Focus 2: Long-Term Consequences of the Lack of Training in Young Adulthood

In an increasingly well-educated society, the level of education has taken on a key role in regulating allocation processes on labor markets. Today, those with no vocational training form a minority which "deviates from the norm." Their exclusion from today's labor market is attributed to a lack of education. This argument is often backed up by reference to the recent technological advances, the radical reduction in the number of jobs in general and unskilled jobs in particular, and the thereby increased job competition. Moreover, their high vulnerability in labor markets is often seen as the cause of poorer life chances and living conditions of less-educated persons. In this subproject, these two assumed causalities are subject of critical re-considerations:

Labor Market Participation of Less-Educated Persons in Germany

The conditions under which the lack of training leads to a disadvantaged status on the labor market are explored. Do less-educated persons have bleaker employment prospects as a general rule, or only when certain conditions prevail on the labor market? Is the lack of training a general or a historically defined educational deficit on the labor market? Is the growing marginalization of less-educated persons caused by the increasing level of education of the German population or by a change in the qualification structure of the jobs available (level or structure effect)? In order to address these questions, the participation of less-educated persons on the West German labor market since 1950 will be examined. Entry into the labor market, career paths, and opportunities to gain qualifications later in life will be analyzed for different cohorts.

The central theses are:

(1) Superfluousness hypothesis

In general, employment opportunities are determined by the qualification structure of the labor force (supply side) and the quality and quantity of the available jobs (demand side). Thus, lack of training does not in itself result in the marginalization of less-educated persons on the labor market. The functional irrelevance or superfluousness of less-educated persons is produced by an oversupply of qualified labor and a decline in labor demand.

(2) Selection hypothesis

In sociological research, the explanation for the disadvantaged labor market position of less-educated persons is that higher qualified persons displace less qualified persons. The project favors a different, far less established explanation, namely "selection." It is reasonable to assume that the persons who escaped from the "camp of the less educated" over the last decades were not a random sample of the population. The remainders are most probably a "negative selection" in terms of learning and cognitive competencies. Their increasing labor market vulnerability would still result from an increased job competition, but the disadvantages caused thereby would less be a consequence of displacement, but rather of this "creaming-out" process. Moreover, if those who remain untrained are not randomly distributed within the social stratification system, this hypothesis includes an explanation of how this lack of ability and skill is socially produced and constructed. In contrast to the displacement argument, it grabs inequality of opportunities earlier in the life course - as selection process in the educational system - and does not simply state that at labor market entry higher-educated persons outperform the less educated.

Living Conditions of Less-Educated Persons

Are the less-educated persons socially excluded in Germany, and if so, is their disadvantaged labor market situation in fact the reason behind this social exclusion? By considering the labor-market situation of less-educated persons since the 1950s, the project explores the extent to which discernible differences in lifestyle can be attributed to either their "less-educated status" or to their exclusion from the labor market. The former would be correct, if we find differences to higher educated groups are found for all cohorts, the latter if differences are only found for less-educated persons in cohorts with poor employment chances. The family relations (e.g., chances of marriage and marriage patterns, the birth of children, risk of divorce, etc.) and social participation (e.g., their cultural and social activities and understanding of democracy) of less-educated persons will be investigated.

There are two competing hypotheses:

(1) Less-educated persons generally display different patterns in these domains of life compared to persons who have completed a vocational training program, even when they are in stable employment. If this is correct, any differences identified could generally be attributed to the less-educated status of these individuals. This does not imply that the less educated could be personally blamed for their fate, but rather that they are at a general disadvantage, not having the same life options as those with qualifications.

(2) Such differences only exist when less-educated persons are especially disadvantaged at the labor market, that is, in times of low demand for labor. The real reason for their disadvantaged living conditions would then not be their less-educated status in itself, but the instability of their employment status and their growing marginalization on the labor market because of long-term unemployment.


Heike Solga