractive a region is for migrants – both internal migrants and those from abroad – and that in turn influences the age structure of the region. In places to which many young people migrate the lifeworlds of the young and middle-aged tend to remain stable. The lifeworlds of those in the working and family phases are therefore predicted to decline slightly or remain constant chiefly in economically prosperous government regions which attract many young people from other regions.


The study contains a brief analysis for each administrative district, which supplements the calculated projection with a qualitative assessment of the demographic and economic situation and thus places changes to the structure of the lifeworlds within a larger context.

Regional Analysis: Lifeworlds in the Koblenz Region Today and in the Year 2025

The population in the region of Rhineland-Palatinate is likely to remain largely stable until 2025. Economically the Mosel area west of Koblenz is dominated by wine-growing and tends to be structurally weak; Hunsrück, to the south of the River Mosel, also does not have much large-scale industry. The few large industrial and service-sector companies in the region are located around the city of Koblenz. All in all, the proportion of highly-qualified workers tends to be low. The northern areas of the region benefit economically from their proximity to the Cologne-Bonn region, while the eastern districts benefit from their proximity to greater Frankfurt. In recent years a comparatively large number of young people have left this region. Therefore the share of older people in the population is already relatively high, despite above-average birth rates, while the share of people of working age with families tends to be low. In future the number of 20- to 59-year-olds is likely to decrease only moderately, while the group of those over the age of 59 is likely to increase considerably. The dominant lifeworlds are those with medium purchasing power. Although the unemployment rate and the share of those dependent on transfer payments is below the national average, so is the disposable income of households. Given the low proportion of highly-qualified workers, the lifeworlds of those with high socioeconomic status tend to be weakly represented.


Click here to view the German version of the study. The study “Lifeworlds 2025. How Consumer Structure Is Changing in the Regions” was commissioned by the GfK Verein. The GfK Verein is a non-profit organisation for the promotion of marketing research.



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