Solidarity and reciprocity during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal qualitative interview study from Germany

Franziska B. Schönweitz, Bettina M. Zimmermann, Nora Hangel, Amelia Fiske, Stuart McLennan, Anna Sierawska, Alena Buyx

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: While solidarity practices were important in mitigating the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, their limits became evident as the pandemic progressed. Taking a longitudinal approach, this study analyses German residents’ changing perceptions of solidarity practices during the COVID-19 pandemic and examines potential reasons for these changes. Methods: Adults living in Germany were interviewed in April 2020 (n = 46), October 2020 (n = 43) and October 2021 (n = 40) as part of the SolPan Research Commons, a large-scale, international, qualitative, longitudinal study uniquely situated in a major global public health crisis. Interviews were analysed using qualitative content analysis. Results: While solidarity practices were prominently discussed and positively evaluated in April 2020, this initial enthusiasm waned in October 2020 and October 2021. Yet, participants still perceived solidarity as important for managing the pandemic and called for institutionalized forms of solidarity in October 2020 and October 2021. Reasons for these changing perceptions of solidarity included (i) increasing personal and societal costs to act in solidarity, (ii) COVID-19 policies hindering solidarity practices, and (iii) a perceived lack of reciprocity as participants felt that solidarity practices from the state were not matching their individual efforts. Conclusions: Maintaining solidarity contributes to maximizing public health during a pandemic. Institutionalized forms of solidarity to support those most in need contribute to perceived reciprocity among individuals, which might increase their motivation to act in solidarity. Thus, rather than calling for individual solidarity during times of crisis, authorities should consider implementing sustaining solidarity-based social support systems that go beyond immediate crisis management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethics
  • Reciprocity
  • SARS-Coronavirus-2
  • Social cohesion
  • Solidarity


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