Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Social issues in Germany

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Social issues in Germany

The German social market economy (soziale Marktwirtschaft) was the economic policy ever since the Federal Republic of West Germany was founded in 1948. This policy brought about the economic miracle that rebuilt Western Germany from scratch after World War II to one of the largest economies in the World. However, Germany still continues to struggle with a number of social issues.


Economic issues

Unemployment rates vary by region, gender, educational attainment and ethnic group.

A growing number of Germans are poor and depend on welfare. In 2007 one in 6 children depended on welfare. That is up from only one in 75 in 1965. Poverty rates seem to vary in different states, as in Bavaria only 3.9% suffer from poverty, while in Berlin 15.2% of the inhabitants are poor. Families that are headed by a single parent and working-class families with multiple children are most likely to be poor.


There is a discussion going on about hunger in Germany. Reverend Bernd Siggelkow, founder of the Berlin-based soup kitchen "Die Arche", claimed that a number of German children go hungry each day. He blamed the lack of jobs, low welfare payments, and parents who were drug-addicted or mentally ill. Siggelkow has been criticized by a number of people who said there was no hunger in Germany. SPD politician and board member of the German central bank Thilo Sarrazin said it was possible to live on welfare without going hungry if one did not buy fast food, but was able to cook from scratch. He was criticized by The Left politician Heidi Knake-Werner, who said it was not right that "well-off people told poor people how to shop".

Deprived neighbourhoods

So called problem neighbourhoods ("Problemviertel") exist in Germany. Those neighbourhoods have a high drop-out rate from secondary school and children growing up in a neighbourhood like this have only 1/7th the probability of going to college compared to a person growing up in another neighbourhood. Abuse of alcohol and drugs is common. Many people living in those neighborhoods are what is called a-people. They are poor ("arm"), out-of-work ("arbeitslos") and immigrants ("Ausländer"). Often those neighbourhoods were founded out of best intentions. Many districts that later became problem neighbourhoods were founded in the 1960s and 1970s when the State wanted to provide better housing for poorer persons. Big tenement buildings were built. The first tenants mostly were two-parent-families, not those one kind with at least one parent working and many were happy with their neighbourhoods. But when the unemployment rate started climbing more and more people were losing their jobs. Also, families who could afford it started moving into better districts and only those who could not afford to move stayed in districts such as Hamburg-Mümmelmannsberg.:)

Literacy and numeracy

A growing number of Germans are functionally illiterate, functionally innumerate, or both. According to a study done by the University of Bremen in cooperation with the "Bundesverband Alphabetisierung e.V.", ten percent of youngsters living in Germany are illiterate and one quarter was able to understand only basic level texts. 21.6 percent of all youngsters were only able to do mathematics at or below fourth-grade-level. The percentage of illiterate and innumerate youngsters varies among ethnic groups and parents' socioeconomic status.

High school dropout rates

A 2008 statistic from Nordrhein-Westfalen shows that 6.4 percent of all students did not earn even the Hauptschulabschluss, however not all of them were highschool dropouts, as many of them were special needs students, who received special school leaving certificates. Only 3.3 percent dropped out of school without earning any kind of diploma.

School violence

A debate about school violence has been sparked in 2006 when teachers of the Rütli School wrote a letter to the senate office demanding the school to be closed down. The letter stated:

We must realize that the mood in some classes currently is marked by aggressiveness, disrespect, and ignorance towards adults … The tendency toward violence against property is growing … In most of the families of our students, they are the only ones getting up in the morning. For them, school is a stage and battleground for attention. The worst culprits become role models.

Religion in education

Some German states have banned Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in class. Students are allowed to wear headscarves. All German States have banned crosses from the classroom. However, the cross is allowed in class if none of the students objects to it, but must be removed if any student objects. Generally the use of all religious symbols by teachers is prohibited in state schools (however this is not true for faith schools). This is legitimate by combining the German states' privilege of educational laws with the principle of separation of church and state, both provided for in the German federal constitution. According to this legal view, teachers in their vocational function within a state administered educational system are obliged to maintain and publicly exhibit religious neutrality when on duty. As this status of employment does not hold for pupils, whose constitutional right to religious freedom thus remains unencumbered by these provisions, this ban cannot legally be extended to them as it is in France. Students visiting a Gymnasium are required to attend religious education or ethics classes. According to the German constitution, church and state are separated in Germany. Thus while classes in religion or ethics are compulsory in a Gymnasium, the student may choose which specific religion, if any, is studied.


Issues created by reunification in 1990 have begun to narrow. Easterners now share a reasonably high standard of living, while some regions in Western Germany such as the Ruhrgebiet are economically declining. Still, even as economic issues are abating between the two formerly separate parts of the country, societal and cultural divisions persist. Stereotypes and labels such as "Jammer-Ossi" (whining easterner), "Besser-Wessi" (arrogant know-it-all westerner), and western resentment towards the costs of unification point to continued prejudices.

Political extremism, racism and antisemitism

Since World War II, Germany has experienced intermittent turmoil from various groups. In the 1970s radical leftist terrorist organisations like the Red Army Faction engaged in a string of assassinations and kidnappings against political and business figures. Germany has also continued to struggle with far-right violence or neo-Nazis which are presently on a rise, in line with the younger generation of Germans growing older. There is some debate as to whether indeed the hate crime is rising, or whether simply more arrests have been made due to increased law-enforcement efforts. The number of officially recognized violent hate crimes has risen from 759 (2003) to 776 (2005). According to a recent study a majority Jews living in Germany are worried about a rise in antisemitism. The situation of Jews in Germany however was better than of those in France where 90% of those polled said that antisemitism has risen in the last years. Some have suggested that the increase in hate crime is related to the proliferation of right-wing parties, such as the NPD (National Democratic Party) in local elections.

Anti-German sentiment

According to some such as Kristina Schröder there is a growing anti-German sentiment among disadvantaged youths. The politician said that children were attacked for being German and claimed that she had repeatedly been called "German bitch" in a political debate about Islamism.

The role of women

For centuries, a woman's role in German society was summed up by the three words: Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church). Throughout the twentieth century, however, women have gradually won victories in their quest for equal rights. Despite significant gains, discrimination remains in united Germany. Women are noticeably absent in the top tiers of German businesses. They only hold 9.2% of jobs in Germany's upper and middle management positions. Legislation on gender equality in family law and violence against women was slow to be reformed. Until 2001 women were barred from serving in combat units in the Bundeswehr, being restricted to the medical service and the administration. The first woman to become chancellor is Angela Merkel, who was elected in 2005.

Low birth rate and aging population

Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. In 2012, its national fertility rate was 1.41 children per woman, up slightly from the 2002 rate (1.31), but still well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. (By contrast, the United States had a fertility rate of 2.06 in 2012). At the same time, Germans are living longer, with a life expectancy of 80.19 years (77.93 years for men and 82.58 years for women) – 2012 estimates. This demographic shift is already straining the country's social welfare structures and will produce further economic and social problems in the future. The Mikrozensus done in 2008 revealed that the number of children a German women aged 40 to 75 had was closely linked to her educational achievement. In western Germany the most educated women were the most likely to be childless. 26% of those groups stated they were childless, while only 16% of those having an intermediate education, and 11% of those having compulsory education stated the same. In Eastern Germany however, only 9% of the most educated women of that age group and only 7% of those who had an intermediary education were childless, while 12% of those having only compulsory education were childless. The reason for that east-western difference is that the GDR had an "educated mother scheme" and actively tried to encourage first births among the more educated.

The more educated a western German mother aged 40 to 75 is, the less likely she is to have a big family.

The same is true for mothers living in Eastern Germany.

Unplanned pregnancy, teenage parenthood, single parenthood, abortion

Students attending German school receive sex education classes, which typically discuss birth control methods as well as abstinence. While teenage pregnancy rates in Germany are lower than they are in countries such as the UK or the USA, they have been of increasing interest for the media, which have published articles on "children having children". A study revealed that teenage pregnancy was more common among young girls who had been disadvantaged in childhood, did poorly in school, and had poor expectations on the job market. It was also revealed that pregnant teenagers were more likely to come from a "broken home" than teenagers who did not fall pregnant. There also seems to be a "family tradition" of teenage parenthood as 34% of the mothers of pregnant teenagers were 20 or younger when they had their first child. While only 4% of pregnant teens planned their pregnancy, 34% did not use contraception. 9.8% of all pregnant teens and 13.4% of all pregnant 17-year-olds already had a child before they became pregnant again.

A pregnant German teen has two options. She can carry the pregnancy to term or choose an abortion. 60% of pregnant teens choose to have an abortion. The higher a pregnant teen's educational level is, the higher her partner's educational level is, and the higher her parents' socioeconomic class is, the greater is her likelihood to opt for an abortion. Pregnant Catholic or Protestant teens are just as likely as atheist teens to have an abortion when they experienced unwanted pregnancy. Muslim teens are more likely to carry the pregnancy to term. Several studies revealed that a high percentage of teenaged parents were special-needs kids. Many of those special-needs teenagers find themselves unable to care for their offspring's emotional needs. A teenaged parent may ask a Familienhelfer (family helper) to help her out. Family helpers are social workers who will help the young parents run the household, go shopping for them, or help them with the kids. A young parent may also choose to move to a Mutter-Kind-Heim ("Mother-Child-Home"). A Mutter-Kind-Heim is a place were troubled parents live and professionals care for the young parent and her offspring.

In 2008, 43% of families headed by a single woman had to rely on welfare as the main source of household income.

Integration of immigrants

Immigration continues to be a concern of both economic and social importance. Germany has always been a society with a considerable rate of immigration. Together with the enactment of a new set of immigration laws, integration of migrants has become a main focus of official federal policy. By virtue of language courses and courses on culture, politics, and society, which are largely state-financed, integration of new migrants is regulated country-wide; in some specified cases, participation in such courses is compulsory. Furthermore, the new law provides for fewer formalities and more options for highly skilled third-country nationals to enter the country for working there; citizens of European Union member states generally enjoy the right to abode and work in Germany, thus, their stay is not regulated. At the same time, with a view to security threats by international terrorism, expulsion of foreign hate-mongers and suspected terrorists in Germany has been made easier. As a result of enhanced security measures, immigrants (especially those from Muslim and African countries) may face police inquiries (such as requests for identification).

New immigrants face prejudices and problems integrating with the native population and often segment into separate communities. Notwithstanding police operations focusing on this matter, migrants may still be subject to racist assaults mainly in rural areas or small towns in former East Germany (2007 Mügeln mob attack on Indians). Some German states (which are responsible for education affairs) have banned Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in class, generally by prohibiting the use of all religious symbols by teachers; this issue is being intensively discussed in the general public. Unlike France, German states have not extended this ban to pupils. German political backlash due to integration with Europe is resulting in new laws seeking to equalize the pay of eastern European workers (such as those from Poland and the Czech Republic) in an effort to curb the advantages to their hire. Alleged and real competition of "cheap" labour force mainly from Eastern Europe is an issue which right and far-right political groups - in some areas with some success - try to use to promote nationalist approaches in immigration policy. However, during the last decades, no far-right movement has been able to gain enough support to win seats in federal elections or to play any important role in politics on the federal level.

New light on structural and institutional racism was shed, when a series of killings committed by a neo-nazi terror organization was discovered by coincidence, especially considering long-term observation, infiltration and financing of the nationalsocialist extremists by government secret agencies.

A study released by the OECD revealed that immigrants in Germany perform much worse at school than their counterparts elsewhere. There were great differences in scholastic performance between different groups of immigrants (see also: Academic achievement among different groups in Germany). The 2015 Leipzig University internship controversy arose when a German Professor, Annette Beck-Sickinger, the head of the biochemistry department at Leipzig University, sent email messages to an anonymous male internship applicant from India saying that she does not accept "any Indian male students for internships", and "many female professors in Germany decided to no longer accept male Indian students".

Gay issues

Germany has some of the most liberal laws in Europe regulating the status of gays and lesbians, though less so than other countries such as the Netherlands. Gay partnerships which are just short of marriage have been permitted since 2001. Gays and lesbians can legally adopt their partner's biological children (so called stepchild adoption). Legally partnered gays are exempted from Germany's compulsory conscription (as are married heterosexuals). Legally partnered gays are not required to testify against each other in court. Gay couples do not enjoy the tax benefits that heterosexual couples do. Politically, this has caused a "clash of cultures", with the states of Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia suing against the introduction of "life partnerships" in 2001. They argued the law was violating a clause of the Basic Law stating "marriage and family" were under the state's "special protection". In 2002, the Federal Court of Justice of Germany ruled that this protection did not mean the legislature could not grant other arrangements similar, or even the same, rights. Nevertheless, Bavaria has declared its intent to sue against the recently introduced stepchild adoption. The Christian Social Union and Christian Democratic Union of Germany political parties have been actively working to restrict extensions in legal rights granted to homosexuals. At the same time the opposition leader of the Free Democratic Party, Guido Westerwelle, has called for an increase in rights (in particular economic rights) and has stated that the government has not gone far enough (in spite of having voted against the introduction of life partnerships in parliament in 2001). In general, Germany is one of the more legally and socially tolerant countries towards homosexuals. Despite this general tolerance, debate on the status of homosexuals continues.

The debate about the "New Underclass"

The German underclass debate was sparked by an 2004 article in the German magazine Stern and by SPD chairman Kurt Beck. In his 2004 article Walter Wüllenweber addressed social issues such as child poverty, unemployment and out of wedlock births. However, unlike many scholars, he does not perceive lack of economic opportunity, but rather lack of education and the failure of underclass persons to embrace middle class values to be the roots of this social problem. In 2006 Beck stated that "There are far too many people in Germany who see no more hope of improving their situation" and "Many people call it an underclass problem."

A number of journalists have picked up that word and published articles about what they called underclass-women and described them as having "no job, no education, no chance, no husband, no love". They were perceived as unfit mothers who could not provide for their large families. Underclass males were perceived as violent and absent fathers. This portrayal of poor persons has been criticized by a number of scientists such as Fabian Kessel, who said that the media were wrong and there was no underclass. The underclass is a construct of the mass media according to Kessl

In a 2009 interview SPD politician and board member of the German central bank Thilo Sarrazin talked about ethnic minorities in Germany. According to Sarrazin most people from certain ethnic groups were of low IQ, were neither willing nor able to contribute to society, did not embrace German values, hated German society, and kept having children in order to increase their welfare benefits. Sarrazin has been criticized by politicians Vural Öger (who accused him of blaming the victim) and Gerhard Schick (who has called his opinion "nasty"). Safter Çınar, spokesman for the Turkish Association in Berlin, said Sarrazin's remarks were insulting and untrue.


Social issues in Germany Wikipedia

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