Social mobility benefits society

German conditions. A social studies

Stefan Hradil

Stefan Hradil, born in Frankenthal (Palatinate) in 1946, was Professor of Sociology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz from 1991 to 2011. After studying sociology, political science and Slavic philology at the University of Munich (1968-1973), he worked from 1974 to 1989 as a research assistant at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Munich. Doctorate in 1979 and habilitation in 1985 at the University of Munich. From 1989 to 1990 professor for social structure analysis at the University of Bamberg. Stefan Hradil received an honorary doctorate from the University of Economics in Budapest in 1994, was chairman of the German Society for Sociology from 1995 to 1998, has been chairman of the Schader Foundation in Darmstadt since 2001 and a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz since 2006. The main focus of work is social structure analysis, also in an international comparison, social inequality, social milieus and lifestyles, social change.

The most important changes in the structure of social stratification that have taken place in recent decades can be summarized as follows. First of all, the individual dimensions should be presented.


Educational expansion

From the 1960s to the 1990s, schools and universities in Germany continued to expand. More and more young people achieved further educational qualifications. Since then, the educational expansion in Germany has been much slower. In comparison with similarly developed societies, only a few young people in Germany get into universities. The proportion of school leavers without a secondary school leaving certificate and of young people without a vocational qualification is falling only very slowly (cf. chapter "Education"). It is often criticized that this does not do justice to the increasing demands of technology, economy and society on the education of people.

Schools and universities are the "social directors" (H. Schelsky) of modern societies. Education certificates have the task of guiding people in a legitimate way to the respective levels of social higher and lower. This presupposes that educational institutions act in a manner that is fair to performance and opportunities. Gender, social origin, ethnicity and other non-performance group characteristics should therefore not play a role in the award of educational certificates. Compared to similar countries, however, educational success in Germany depends to a particularly high degree on the social origin and ethnic affiliation of the children (cf. detailed chapter "Education"). If one measures equal opportunities as "proportional equality of opportunity" - it is achieved when the children of all relevant social groups at all levels of the education system achieve the same proportions as in the general population - it becomes clear that Germany is particularly far from achieving equal opportunities in education to reach.

In the course of the expansion of further education since the 1960s, the absolute educational opportunities of children of all social groups have increased. All groups have cut off a larger piece of the "education cake" that has grown larger. The relative educational opportunities compared to competing groups have of course developed very differently.

Gender-specific educational opportunities

Women are among the winners of the educational expansion. They have overtaken men at all levels of general education and at least caught up with them in universities. However, this has long been the case in most modern countries. The fact that men are comparatively less and less successful is particularly evident in the area of ​​elementary education. Boys in particular are found in secondary schools and in special schools for people with learning disabilities.

Class-specific school attendance rates for fifteen-year-old students in 2003. Social origin in quartiles (quarters) of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS index)
Shift-specific educational opportunities

Children from the lower social classes have only marginally increased their relative educational opportunities for almost 50 years. Little has changed in this regard. Realschulen and comprehensive schools were most likely to represent certain ways of advancement. A large proportion of children from higher social classes still make it to grammar schools and universities; children from lower social classes only rarely succeed. In all countries of the world children from the upper classes are more successful than children from worse-off parents, but their educational opportunities were better in all comparable countries than in Germany.

Ethnic educational opportunities

Migrant children are also increasingly achieving higher general education qualifications. Nevertheless, they have hardly managed to catch up with the educational lead of local children. In the area of ​​vocational training, there has been particularly little progress in the education of migrant children. They have even stagnated since the 1990s. Above all, the educational and training results of many male Turkish and Italian youths are bad (cf. in detail the chapter "Migration").

Migration-specific inequality, 2003
Disregarding women, there has been little progress recently, and in some cases even regression, in efforts to improve the educational opportunities of children from educationally disadvantaged groups. For those affected and for society as a whole, this is becoming an increasingly serious problem.

Consequences of unequal educational opportunities

Health, life expectancy, leisure, integration and assertion opportunities have long been closely related to individual education. The chances of finding a job or the risk of unemployment are even more and more a question of existing qualifications. If the educational opportunities of children from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds are not improved, there is a risk of increasing obstacles to advancement and the social inheritance of parental status. Dissatisfaction and the feeling of living in an unjust world are the result.

For society as a whole, technological change and globalization of the economy mean that there is an ever greater need for qualifications. In the course of demographic change, however, the cohorts with low birth rates are entering the labor market. The growing need for qualifications is offset by a shrinking range of qualifications (cf. chapter "Population") as long as it is not possible to tap educational reserves from previously uneducated circles.