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Child and Youth Services in Germany

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Structural framework > Society

"Youth milieus" in Germany: similarities and differences

Sinus model for youth lifeworlds: Conservative Mainstream, Adaptive Pragmatists, Precarious, Materialistic Escapists, Experimentalists, Postmaterialists, Expeditives (see notes)


Like in other Western industrialised nations, there is no one single experience of youth in Germany. In fact, there are huge variations in the realities and lives of young people. The application of a model that groups society into different "milieus" – described in terms of economic situations and value orientations – applies not only to adolescents, but of course also to adults and children. 

SINUS-Institut has developed a typology of youth milieus in an attempt to illustrate the diversity of youth in a simplified overview. The slide showing the Sinus model for young lifeworlds between 14 and 18 years in 2020 is an example of how childhood and youth are differentiated in Germany.

The model plots the different youth milieus in relation to two axes. The y-axis (vertical) shows the different levels of formal education. The x-axis (horizontal) represents empirically based central value orientations found in different youth scenes. The milieus are plotted at various points on the plane depending on the combination of formal education and normative basic orientation.

The following brief descriptions of the milieus are based on SINUS-Institut's definitions: 

  • Conservative Mainstream: Traditional, nature- and home-loving family people, very down to earth.
  • Adaptive Pragmatists: The modern young centre of society with a strong orientation to performance and family and prepared to adapt.
  • Precarious: Young people in search of orientation and inclusion but faced with social disadvantages.
  • Materialistic Escapists: The leisure- and family-oriented lower centre with well-honed, brand-aware consumer desires.
  • Experimentalists: Fun-seeking, scene-loving non-conformists who want to live in the here and now.
  • Postmaterialists: Urbane, well-educated teenage Bohemians with a strong sense of justice.
  • Expeditives: Success-driven, lifestyle-oriented networkers seeking new frontiers and unconventional experiences.

Despite the distinctions between milieus, qualitative empirical studies carried out by SINUS revealed for 2020 that 14- to 17-year-olds agree on universal values (see slide above). 

However, further criteria can be identified in German society which describe very different living circumstances and cultural orientations found within the population. Major differences can stem from economic status, regional background (city/state), migration status, ethnicity, gender, religion and many more besides. 

Child and youth services thus deals with a large number of incredibly diverse child, youth and adult milieus on a daily basis. It cannot assume any degree of homogeneity across its target groups. Given these distinctions, child and youth services must work with its target groups to develop and structure offerings and programmes tailored in each case to their specific needs. 

Further reading
  • Marc Calmbach, Bodo Flaig, James Edwards, Heide Möller-Slawinski, Inga Borchard, Christoph Schleer (2020): SINUS-Jugendstudie 2020 - Lebenswelten von Jugendlichen im Alter von 14 bis 17 Jahren in Deutschland. Bonn.
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