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In German newspapers or online written pieces, I have noticed that the age of a person is reported much more frequently than I have experienced in English. The following extract from Der Postillon (a satirical news website) is a good example:

Auch Gisela Stadlmaier aus München spricht sich für einen Wiederaufnahme des Kitabetriebs aus. "Ich habe gehört, so schlimm ist das mit dem Virus am Ende wohl gar nicht", erklärt sie, während sie die mit Uhu verklebten Haare ihrer Tochter Leonie (4) schneidet.

I would like to understand if there are any factual origins or need for this writing style. My guess is that it arose from the legal requirement for names to be disambiguated (either first name only or the whole name) and age was a good method.

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    Regarding your guess: I think you might have gotten that idea from the indication of place of birth (or Bürgerort in Switzerland) in German biographical entries (e.g., on Wikipedia) and official forms. That custom arose indeed for legal reasons because the birth register is/was maintained decentrally by the local authorities of the birthplace/ Bürgerort. The age in newspaper articles, however, isn't really used to distinct people and most certainly there's no legal requirement for reporters to do so. Feb 27, 2021 at 17:01
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    Der Postillon ist natürlich kein gutes Beispiel für German newspaper. Das einzige Blatt, das für notorische Altersangaben bekannt ist, ist die Bildzeitung. "Online written pieces" ist natürlich derart heterogen, dass es schwierig sein dürfte eine Auswahl zusammenzustellen, um die Behauptung, irgendetwas sei typisch deutsch, zu überprüfen. Feb 27, 2021 at 18:54
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    You will find this habit only in the yellow press. (See Arno's answer below.) Mar 5, 2021 at 10:50

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While maybe some other answer will elaborate on the divergent development of age indications in German and English journalism, I would like to address the question of the purpose of them.

In your example, to me it is really only informative. As you can see, the daughter is not distinguished from anyone, it's more about whether the daughter is a baby or a teenager. It can be explanatory, here for instance why the mother is in favour of the Kita reopening (or why her daughter glued her hair together).

In other reports, similarly, it adds context. Imagine a story about a driver who drove into a shop window while parking his car. If the driver is already 99 years old, it can give you a hint how he could confuse gas and brake pedal. Same holds true for police reports where the victim is elderly (and maybe routet a perpetrator anyway).

In the yellow press, it can be of interest of the readers if the husband (70) of a celebrity (22) is a lot older or if such a couple has a young child (2) together. Also in the case of politics, it can be of relevance how old a president (78) is because it may affect his actions and decisions.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – guidot
    Mar 1, 2021 at 14:00
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This is not a general feature of German newspaper writing. If you check out leading German newspapers such as Zeit (https://www.zeit.de), Spiegel (https://www.spiegel.de/) or SZ (https://www.sueddeutsche.de/), you will not encouter the Name (Age)-format.

However, the boulevard journal Bild is (in)famous for putting numbers that may or may not[1] be the age of the person in brackets behind names. The Bild is probably the most controversial German publication, it is both widely read and widely detested. I suspect that this then motivates satirical publications to occasionally adopt the style.

[1] The Bildblog (https://www.bildblog.de), a watchblog tracking mistakes of the Bild Zeitung (and recently, German media in general) has quite a few entries documentating Bild's struggles with getting consistent ages for some celebrities.

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  • Welcome to German SE! So this is the model the Postillon got it from -- did you also wonder how the indication evolved within the yellow press newspapers and magazines that do give it originally, like Bild, Express etc.? As I understand it, that is the primary, general aspect of the question. Mar 1, 2021 at 14:40

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