5th Continental Student Survey

© Continental

German students expect further changes in the pension system – but show declining interest in the topic

  • Positive economic conditions lift university graduates’ career optimism to the highest level for the past 5 years, but lessens willingness towards flexibility and mobility
  • Parental leave benefit changes attitude toward having children for 11.2% of interviewees
  • Greater interest in full-day care for children

Hanover/Berlin, June 3, 2008. German students are anticipating further changes, considerable ones in some cases, to the pension system at their expense, and yet at the same time they clearly show less interest in the topic of old age provision than three years ago. What’s more, the graduates’ assessment of the economic environment in Germany and their job prospects is more optimistic than it has been for five years. On the other hand, though, that optimism is significantly reducing graduate mobility and flexibility. These are the findings of the representative 5th “Continental Student Survey” presented by the international automotive supplier on Tuesday in Berlin, in cooperation with the Technical University of Darmstadt (Germany). Continental recruits more than 1,300 graduates every year, several hundred of whom are based in Germany.

For the fifth time since 2003, the Corporation commissioned TNS/Infratest early this year to ask around 1,000 students their opinions on career, the world of work, and university topics. This year, the survey focused particularly on the topics of old age provision, working hours, and family. Basically, only less than one third of the university graduates participating in the survey feel that their knowledge of social system reforms was either “very good” or “good”. In 2005, about half the students were of this opinion. At the same time, the number of those admitting to having only “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” knowledge has doubled to nearly 30%.

Of those interviewed, 86.6% expect the next years to see further changes in the pension system: Based on multiple choice answers, 63.2% are expecting the retirement age to go up, 38% anticipate pension cuts, and 14.4% expect to see the introduction of obligatory pension insurance. All interviewees expect pension contributions to increase, 8.6% think there will be only a basic pension, while 3.1% see the state pension system being discontinued altogether. When it comes to their own retirement age, 29.6% of the students expect not to start retirement before an age of 68 to 70 years, with 13.3% expecting to have to work until they are over 70 years old.

At 63.6% (2005: 61.9%), a stable level of well over half the interviewees think that at least two-thirds of future pension payments will come from voluntary provisions made by the employee. And yet at the same time, the percentage of those saying they were “extremely” or “very” interested in concerning themselves with old age provision has declined substantially over the past three years from 62.0% to 50.2%. Almost one in eight interviewees commented that they had “little” or “very little” interest in the topic, whereas in 2005, only one in twelve was of the same view.

“We view this trend with concern because schemes for investing time worked and wage or salary components into the employee’s own retirement provision will become more significant and more extensive in future”, says Continental’s board member Heinz-Gerhard Wente. “Students can see further pension reforms on the horizon, but they do not grasp the scope or consequences for their own future. In fact, in light of these results, we at Continental will concentrate even more on providing comprehensive information at an early stage when hiring new employees.”

Emphasis during the survey was also placed on the topic of family and children: As in 2006 (23%), the percentage of students who would refrain from starting a family in order to pursue their career was virtually unchanged at 23.8%. 73.2% answered that question in the negative, and 3% already had children. Three-quarters of those interviewed said they wanted children, 14.2% were still undecided, 6.5% said “probably not”, and 2.2% said “definitely not”. In response to the two fundamental questions, there was hardly any difference between answers given by male and female interviewees. 

11.7% of those asked stated that the introduction of parental leave benefit had changed their attitude toward having children. More than two thirds said, on the other hand, that this had had no influence on their decision. 24.1% explained that they would like to have children regardless of what state support they would receive, 13.3% emphasized that receiving parental leave benefit would be helpful in terms of temporarily providing added security. 25.8% of the students are convinced that children should not be a “financial decision”, and that their desire to have children exists regardless of state benefits.

More than half the respondents would like to have their children when they are between 30 and 35 years old. Unlike the male interviewees (19.5%), 31.8% or just under one third of the females want to fulfill their desire to have children at the age of between 25 and 30 years. More than 90% of those asked would invest components of their salary to pay for a guaranteed full-day child care service (73.4% of them, however, said: “It depends how much I have to invest”. More than 80% of the university graduates are prepared to work up to 50 hours a week prior to starting a family in order to accrue time toward a child-raising break. 17.5% are totally opposed to building up service credit – this figure has increased by about 6 points compared with 2006.

“It is gratifying to see that starting a family still enjoys a high priority, even when considering career aspirations. But this also highlights the responsibility that must be assumed by corporations, and especially by universities”, says Professor Reiner Anderl, Vice President in charge of Knowledge Transfer and International Affairs at the Technical University of Darmstadt. “Universities and colleges in particular must develop and expand suitable models to strike a balance between learning needs and child-raising and family needs. Those models must comprise infrastructural measures like day-car facilities for children, as well as curricular adjustments.”

Students’ assessment of their future job prospects has risen to the highest value since the start of the “Continental Student Survey” in 2003/2004: 75% of the survey participants expect to have “very good” or “good” career prospects, which is equivalent to 11.8 points more than five years ago and 2 points more than one year ago. The number of doubters has declined to the same extent.

There is a parallel trend in the estimation of German corporation competitiveness. But, the positive view of career opportunities is still much lower for females at 68.6%, than for males at 79.8%.

“This healthy optimism is having unhealthy side effects, though. A strong sense of security leads to an inappropriate level of complacency in today’s environment of severe international competition”, warns Continental’s HR Director Heinz-Gerhard Wente. Take mobility, for example: 29.7% of those asked (2006: 44.0% / 2004: 36.1%) would accept a comparable new position with less pay if they lost their job. 26.9% (19.2% / 22.6%) would turn the offer down. There is also a declining trend in students' willingness to work abroad: Although about 45% of the respondents said they were absolutely or fairly mobile in future when it came to their willingness to spend more than one year abroad, that percentage has gone down from previous years (2007: 50.5%; 2005: 50%). Individual mobility depends very much on the country of destination: Switzerland (76.6%) and the U.S.A. (56.6%) are extremely popular, while hardly any of the students could imagine working for more than one year in China (22.1%) or the Eastern European countries of the European Union (19.9%).

“It appears that a growing confidence in future career opportunities has reduced student mobility, particularly with regard to employment abroad. Nevertheless, 45% of the students did say they are mobile when it comes to their willingness to spend more than one year abroad”, says Professor Anderl.

Opinions on working time also vary greatly: 39.5%, which is much less than two and four years ago (48.0% / 46.3%) expect to have a flexible work schedule arrangement totaling more than 40 hours a week in future. Only 3.5% (1.5% / 1.8%) anticipate a weekly working time of 35 hours under a collective bargaining agreement; 5.4% (3% / 5%) expect to work 37.5 hours a week. One striking point was that – contrary to four years ago – when asked about their preferred weekly working hours, less than half of those interviewed opted for the flexible work schedule arrangement (less than one third of the female interviewees), meaning that just over half wished to have their working time governed by collectively agreed regulations.

Student attitudes toward regular work at weekends remained virtually unchanged: For 21% (2004: 8.8% / 2006: 20.1%) it is not a problem, 63% (66.7% / 66.1%) could imagine doing it “occasionally”, while 9.3% (9.8% / 9.9%) said that would be one reason to turn down the job in the first place. Willingness to work at weekends is slightly higher among the female interviewees than the males.

“Germany’s resources are the skills of its people. As a highly industrialized country – and this applies especially to the aerospace industry – we need motivated and well educated young people in order to secure the future. Luckily, we have conquered our technophobia and replaced it with a basically positive understanding of science and technology. Leaders from business, politics and science are now permanently called on to ensure that young people are not frightened off at an early stage from pursuing appropriate studies with their special requirements. I read the survey as a prompt to remind us of that aspect, as well”, says German Aerospace Center chief, Professor Johann-Dietrich Wörner, in closing.

With targeted annual sales of more than €26.4 billion in 2008, the Continental Corporation is one of the top automotive suppliers worldwide. As a supplier of brake systems, powertrain and chassis systems and components, instrumentation, infotainment solutions, vehicle electronics, tires and engineering elastomers, the corporation contributes to enhanced driving safety and global climate protection. Continental is also a competent partner in networked automobile communication. The corporation currently employs approximately 150,000 at almost 200 locations in 36 countries.

The Study:

Here you can download the whole study as a pdf file (only available in German). (PDF, 329.8 KB)

Here you can download the long version of the press release. (DOC, 136.5 KB)

Here you can download the short version of the press release. (DOC, 126.5 KB)


Nicole Göttlicher

Nicole Göttlicher Spokeswoman, HR & Career Corporate Communications Phone: +49 511 938-1640 E-mail: