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The influence of education and family background on child poverty in Germany

“It is disappointing that Germany is not able to significantly improve the material conditions of life for children.”

Christian Schneider, UNICEF Executive Director in Germany 

Although Germany is one of the richest countries in the world, approximately 10 Percent of German boys and girls live in poverty which corresponds to 2.1 million children under the age of 16, as confirmed by a report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The report approaches child poverty from two perspectives, child deprivation and relative child poverty.Bildschirmfoto 2016-05-06 um 19.07.40

Comparing Data on child deprivation rates of 29 countries, (23 out of 29 members of the OECD), Germany ranks on place 15.  The Figure shows the percentage of children under the age of 16 who are deprived of two or more items of a 14-items list, because the households which they live in cannot afford them. Taking into account aspects such as fresh fruit and vegetables every day, outdoor leisure equipment (bicycle etc.) and money to participate in school trips, it can be metered that 8.8 Percent of children in Germany are classified as being poor according to the child deprivation measure.


When looking at the measurement of relative child poverty, defined as households that live with less than 50 Percent of the national median of disposable income (after adjustment of family size), 8.5 Percent of children in Germany are being classified as poor, positioning the country on rank 13 out of 35 advanced countries.

According to a study carried out by the Institute for Labor Market and Professional Research (IAB), state policies and government programs fail to provide these children an equal start in life, the consequence being that large percentages of them cannot take part in normal childhood activities. Critiques say that Government support for poor families is not oriented towards the needs of children and oftentimes not taking them into account at all, even though the child poverty rate is one of the most important indicators of a society’s prosperity.

A study of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the costs of child poverty for individuals and society illustrates evidence on the impacts of poverty for individuals growing up in industrialized OECD countries. It explores the short, medium and long term consequences of child poverty relating to health, education, employment, behavior, finance, relationships and subjective well-being for individuals, families, and the economy. A long list of social risks such as impaired cognitive development, increased behavioral difficulties, underachievement in school, lowered skills and aspirations and higher risks of welfare dependency, can among others be linked to child poverty.

In Germany, especially the educational sector poses a challenge compared to other European countries, because educational success, and subsequently income, highly depend on the educational level of parents.

Using duration models it can be seen that particularly children of single parents, whose number increased significantly, (1996, one in seven families with children had only one parent, by 2009, the figure was almost one in five) are facing a difficult situation. The majority of these children grow up with their mother, who is, even though in many cases working full or part-time, due to low wages not able to pay for their children to participate in normal childhood activities such as sports or cultural programs. Due to their employment they often lack the time to assist their children with homework but simultaneously can not afford to pay a tutor, a matter of course in affluent families in case of academic difficulties. Unsurprisingly, according to the researchers, children from single-parent families by the age of 10 lack on average about half a year behind in natural sciences.

Concluding, it can be stated that family background is one of the most important factors of academic success of children. That way, children from lower income households often have lower aspirations and a higher probability of needing special assistance along the way. At the same time, it is more difficult for them to access this very assistance like pre-school education or tutoring. On top, educational disadvantage is likely to be passed on to the next generation, depicting a poverty trap that results in a lower skilled work force, low educational fulfillment and limited aspirations. Ultimately this development reduces skills and productivity and directly influences the economic growth and competitive ability of the society/economy as poverty besides lessening educational achievement also induces lower levels of health, increases the likelihood of unemployment and welfare dependence, and raises higher costs of judicial and social protection systems. Therefor the failure of fighting child poverty is one of the costliest mistakes a society can make.

Mirjam Mertel, 2923

Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

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