Preliminary findings of the German Emigrants Overseas Online Survey – What did we learn about the Germans we reached through social networking sites?

In another GESIS blog post, Steffen Pötzschke and Bernd Weiß have provide some information on their recent survey that used Facebook and Instagram to reach Germans abroad. In this text we present preliminary findings on the characteristics of the participants and see how they fared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In einem anderen Beitrag im GESIS Blog lieferten die Autoren Dr. Steffen Pötzschke und Dr. Bernd Weiß bereits einige Informationen zu ihrer jüngsten Umfrage, bei der sie Facebook und Instagram nutzten, um Deutsche im Ausland zu erreichen. In diesem Text präsentieren sie nun ihre vorläufige Ergebnisse zu den Merkmalen der Teilnehmenden und erläutern, wie es ihnen während der COVID-19-Pandemie ergangen ist.

DOI: 10.34879/gesisblog.2020.26

Whom did we reach through Facebook and Instagram?

As noted in our previous GESIS blog entry, our recently conducted German Emigrants Overseas Online Survey (GEOOS) succeeded to interview 3,809 Germans living in 147 countries and territories world-wide. Unsurprisingly, a large fraction of these respondents originated from Germany’s most populous federal states. Taken together, participants born in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria, and Baden-Württemberg constitute 45 percent of the sample. The highest shares of respondents who were born in Eastern-German federal states came from Saxony (5 percent of the overall sample), Berlin (5 percent), and Thuringia (3 percent).

The median age of the people participating in our study was 45 years, meaning that half of the respondents were younger than that, while the other half was older. While this value is similar to that in the overall German population, the median age observed in our study differs more clearly when differentiated by gender as it lies at 40 years for women and 51 year for men, while the corresponding values in Germany’s general population are 48 and 44 years,1 respectively. Our sample’s gender distribution is comparatively balanced, with women constituting a somewhat larger share of the respondents (57 percent) than men (43 percent). Ten participants self-identified as a third gender.

Many participants in our survey had already spent considerable time in their current country of residence. More specifically, 63 percentstated that they already lived there for six years or longer. Nearly a quarter had even resided for 21 years or more in the country from which they participated in the survey. In our data we also see that most of these Germans have no immediate plans to move again to another country (including back to Germany). In fact, only 15 percent said that they envisioned leaving their current country of residence within the next two years after the survey, while four out of ten declared that they would stay there for the rest of their lives.

Germans overseas during the COVID-19 health crisis – Survey participants show high trust in scientists, but mixed results for heads of governments

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one quarter of the interviewed emigrants lived under a lock down when they participated (between mid-August and mid-September 2020). Comparing the relative shares of respondents within the surveyed regions, this was most often the case for Germans in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, 51 and 45 percent of the corresponding subsamples, respectively. Practically all participants had taken specific measures to avoid a COVID-19 infection during the 30 days preceding the survey. Most widespread were simple things, such as more frequent handwashing, the use of facial protection, and avoiding handshaking, which were each observed by four out of five respondents. More than every second emigrant had also avoided certain social activities, such as meetings with friends.

Interestingly, regarding the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the interviewees abroad had a higher level of trust in the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, whom 60 percent of respondents in the overall sample declared to rather or absolutely trust, than in the head of government of the country they lived in (39 percent).2 However, there are remarkable differences regarding these trust levels among countries. Figure 1 shows the relative shares of respondents who expressed general or high trust in the heads of government in the six largest country subsamples of our survey, using the total number of respondents in these countries as point of reference.

Figure 1: High level of trust of GEOOS participants in heads of government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic

As it can be seen, the sole head of government who received a much stronger vote of confidence by German emigrants in any of these countries than Angela Merkel was New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Nevertheless, the trust in Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was still slightly higher than the trust in the German chancellor. However, the figure also shows that the degree to which Germans living in the United States of America trusted Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID crisis was particularly low, with only 12 percent of the participants expressing confidence in him. Of the included heads government, only the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, received slightly fewer positive reviews than Donald Trump. On the contrary, given the similarities in political style and views on the crisis between the presidents of the United States and Brazil, it is remarkable that the relative share of participants who expressed trust in the latter (namely, Jair Bolsonaro) is considerably higher, amounting to 23 percent of the subsample.

Looking beyond politicians, the results show that respondents had confidence in their personal physicians and in local hospitals, with only one in ten and one in five respectively not trusting them. Finally, participants had a high level of respect for experts when it came to COVID-19, as nearly three quarters of them stated that they particularly trusted scientists in this regard.

Are you interested in learning more about the composition of our sample, why the surveyed Germans left the country, and whether they intent to move on to other place or to come back? For this and more information have a look at our report:
Pötzschke, S., & Weiß, B. (2020, November 26). Employing Social Networking Sites in migration research: Preliminary findings of the German Emigrants Overseas Online Survey.

For a brief description of our sampling method, you might also have a quick look at our projects other recent blog post: Using Facebook and Instagram to sample German emigrants on a nearly global scale.


  1. Federal Institute for Population Research, “Medianalter Der Bevölkerung (1950-2060),” 2020,
  2. Respondents were asked to state the level of trust they put in different institutions, individuals, and groups regarding their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The questions offered the following answering options: Don’t trust at all, do rather not trust, neither nor, rather trust, trust completely. The percentages reported here pertain to the two latter categories.

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