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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Structural framework > Society

Social inequality

Social inequality arises where social commodities or the living conditions of people are for social reasons permanently structured in such a way that certain sections of the population are regularly afforded better opportunities in life than others.

Dimensions of social inequality:

  • distribution of income,
  • distribution of wealth,
  • education opportunities,
  • living conditions.


Social inequality arises where social commodities (such as level of education or income) or the living conditions (e.g., housing conditions) of people are for social reasons permanently structured in such a way that certain sections of the population are regularly afforded better opportunities in life than others. Such opportunities are deemed "better" when, measured against relevant social standards (e.g., security, wealth, health), the resources or living environments available to certain people offer them the chance of a "good life" and the opportunity to realise their potential.

Social inequality can take many forms, typically bundled into dimensions. These include in particular the level of formal education attained, more or less secure employment, professional status, income/wealth, and safe and adequate housing (see Poverty). The unequal distribution of income across Germany is evidenced by the fact that households on the lower half of the spectrum account for only 1% of all net wealth, whereas the wealthiest 10% of households account for over half of all net wealth. An international comparison places Germany high on the list for unequal distribution of wealth. Germany has a Gini coefficient – which measures the distribution of income across a population using a value between 0 (perfect equality) and 1 (perfect inequality) – of 0.74.

On the education dimension: Children and adolescents with an immigration background continue to perform worse than their peers without immigration backgrounds. Academic outcomes are still more closely linked in Germany to parental socio-economic backgrounds than in many other countries: 83 out of every 100 children in Germany whose parents went to university go on to university themselves, compared with 23 out of every 100 children from households with no academic tradition. Only 8% of university students are the children of migrants, despite the fact that roughly one-fifth of the population and one-quarter of children and adolescents under the age of 25 have immigration backgrounds. Almost 60% of the population attain the same level of education as their parents and just over 20% go on to a higher level of education.

Rents further aggravate social inequality in Germany: the socially disadvantaged are heavily penalised on the housing market. Since similar standards of housing are often found within close proximity to one another, these areas often attract large numbers of people from a similar socio-economic class (social segregation in cities) to the same vicinity. It is the poor, both young and old alike, who suffer most at the hands of rising rents. Single-parent households and households from the immigrant community are also strongly affected. For the latter, there is evidence of high rents driven by discrimination on the housing market.

Estimates put the number of houseless people in Germany at 678,000 in 2018, of whom some 440,000 were refugees with recognised status. The number of houseless minors is estimated to be around 19,000.

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