Who is poor in a society – and who is rich? Until now, when economists wanted to answer this question, they usually looked at the income of a household. For the interactive calculator “How wealthy are you?” we teamed up with scientists. and built a class calculator that enables every reader to assign himself or herself to a social situation. Two results are central: The gap between the lower and upper social classes has grown significantly in Germany since the 1980s. And: The climb from the bottom to the top is becoming increasingly difficult.
We believe we have succeeded in making a new contribution to the poverty and wealth debate in Germany with the class calculator and with the focus. From readers’ reactions, we realize that our interactive tool, as well as the reports and interviews, have set in motion a discussion that is just beginning: How is the Corona pandemic shifting social boundaries? What new factors of well-being are already determining who finds it well and healthy through the pandemic? And: What are the consequences if – also due to Corona – social strata harden and become even more impermeable?
What was the hardest part of this project?
How can we tell the story of rich and poor in times of the Corona pandemic? How do we address the emerging debate about “classism,” i.e., discrimination based on social origin? These were the questions we asked ourselves at the beginning of the research.
We decided to establish new relevance through data and empirical findings. We wanted to find study data that would enable readers to take another look at society and their own economic position. Our interactive calculator does two things: It provides a broader understanding of how wealth is distributed in Germany and on which factors this distribution depends. And it makes it immediately possible to understand one’s own place in this structure.
What can others learn from this project?
The calculator and the accompanying data story were part of a larger focus on the topic of “class” entitled: “The Lay of the Nation.” (https://www.zeit.de/schwerpunkte/klasse) In it, reporters describe how difficult it is to move up in Germany – and the social costs involved.
Taking the empirical findings as a starting point, we have also found stories that bring the growing gap between rich and poor to life. We tell of the rise of a man who was the only one in his family to escape poverty and show what that meant for him and the family. We tell of the happiness and the burden of being at the top – and never being able to get down because a well-stretched safety net catches you. The writer Anke Stelling takes a critical look at the green-liberal milieu of Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. We published all these stories at the same time and linked them together so that the cross-connections between the phenomenon become visible. So for us it is important to beyond data visualization and tell more stories based on the data.