Chapter 5. Germany: Social insurance for artists and writers

Verena Tobsch
Werner Eichhorst

This chapter discusses the German Artists‘ Social Security Fund, a special social security scheme for self-employed artists and writers within the German Statutory Insurance Scheme. It starts with a brief overview of the general German Social Security System. It then goes on to discuss why the Artists’ Social Insurance Fund was established and how it works, including descriptive statistics on its members, their earnings and the scheme’s coverage rates. Among other relevant aspects, it highlights how financial contributions are shared between the artists, users and state subsidies. The chapter concludes with a short discussion of the efficiency and the effectiveness of the Artists‘ Social Security Fund compared to the standard pension scheme.


We thank Larissa Nenning for comprehensive research regarding data on the Artists’ Social Security Fund and related literature reviews.

5.1. Overview of the German social security system

The German social security system is comprised of five statutory social insurance funds: Pension, health, long-term care, unemployment and occupational accidents. The vast majority of employees are required to be enrolled in all of these funds. The insurance funds follow the pay-as-you-go principle – those in employment pay contributions, while those in old age, ill health or unemployment as well as surviving dependents and pregnant women receive payouts. Health risks of non-working spouses and the dependent children of those enrolled in the statutory health insurance system are covered without any surcharges. Maternity allowance (Mutterschaftsgeld) is conditional on being in the statutory health insurance scheme, while maternity leave benefits (Elterngeld) are financed from taxation and paid to all working parents including self-employed people and those receiving unemployment benefits (Arbeitslosengeld I).

Regular employees and their employers contribute equally to the pension and unemployment insurance funds. This is also the case for long-term care insurance, except for childless employees, who have to pay an added premium, and in the federal state of Saxony where the share paid by employees is higher. Employees pay higher contribution rates than employers for health insurance, while there are no employee contributions to the occupational accident insurance fund. Special regulations apply for marginal part-time jobs with earnings up to EUR 450 per month (Minijobs) and part-time jobs with monthly earnings between EUR 450 and EUR 850 (Midijobs) where the employers’ contributions are higher than those paid by employees (Table 5.1).

The foundations for the social security system in Germany were laid in the 19th century under Bismarck to insure male, dependent full-time workers with low wages. Whilst dependent employment is still the norm in the German labour market, changing labour market characteristics and compositions led to various reforms in the 20th and 21st century.

The German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme is obligatory for all dependent employees and certain self-employed occupations (listed below). Since 2013 all employees in marginal part-time employment have been automatically enrolled in the scheme, but can opt out. Pension insurance remains optional for other self-employed workers.

Table 5.1. Artists and writers only pay half of their total contributions for pension, health and long-term care insurance, in line with the system for regular dependent employees
Contribution rates to the statutory German social security system by employment form, 2017

Compulsorily insured

Voluntarily insured

Dependent full- and part-time employees*

Marginal part-time employees (Minijobs: <EUR 450 /month)


artists and writers

Other self-employed (insured statutorily and upon request)

(non-compulsorily insured self-employed, freelancers, homemakers, …)

Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme (18.7%)








app. 9.35%

(employers’ levy and state contribution)



arbitrary within limits +


Health (14.6%+surcharge of 0.6%-1.7% depending on insurance company)








app. 7.30%

(employers’ levy and state contribution)





Long-term care (2.55%)





Not eligible



app. 1.275%

(employers’ levy and state contribution)





Unemployment (3.0%)





Not eligible


Eligible upon request and prerequisites


Eligible upon request and prerequisites


Eligible upon request and prerequisites


Occupational accidents




depending on occupational risks


depending on occupational risks

Not eligible


Not eligible


Not eligible


Notes: Contribution base threshold for health and long-term care insurance: EUR 52 200/year (EUR 4 350/month) – high earners above the “assessment threshold” (Versicherungspflichtgrenze) can opt out of the statutory health and long-term care insurance and insure themselves privately (EUR 57 600/year or EUR 4 800/month in 2017); contribution base threshold for pension and unemployment insurance: EUR 76 200/year (EUR 6 350 per month) in old states and EUR 68 400/year (EUR 5 700/month) in the new states. Numbers in brackets indicate that the bracketed rates only apply to those who opt into the statutory system – the self-employed have the option to choose a private provider, which may charge a different fee.

* for part-time jobs with earnings between EUR 450 and EUR 850 per month employee contributions are lower (starting with half of regular rates and gradually increasing to full rates at EUR 850 per month).

** if employed in private households, employees pay 13.7% and private households pay only 5% for pension insurance; private households pay 5% for health insurance.

*** alternatively regular monthly contribution of EUR 556.33 in the old states or EUR 497.42 in the new states, with the possibility of a 50% reduction for the first three years of self-employment.

**** additional surcharge for childless people of 0.25%.

+ minimum of EUR 84.15 per month (based on marginal part-time earnings threshold of EUR 450 per month), maximum of EUR 1 187.45 in the old states (based on maximum contribution base threshold).

++ except for Saxony where employees pay 1.775% and employers only 0.775%.

Growing numbers in self-employment in particular led to the establishment of different public insurance options for those not working in traditional dependent employment. All self-employed are now obliged to take either statutory or private health and long-term care insurance. Furthermore, all self-employed occupations have been granted opportunities to voluntarily join the statutory pension insurance system while others have been obliged to enrol. However, while some of those obliged to enrol have to pay the full social insurance contribution themselves, artists and writers only pay half, due to a special regime called the Artists’ Social Security Fund, which is incorporated into the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme (Table 5.1). Those who are statutorily insured include craftsmen, midwives, sea pilots, coastal mariners and fishermen, teachers and educators as well as carers with no compulsorily insured employees, homeworkers, and self-employed people with one customer and no compulsorily insured employees.

The German old-age social security system consists of three pillars – a statutory pension scheme, company-based pension plans and private provisions. The first pillar, the public pension scheme, is built on the idea of an inter-generational contract and covers most economically active people due to compulsory membership regulations. Certain groups of self-employed such as artists and craftsmen are compulsorily insured, while others can be insured in the public system on a voluntary basis. Only civil servants, farmers and some professions such as lawyers and doctors are covered by different systems. Dependent employees cannot opt out of this first pillar of public old-age pensions, but there is a maximum contribution threshold.

Company pension plans, the second pillar, are dependent on employers’ voluntary payments into specific pension plans which cannot be cancelled even if the employee leaves the company. In such cases the company has to guarantee the capital that has already been paid in and the contract can be transferred to a new employer under certain circumstances but not converted into a private pension plan. The third, private pillar is made up of various private provisions, including private capital formation plans, which often benefit from favourable tax treatment.

The first pillar still provides the most important source of old-age income in Germany. However, the second and particularly the third pillar have grown in significance. Those in self-employment can access the first pillar, albeit on different terms, have no access to company plans but can sign up to private pension schemes.

5.2. Artists’ social security insurance

5.2.1. The development of a special regime for writers and artists

The German Artists’ Social Security Act (Künstlersozialversicherungsgesetz, KSVG) came into effect in 1983 and has since guaranteed a special form of insurance support for artists and writers. Although self-employed musicians, art educators and performers were required to be insured in the statutory health insurance scheme before this reform, it had become apparent that artists’ comparatively low wages meant that they were insufficiently protected from the risks of illness and old-age poverty. The new law was based on the idea that the special character of artists’ and writers’ work makes them heavily dependent on users of their services – marketing and sales people – in a way that is similar to the relationship between employers and employees. Companies that make use of artistic services have thus been obliged to make a contribution to the Artists’ Social Security Fund (Künstlersozialkasse). To compensate for the difficulties of collecting contributions from private users of artistic services, the state pays an additional federal subsidy. Self-employed artists and writers are thus left having to pay only half of their contributions to the statutory health insurance, pension and (since 1995) also long-term care insurance schemes.

5.2.2. Who is covered?

All self-employed artists and writers are obliged to join the Artists’ Fund if they fulfil three main conditions.1:

  • They are practising their artistic profession commercially, not just temporarily, and do not have more than one employee.

  • Applicants’ artistic work fits into the occupational definitions: The Artists’ Social Security Act defines artists as those who create, practise or teach music, or applied or visual arts. Writers are defined as those who work as authors, journalists, publish in any other form or teach journalism. Due to the fast-changing nature of the arts, the fund continuously updates the list of eligible occupations. In case of ambiguity, the Federal Social Court of Germany is asked to judge the individual case.

  • They earn at least EUR 3 900 from their artistic or publishing work per year, with the exception of recent market entrants who pay low fixed monthly contributions for the first three years.

All those covered by the Artists’ Social Security Fund have full enitlement to insurance for the three main social security risks:

  • Statutory pension insurance, covering old age, invalidity and surviving dependents.

  • Statutory health insurance, including maternity allowance (Mutterschaftsgeld).

    Statutory long-term care insurance.

Like other self-employed workers, artists are not entitled to unemployment insurance unless they apply within the first three months of starting their self-employed work and have made unemployment insurance contributions for at least 12 months within the last two years, either as dependent employees or while receiving unemployment benefit (Arbeitslosengeld I). But self-employed artists and writers as well as other self-employed people are entitled to the tax-financed standard jobseeker allowance (Arbeitslosengeld II) if they become unemployed, if their household has insufficient income or disposable assets.

Self-employed workers and artists have no entitlement to statutory accident insurance, but can take out private insurance on a voluntary basis. Since maternity leave benefit (Elterngeld) is financed from taxation, all dependent employees and self-employed people including artists and writers are eligible for this regardless of their type of health insurance. Self-employed workers and dependent employees with private health insurance are in general not eligible for maternity allowance, although they may have supplementary private insurance cover.

The statutory health insurance scheme provides a basic level of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, medical rehabilitation, sickness benefits, pregnancy and maternity care. Various company, local, guild and substitute health insurance funds may offer different benefit rates for health and long-term care costs, but always have to guarantee the statutory basic health insurance provisions. Those insured in the Artists’ Fund are entitled to sickness benefits (Krankengeld) from the seventh week of being unable to work, as are dependent employees. Voluntary contributions to health insurance providers (not administered by the Artists’ Fund), can give artists and writers entitlements to sickness benefits also for the first six weeks which are comparable to entitlements for dependent workers (Entgeltfortzahlung im Krankheitsfall). Long-term care insurance is also provided by health insurance schemes, covering domestic and in-patient nursing benefits, as well as in-kind and cash benefits for those needing care.

All those covered by the statutory pension insurance scheme are entitled to the same benefits. These include sickness prevention and rehabilitation benefits and old-age benefits such as subsidies for health insurance contributions, pensions for surviving dependents, partial disability pension and the regular old-age pension. The level of statutory old-age pension income depends on the number of earnings points that have been built up collected during the insurance period. Earnings points are calculated on the basis of the ratio between the average earnings of all employees in a given year, which translates into one earnings point, and the earnings of the individual insured.

5.2.3. Exemptions from statutory insurance obligations and treatment of multiple income sources

Lower rates for the newly insured and favourable insurance conditions compared to other private options for the self-employed make the Artists’ Fund very attractive. Those in the first three years of their careers as self-employed artists or writers can opt for private instead of statutory health insurance. Those opting for such private health insurance receive a subsidy of up to half of the contributions for the statutory health insurance or half of the contributions for the chosen private insurance, whichever is lower. In 2016, only 5 803 persons were registered for such a subsidy, indicating low incentives for artists to choose private insurance over the statutory one.

If artists with longer experience as self-employed artists join the Artists’ Fund they are obliged to join the statutory health insurance scheme as long as they are not high earners. The rationale for this is to avoid giving incentives to experienced, privately insured artists to join the Artists’ Fund just to get a subsidy. Therefore it seems very unlikely that experienced self-employed artists who have private health insurance will join the Artists’ Fund, except to benefit from subsidised statutory pension insurance payments.

If previous experience as an artist or writer was built up during dependent employment with private health insurance, this restriction does not apply as these people are considered to be artists at the beginning of their self-employed career. Experts assume that the main incentive for artists and writers to opt for the Artists’ Fund is to obtain low-cost health insurance.

Those with earnings above annual limits may also be exempted from statutory health insurance. Those who have been exempted from statutory health insurance are also free from long-term care insurance obligations. A decision to opt out of statutory insurance cannot be reversed. An artist who wants to make an application for exemption in 2017 must have earned more than EUR 164 700 over 2014-16. This regulation and the underlying rationale is similar to the one for dependent employees who can also opt out irreversibly if their gross yearly earnings exceed the assessment threshold for statutory health insurance (Pflichtversicherungsgrenze), which was EUR 54 900 in 2015.

If artists and writers engage in other forms of employment, further exceptions to their insurance obligations apply depending on the main occupation and the nature of the other work. The main occupation or primary work in these cases is defined as the activity that is economically more significant (higher earnings) and more time consuming (working hours). In general, self-employed artists and writers are exempted from statutory pension insurance if their earnings as a dependent employee or a non-artistic self-employed person exceed half of the maximum contribution base threshold (Beitragsbemessungsgrenze). Artists and writers are exempted from health care and long-time care insurance via the Artists’ Fund if they are statutorily insured because additional dependent employment is their primary work or because of regular non-artistic self-employment paying more than EUR 450 per month or more than EUR 5 400 per year. The statutory insurance obligations for non-artistic self-employed work follows the same regulations as for other self-employed people.

5.2.4. Contributions

Self-employed artists and writers pay a percentage of monthly income as insurance contributions to the Artists’ Fund, at half of the statutory insurance rates set out in the annual social security statute book, just like dependent employees (Table 5.1). If the insured person notifies the fund that earnings are lower than expected, adjustments to the rates are made.

All those who make use of artistic and publishing work are required to contribute to the fund, based on the principle that there is a special symbiotic relationship between artists and users. These include publishers, theatres, orchestras, television companies, galleries, museums and similar entities. The contributions by users are supposed to account for roughly 30% of artists’ and writers’ insurance costs. Users are obliged by law to notify the fund of the sum of all payments made to artists and writers at the end of the year. In 2014 around 181 000 companies were registered with the Artists’ Fund as users, but 95 000 did not pay contributions because they did not make use of artists’ work in the year concerned.

The German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme (Deutsche Rentenversicherung), the public institution responsible for co-ordinating the statutory pension insurance system, has been inspecting employers’ contributions to the fund since 2007. In January 2015, the German Act on the Stabilisation of Artists’ Social Security Contributions (Künstlersozialabgabestabilisierungsgesetz, KSAStabG) extended the inspection of user companies to all companies that are subject to a general inspection of their social security contributions every four years. The German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme also provided more information to companies on the use of artistic and publishing work, leading to greater acceptance of the need to contribute to the Artists’ Fund among user companies. This led to an enormous increase of about 50 000 in the number of user companies making contributions over 2015 and 2016 (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, 2017, p. 138[1]).

Contributions by users are paid as a percentage of their total payments to artists and writers. In order to avoid distortion of competition, this sum must also include payments to artists who are not eligible for Artists’ Fund insurance because of minimal secondary, non-commercial artistic activities or living abroad. Since 2014 there has been a minimum limit of EUR 450, below which companies do not have to pay contributions. In the first half of 2015, 32 950 companies made use of this exemption.

Contribution rates are calculated each year by the German Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs, depending on the numbers of insured people and users of artistic services. In recent years these have fluctuated between 3.8% and 5.8% of the sum of payments made to artists and writers (Table 5.2).

Table 5.2. Contribution rates payable by user companies of artistic services fluctuate to cover 30% of overall costs
Contribution rates for user companies, as a percentage of all payments made to artists and writers, 2000-17





































Source: Künstlersozialkasse 2017.

User companies have to make a monthly pre-payment to the Artists’ Fund equivalent to one-twelfth of their payments to artists the year before multiplied by the current contribution rate. After the end of the year, there is an adjustment to take account of the real amount of services used. Fees paid to artists as declared by users to the fund have quadrupled since 1991 (Figure 5.1).

If a company fails to declare its total payments, fines and penalties apply. In 2007 maximum fines were raised from EUR 5 000 to EUR 50 000 to increase the deterrent effect. Companies’ insurance liabilities for artists have been inspected by the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme in the course of their regular audits of companies with dependent employees since 2007. The scope of these inspections has been extended since 2015, bringing in extra payments of more than EUR 30 million that year alone. This led to a decrease in the contribution rate.

Companies subject to contributions can form compensation associations to simplify the administrative process. Common rates for all members of the associations can be set and payments administered jointly. In 2008 there were only 15 such associations with around 2 000 members.

Figure 5.1. Artists’ fees have quadrupled over the last two decades
Total fees paid to artists as declared by user companies, 1991 to 2013 (in Millions of Euros)

Note: Artists’ fees include all payments to self-employed artists and writers as declared by user companies irrespective of whether the contracted artists and writers are insured via the Artists’ Social Security Fund.

Source: Künstlersozialkasse 2017 (own depiction using data as of April 1, 2015)

5.2.5. Government subsidies

The government pays a subsidy to the Artists’ Fund which is supposed to account for roughly 20% of the insurance contributions for insured artists and writers. The sum is based on estimates of the private consumption of artistic services, which is regarded as the justification for this tax-based state contribution. The sum has increased significantly from EUR 58 million in 1995 to more than EUR 200 million in 2017 (Table 5.3).

Table 5.3. Government subsidies to the Artists’ Fund are increasing
Government subsidy for the Artists’ Fund, 1995-2019






























Note: the years 2017-19 are projections

Source: Künstlersozialkasse; Bundestagsanfrage 2015 Drucksache 18/6304.

Overall, contributions to the fund are made up, roughly as targeted, of 50% from artists’ contributions, 30% from user contributions and 20% public subsidy (Figure 5.2).

Figure 5.2. The public subsidy should cover 20% of the scheme’s overall costs
Budget composition of the Artists’ Insurance Fund (target distribution of funding), in percentages

Source: Künstlersozialkasse 2017 (own depiction).

5.2.6. Description of members, earnings and coverage rates

As of June 2016, there were 183 796 artists and writers registered for insurance in the Artists’ Fund of which 48% were women. More than a third of all insured were visual artists (63 834), in contrast to only 25 271 in the performing arts (Table 5.4).

Only 8 282 overall were exempted from the pension insurance, which means they were either engaged in financially significant dependent employment or profitable self-employment. Around 25 200 artists and writers were not obliged to pay contributions to the statutory health and long-term care insurance, either because they were privately insured, had high earnings from art, primary dependent employment or non-minor other self-employment. A precise breakdown is currently impossible due to a lack of data.

Table 5.4. Distribution of insured in areas of activity and types of insurance (2016)


Visual Arts


Performing Arts


Total insured

42 923

63 834

51 768

25 271

183 796

Of which female

22 645

31 312

20 830

13 301

88 088

Of which male

20 278

32 522


11 970

95 708

Statutory pension insurance

40 597

60 513


24 621

175 514

Statutory health insurance

36 374

56 081


21 621

158 566

Statutory long-term care insurance

36 365

56 074


21 619

158 543

Source: Deutscher Bundestag (2016[2]).

Current data show that declared earnings (salaries less operating expenses such as materials or studio rent) remain low on average, but also vary greatly by gender, occupation and age. Notably the vast majority of artists and writers have high levels of qualifications (Brenke, 2013[3]).

According to the most recent data for the Artists’ Fund, the top earners among registered artists and writers are male writers aged 40-50 with average earnings of EUR 24 000 per year, which is less than two-thirds of average full-time dependent gross earnings. The lowest earners are female performing artists under the age of 30 with earnings of EUR 8 522 per year (Table 5.5). On average, male artists and writers earn only EUR 18 100 and women EUR 13 600 per year. Those who only recently entered the artists’ market have even lower average yearly earnings of EUR 12 700. Once social security has been paid, they are at the lower end of the overall German income distribution with median net earnings of EUR 1 100 to EUR 1 300 per month. For comparison, German average gross earnings were EUR 33 396 in 2016 which leaves the average single full-time employee without children with EUR 21 631 of net yearly earnings after social security contributions and taxes.

Table 5.5. Declared average earnings of insured people by occupation, gender and age (as of 1 January 2017)

Occupations and gender

under 30




over 60




16 612

17 621

19 708

20 867

18 886

19 603

Visual arts

13 151

15 213

16 682

16 431

13 463

15 740


10 955

12 367

13 421

13 994

13 818

13 317

Performing arts

9 609

12 895

17 008

17 330

16 672

15 581



12 940

16 339

19 359

19 823

16 823

18 079


10 926

12 577

13 909

14 858

12 891

13 621


11 960

14 406

16 568

17 000

15 382

15 945

Source: Künstlersozialkasse 2017.

Heterogeneity exists within and between groups: As noted above, average incomes vary between occupational groups. But at the same time, income disparities within occupational groups seem to be very high, with for example only 1 in 12 visual artists but 1 in 10 jazz musicians earning over EUR 20 000 per year from artistic work (Priller, 2016[4]; Renz, 2016[5]).

Employment patterns also differ between occupations, which can affect insurance coverage. For example, it is common for performing artists to work on temporary contracts which they combine with self-employment. This mix of self-employment and dependent artistic employment means that performing artists often lose their entitlement to be in the Artists’ Fund (Keuchel, 2009[6]). Musicians, in contrast, seem to have more stable insurance histories but still have low incomes, as they are traditionally primarily self-employed musical performers or teachers (Renz, 2016[5]).

Membership has drastically expanded since the establishment of the Artists’ Social Security Fund. From 12 000 insured members in 1982, the number has risen to almost 184 000 in 2016. Increases can be found in all segments, but most newly insured people work in music and visual arts (Figure 5.3).

Figure 5.3. Membership in the Artists’ Social Security Fund is increasing, especially in music and visual art
Number of actively insured in the Artists’ Insurance Fund, 1991 to 2016

Source: Künstlersozialkasse 2017 (own depiction).

Coverage rates are uncertain because artists and writers eligible to be insured by the Artists’ Fund are difficult to identify in surveys and there are no register data available in Germany. Furthermore, the group of artists eligible to join the Artists’ Fund is difficult to measure because artists tend to have multiple economic activities. Statistics show that in 2011 around 20% of all male artists and half of all females worked in part-time self-employment (Brenke, 2013[3]).

Based on official microdata (Mikrozensus) for the year 2013 there are about 1.3 million people doing artistic and creative work, accounting for 3.1% of the total labour force. Of these, 40% are self-employed, which leads to a rough estimate of about 500 000 self-employed people in artistic and creative occupations (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2015, p. 28f[7]). If we assume that all of these are eligible to join the Artists’ Fund (although this would depend on their earnings and other activities, for which there is a lack of data), this would suggest that about 36% of self-employed artists are covered by the Artists’ Fund.

5.3. Efficiency and effectiveness

5.3.1. Implementation

The Artists’ Social Security Fund acts as a co-ordinator for the insurance of writers and artists. Based in Wilhelmshaven, it is responsible for making decisions on entitlements to social security insurance and for managing funding. It determines responsibility for the payment of contributions, signs up artists to social insurance, takes in contributions from insured people and user companies as well as the federal subsidy. Then the fund makes payments to insurance providers.

The Artists’ Fund only collects contributions, passes them on to the chosen statutory health and long-term care insurance providers, and provides information to the data bank of the statutory pension scheme. Insurance benefits are managed by the pension insurance authorities and the health and care insurance institutions themselves. In general, the procedure is the same as for dependent employees where companies are obliged to pass on employers’ and employees’ social security contributions.

When artists want to register for insurance, they have to notify the fund and prove eligibility by filling in a questionnaire and providing additional documents. Once accepted, the insured have to declare their expected annual earnings for the next year before 1 December of the current year. Artists and writers that fail to do so will be asked to pay contributions based on an earnings estimate made by the fund.

In the first years of the Artists’ Fund, declared earnings were cross-checked with the income tax returns of artists and writers, but this was dropped due to legislative changes. Instead, since 2007 the fund has been required to check the real incomes of previous years for a random sample of at least 5% of those insured each year.

Since 2007 the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme (Deutsche Rentenversicherung) is responsible for the inspection and checking of user companies. The new regulation that came into force in 2015 has led to an increase in the number of registered users and their contributions. According to information from the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme, the inspection of a random selection of all companies every four years has been unexpectedly effective. Although no data are available, it is estimated that the additional costs are very low compared with the costs of the regular inspection of companies for social security contributions and therefore the increased number of registered user companies can be regarded as a success. The increased number of user companies in turn has led to a decrease of the contributions rate for users.

5.3.2. Costs and acceptance by users

In 2013, the latest year for which information is available, there were 45 people employed at the fund (plus 10 team leaders) responsible for 177 000 registered artists and writers and 16 000 applicants per year. The acceptance rate for applications was about 75% in 2012 and has risen slightly since then. This means that about 4 000 artists and writers are administered per employee. This compares with a ratio of 500 to one at one of the biggest private insurance companies in Germany (Allianz), so the Artists’ Fund seems to work efficiently, although its tasks are not really comparable (Hörtz, 2013[8]).

The fund’s administrative costs are funded from taxation and amount to about EUR 11 million per year. This cannot be compared with the costs for dependent employees as there is no budget breakdown. Processes for checking entitlements and collecting contributions do not apply for dependent employees and the costs for signing up to social insurance and forwarding the contributions are covered by companies in the case of dependent employees and there are no comparable data for these costs. As other self-employed people have to sign up and pay contributions without assistance, one could argue that the administrative costs of the Artists’ Fund represent an additional government subsidy to self-employed artists and writers. However, the administrative costs are low compared with the government contributions subsidy.

The government contributions subsidy of about 20% of the total budget of the Artists’ Fund has increased over time, according to the budget, and in 2017 the expected subsidy was about EUR 205 million for artists’ and writers’ health and long-term care as well as pension insurance. The administrative costs of the Artists’ Fund, which are about EUR 11 million per year, are also covered by the government. Further administrative costs at the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme, for inspecting users and taking care of pension accounts, cannot be estimated. There is also an additional regular subsidy to the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme, but this subsidy also concerns dependent employees and it is not possible to estimate artists’ and writers’ share of this. The government pays a subsidy into the pension scheme to balance income and expenditure and this totalled EUR 64.5 billion in 2016.

User acceptance of the Artists’ Fund remains low, according to employers’ associations who are arguing for its abolition (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (BDA), 2017[9]). But currently there is no public or political discussion on the possibility of changing the system.

Reliable data on user costs are not available but employers’ associations claim that costs for administration at user companies are too high, with administrative costs estimated to equate to 70-100% of the cost of contributions (Müller, 2016[10]; Astheimer, 2016[11]; Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (iwd), 2013[12]). It remains unclear whether this is a realistic estimate and how it compares with administrative costs for dependent employees. Resistance to registration seems to have declined due to regular inspections and information from the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme since 2007 and the new regulation in 2015.

5.3.3. Incentives and risks

Concerns about low average earnings of artists and writers led to the establishment of the Artists’ Fund in the 1970s and 1980s. The contribution system of the Artists’ Fund was put in place to guarantee that self-employed artists and writers have access to the same health and long-term care insurance and receive the same pension entitlements as dependent employees with the same earnings. Yet as declared earnings by artists and writers tend to be lower than average dependent employees, this is reflected in lower pension incomes from their artistic work too.

One can assume that declared earnings do not reflect the full picture of artists’ earnings. Incentives to declare total actual earnings from artistic work are relatively weak. Anecdotal evidence suggests that artists’ main motivation for joining the Artists’ Fund lies in the fact that it gives full access to health care irrespective of the amount of contributions paid (above a minimum level of contributions).

Although most evidence is based on case studies, self-employed artists seem to remain characterised by low wages and fluctuating demands for artistic work. While health and long-term care insurance is guaranteed regardless of the contributions paid, pension insurance is more problematic.

If artists and writers only opt in to the Artists’ Fund to get health and long-term care insurance, those with low earnings would have the strongest incentives to join the scheme. Low earnings can be either the result of under-declaration of earnings – which enables the insured to enjoy low contributions to health and long-term care insurance while being fully covered, but also leads to very low pensions – or of low prices for self-employed artistic work. Representative empirical evidence is not available, but based on information from the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme, declared earnings of artists are indeed mainly found at the lower end of the distribution – slightly above minimum entrance earnings. This suggests that the scheme attracts bad risks and that there are insufficient contributions for pension insurance, which do not guarantee pension incomes above the social minimum unless there are other assets, private insurance or savings.

5.3.4. Comparison with the standard pension scheme

In 2015 there were 37 million people actively insured in the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme (Deutsche Rentenversicherung), meaning that they were building up credits in their pension accounts. The vast majority, about 77% (28.4 million), were dependent employees. The remaining were people in marginal part-time employment (3.34%), voluntarily insured (0.65%), those in credit periods such as education, parental leave or unemployment (7.4%), other compulsorily insured and those in self-employment.

Some 294 000 self-employed people were registered for insurance, and 60% of them were artists and writers. However, the number of insured self-employed is likely to be higher as some choose to become voluntary insured because of cheaper conditions. Almost 241 000 were registered as voluntarily insured in 2015 but the number of self-employed within this total is unknown.

Contributions to the public pension scheme are shared in equal parts by employees and employers in dependent employment relationships. At average gross yearly earnings of EUR 36 267, monthly contributions would be EUR 283. Yet as two-thirds of employees earn less than the average, most contributions will be lower.

Levels of average pensions paid to the retired differ significantly between eastern and western Germany, as well as gender. Whilst men in the eastern German federal states receive EUR 1 124 monthly pension on average, the figure only stands at EUR 1 040 for men in the western federal states. Not only do women have much lower pension income, but there are also greater regional difference : Women receive on average EUR 846 in the east but only EUR 580 in the west. Longer employment records in the east and gender differences in employment patterns account for these gaps. Lower wage levels in the east are likely to reverse this trend in the future.

On average, artists and writers pay monthly contributions of EUR 197 in the new states and EUR 235 in the old states. Other compulsorily insured self-employed people pay EUR 252-301 in the new states and EUR 282-424 in the old states. Rates for the voluntarily insured self-employed are much lower – they only pay EUR 127 into the pension scheme on average (Table 5.6).

Consequently, pension incomes from artistic activities are very low too. Although the fund was established to provide sufficient pension incomes for artists, irregular and low incomes are not enough to secure contributions that lead to an adequate old-age income. Outdated studies found that pension incomes derived from Artists’ Fund contributions for self-employed artists were around EUR 90 per month. Interestingly, this only represented 11.7% of the pension incomes of self-employed artists who have built up their pensions mainly though other compulsorily insured employment (Bruns 2004, cited in (Haak, 2008[13])). Current data are not available, but it is likely that whilst artists’ incomes from pensions administered by the Artists’ Fund might have grown due to longer contribution periods, patterns of pension income combinations from different forms of employment remain. This is also in line with surveys of performance artists and musicians that report high concerns with old-age poverty due to low-paid artistic work (Norz, 2016[14]; Renz, 2016[5]).

Table 5.6. Few self-employed opt in to the public pension system
German standard pension scheme by groups of insured, 2015

Groups of insured*

Compulsorily insured

Voluntarily insured

(non-compulsorily insured self-employed, freelancers, homemakers, …)

Dependent standard employees

Marginal part-time employees

(<EUR 450 /month)**

Self-employed artists and writers

Other self-employed (insured statutorily and upon request)

Percentage of all actively insured (overall total 37 million people)






Average monthly contributions

~EUR 566

No official data

~EUR 235

(old states)

~EUR 197

(new states)

~EUR 282-424

(old states )

~EUR 252-301 (new states)

~EUR 127

Average monthly pension income

New states


EUR 1 124

No official data

No official data

No official data

No official data


EUR 846

No official data

No official data

No official data

No official data

Old states


EUR 1 040

No official data

No official data

No official data

No official data


EUR 580

No official data

No official data

No official data

No official data

Note: *Not included here: 18.1% in training, old-age marginal part-time employment, unemployment, employees in marginal part-time employment exempt from statutory insurance contributions, other non-self-employed compulsorily and voluntarily insured, and those in non-employment credit periods such as education or unemployment.

** Compulsory pension insurance for marginal part-time employees (Minijobs) since 1 January 2013, for whom insurance was previously optional. Insurance conditions for marginal part-time contracts signed before 2013 remain.

Source: Rentenversicherung in Zahlen 2017, p. 28.

However, while detailed information on the incomes of artists is scarce, existing case studies paint a picture of precarious artistic work. Artists seem to increasingly take up non-artistic secondary work to secure a living (Keuchel, 2009[6]; Renz, 2016[5]; Priller, 2016[4]). Although official data on artists’ combinations of employment are not available, surveys have highlighted that concerns with insecure employment and income situations are widespread among different groups of artists (Norz, 2016[14]; Renz, 2016[5]), which suggests that low incomes from artistic work are an incentive to take up non-artistic dependent work and reduce artistic working time. Statistics show that in 2011 around 20% of all male artists and half of all females were working on a part-time self-employment basis (Brenke, 2013[3]). A survey of jazz musicians showed that two-thirds of jazz musicians were using up to 40% of their working time for non-artistic work and one-fifth were even spending more than half of their working time on non-artistic work (Renz, 2016[5]).

5.4. Conclusion and assessment

The Artists’ Fund was established in 1983 aiming to guarantee a special form of insurance support for artists and writers to protect them from the risks of illness and old-age poverty. The Artists’ Fund is neither a separate insurance scheme nor an autonomous system. It can rather be described as a special regime within the German statutory social security scheme, supporting artists and writers who work in precarious employment involving irregular and low earnings.

Artists and writers covered by the Artists’ Fund only pay half of their overall contributions for pension, health and long-term care, which is analogous to the position of dependent employees. The remaining contributions are shared between user companies (30%) and government (20%). However, they are exempt from unemployment insurance and occupational accident insurance, as are other self-employed people. Health and long-term care of artists and writers in the Artists’ Fund is fully covered and is not related to the level of contributions, while pensions are linked to the amount of contributions paid, as for other dependent employees.

Self-employed artists and writers who mainly do artistic work and do not employ more than one employee are entitled to join the Artists’ Fund. Since 1991 membership of the fund has almost quadrupled. In 2016 about 180 000 artists and writers were actively insured, accounting for about 0.4% of the total active labour force in Germany. In 2013 the Artists’ Fund received about 16 000 applications per year of which about 75% were accepted but access is still limited to certain occupations.

It can be assumed that the main motive for artists and writers to be covered by the Artists’ Fund is to get health insurance since average declared earnings are comparably low and thus result in low pensions from self-employed artistic work. Empirical studies show that self-employed artists and writers often combine multiple economic activities, such as other self-employed work or part-time dependent work. State subsidies and the low-income assessment basis of the artists’ insurance fund creates an incentive for artists to access to the full range of the German healthcare system at a very low cost.

The Artists’ Fund based in Wilhemshaven itself is an administrative government agency, formally an operational division of the German occupational insurance for public services (Unfallversicherung Bund und Bahn). Whereas health and old-age care insurance funds and the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme manage the insurance benefits themselves, the Artists’ Fund only administers entitlements and contributions, signs up to social insurance and forwards the contributions to the respective insurance funds. The resulting administrative costs, currently about EUR 11 million per year, are financed from taxation.

The state levy raised from companies using content provided by artists and writers has increased over time as a result of the increase in membership and artists’ fees declared by user companies. The government subsidy increased to over EUR 200 million in 2017 and can be seen as a compensation for the art consumption of private households that are not subject to the levy.

Acceptance of the fund by user companies seemed to be rather limited during its first decades, leading to higher contribution rates which are set by the government in order to receive social security contributions to the targeted share of user companies of about 30%. The number of registered user companies has increased in recent years also due to inspections by the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme since 2007 and a new regulation in 2015. Currently there are 180 000 registered user companies. The contribution rate by users is based on fees paid to artists and writers irrespective of whether they are covered by the Artists’ Fund and is currently 4.8%.

Even though employers claim that the Artists’ Fund is costly and therefore should be abolished, there is currently no discussion of a change to the system. If artists and writers were forced to pay the same full contributions to health and long-term care as other self-employed people, this would probably mean that artists and writers would have to ask for higher fees. This could lead to more unemployment or higher prices for user companies and in turn for end users, too. The government’s 20% subsidy for health and long-term care contributions as well as for pension insurance thus could be seen as a subsidy to end users and user companies in order to keep arts, music and writing at a reasonable price for everyone. Alternatively, the subsidy could be used for grants and scholarships for artists and writers or for any other form of direct participation for artists and writers. Whether this would be more efficient or effective in terms of social security is unclear.

In the press and media the Artists’ Fund has been mentioned as a model for new forms of work such as online labour or crowdworking, but there is little detailed discussion on how this would work. According to the German Statutory Pension Insurance Scheme, extending the Artists’ Fund to self-employed online workers would be rather difficult because the identification of user companies is highly problematic, whereas for artists and writers the definition of user companies is quite simple. Furthermore, if the intention is to avoid social benefits for self-employed persons with low earnings during old age, the results of the comparison of the standard pension scheme rather suggests that the contributions for artists and writers are too low – not guaranteeing a level of pension income above social allowance level in the future. Hence, the model of the Artists’ Insurance Fund cannot ensure sufficient pension entitlements given low (declared) earnings of artists.


[11] Astheimer, S. (2016), Wirtschaft läuft gegen die Künstlersozialkasse Sturm,

[3] Brenke, K. (2013), Solo-Selbständige,

[1] Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales (2017), Sozialbericht 2017.

[9] Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände (BDA) (2017), Künsterlsozialversicherung,$file/Kuenstlersozialversicherung.pdf.

[2] Deutscher Bundestag (2016), Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Große Anfrage der Abgeordneten Sabine Zimmermann (Zwickau), Herbert Behrens, Matthias W. Birkwald, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion DIE LINKE. Soziale Lage und Absicherung von Solo-Selbstständigen..

[15] Deutscher Bundestag (2015), Sachstand. Rechtsfragen zum Crowdworking.

[13] Haak, C. (2008), Berufsrisiko Künstler. Geringe Einkünfte und drohende Altersarmut, (accessed on 27 July 2017).

[8] Hörtz, M. (2013), Die Künstlersozialkasse in Zahlen,

[12] Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft (iwd) (2013), Subventionierte Kreativwirtschaft,

[6] Keuchel, S. (2009), Report Darstellende Künste. Erste Berichte zur Datenlage, (accessed on 27 July 2017).

[10] Müller, J. (2016), Künstlersozialkasse: Wirtshcaft fordert Abschaffung aufgrund hoher Verwaltungskosten,

[14] Stiftung, H. (ed.) (2016), Faire Arbeitsbedingungen in den darstellenden Künsten und der Musik?! Eine Untersuchung zu Arbeitsbedingungen, Missständen sowie Vorschlängen, die zu besseren Arbeitsbedingungen beitragen können..

[4] Priller, E. (2016), Die wirtschaftliche und soziale Situation Bildender Künstlerinnen und Künstler 2016, Bundesverband Bildender Künstlerinnen und Künstler.

[5] Renz, T. (2016), Lebens- und Arbeitsbedingungen von Jazzmusiker/-innen in Deutschland, (accessed on 27 July 2017).

[7] Statistisches Bundesamt (2015), Beschäftigung in Kultur und Kulturwirtschaft.


← 1. Gig or platform workers are not yet covered by the Artists’ Fund, there has also not been any application by online workers to get entitled and therefore no practical experience has been gathered so far (Deutscher Bundestag, 2015, p. 12[15]).

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