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Focus 1: Why Are There Less-Educated Youth and Who Are They?

Why is it that, even today, some youths in Germany fail to complete their (academic or vocational) education - in contrast to the almost 90% of their peers who do succeed in gaining the respective qualifications? This problem cannot be attributed entirely to a scarcity of opportunities. Much has been done in so-called training offensives on both the federal and Länder level to increase the number of placements available. It would, in principle, be feasible for all youths to complete a vocational education, be it in the dual system, in off-the-job or entirely school-based programs. However, as shown by the numerous studies conducted at the German Federal Institute for Vocational Training (BIBB), some of these youths either make no attempt to find a placement or drop out of their chosen program prior to completion. One might well conclude that this is a result of their individual failure - that they have individually chosen this particular fate. However, this would not answer the question of why they act in this manner. From the sociological point of view, the question arises as to why particular socio-structural groups are over-represented in the ranks of less-educated youth, and why these sections of the population are so severely restricted in terms of their developmental opportunities. If it would be innate ability differences, we should find equal proportions of less-educated youth in all social strata. Thus, the sociological question to be addressed is: Which societal factors produce this group? Our research focuses on the following issues:

  • the segregated German education system as a "producer" of differing groups of qualifications, and the different types of school as a form of institutionalized inequality in learning and socialization environments, and
  • the significance of the family background for individual careers in the German school and vocational training system