Germans have never warmed to the idea of using their financial muscle to bail out struggling eurozone neighbours. Perhaps for good reason. A central bank study shows most Germans are worse off than those in some of the economies that have stoked the crisis.
The typical German household is three times less wealthy than its Spanish or Italian counterpart, according to a Bundesbank study of personal wealth that was published this week. Whereas the median Spanish household has net wealth of €178,000, the equivalent in Germany is €51,000.
The findings contrast sharply with other aspects of eurozone economic performance, with Germany’s average gross domestic product per head almost a quarter higher than Spain’s. Germany’s unemployment rate is close to record lows at 5.3 per cent while Spain’s has soared above 26 per cent.
Germany’s relatively low level of home ownership is one of the principal reasons suggested for the wealth disparity.
The study – released as the banking crisis in Cyprus reawakened fears of a rupture in the eurozone – has prompted online comments showing the hostility felt by some Germans, who feel they are being asked to pay for the sins of others.
“It gives the word crisis a whole new meaning. Has Ms Merkel seen this?” commented one reader on magazine Der Spiegel’s website.
Another said: “Southern Europeans have been getting rich for years at Germany’s expense.”
The average wealth of Germans was behind that of the French and Austrians, the other countries included in the comparison used by the central bank.
The Bundesbank said the study – from data gathered in 2010 and 2011 – showed the role played by home ownership in building up wealth. While many Germans have begun to snap up property as a store of value since the eurozone crisis erupted, only 44 per cent live in their own homes. That compares with more than 80 per cent of Spaniards, although many of the homes owned in Spain are likely to have dropped sharply in value during the crisis.
The Bundesbank said the study showed many Germans relied on the country’s relatively strong social provision and safety nets and had fewer reasons to save.
The central bank published the survey of personal finances of 3,500 households as part of a eurozone-wide study of household finances and consumption habits, co-ordinated by the European Central Bank. The ECB has said it will make the data available to researchers this year.
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