Social mobility– Hamster wheel or new-found freedom?
Dialogue Forum on 14 May 2013
One of the basic principles of a meritocracy is to give people opportunities to improve their social and material standing. However, for the disadvantaged and low-income sectors of the population in Germany in particular, upward mobility is becoming increasingly difficult. At the last of the 2013 Dialogue Forum evenings held under the motto of "The (im)mobile society – Ready for the future?", the discussion revolved around the question of how better framework conditions can be created for greater social mobility. Social mobility experts Prof. Jutta Allmendinger, President of the Berlin Social Research Center (WZB), and Sebastian Gallander, Social Mobility Project Manager at the Vodafone Foundation and the New Responsibility Foundation of Berlin, came to speak on the subject.
More education, prosperity and recognition were the defining ideas of the German "economic miracle" at the beginning of the 50s during which millions of people were able to climb the social ladder. This so-called elevator effect, which propels all citizens upwards with the economic boom, no longer works today. "The permeability between the separate classes has strongly decreased, particularly for people with a low professional status," confirms Jutta Allmendinger. They usually inherit this status from their parents and then remain stuck. The result: the number of people in the lower income bracket has grown over time. The middle class, in contrast, has largely remained constant.
Greater labour market demands than before
"It is sad to think that in such a rich country as Germany it is not possible to give all children the same opportunities," added Sebastian Gallander. He criticized the fact that 29% of all children and young people in Germany grow up in underprivileged circumstances. "As a society we cannot allow ourselves to grow apart in this way, so that the gap between poor and rich keeps getting larger," he appealed. Corrective action, he says, must be taken for economic reasons alone. "The demographic change will lead to a shortage of approximately 6.5 million qualified employees within the next twelve years. We simply can't recruit that many from abroad."
Teachers are the key
Wide-reaching change required
This naturally cannot be achieved overnight but will need a relatively long run-up period. The beginning must be made with the teachers and their training. They must be able to deal with the challenges that the different social and ethnic backgrounds of the children present. "Before we have enabled the teachers to do this, we don't need to reform any school structures," explained Allmendinger.
"Not investing in education will cost us more, as the repair costs later on will be much higher," agreed Gallander. Germany's dual vocational training system is a success model of which many countries are envious. However, the problem is that many adolescents simply don't even manage to get as far as this system. This is where we must begin to take action. Gallander sees the onus on three social groups in this respect: industry and commerce, which should offer more placements and give more young people a chance, each person as an individual, in the form of greater voluntary social commitment, and finally the politicians who, however, are dependant on a social consensus. "Tackling major topics such as climate change or resources preservation requires that society as a whole can do its share," emphasized Allmendinger. This, ultimately, is the only way that great transformations can succeed.
Minor reforms destroy confidence in the system
To bring about the great transformation called for by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) it will be necessary to bring the classes that today still have a low standard of education on board and give them the opportunity of social mobility. Whether they take advantage of these opportunities or not is naturally quite a different question.
We would like to thank all the visitors to the 2013 Dialogue Forums and look forward to greeting many new guests again in 2014. As in previous years, we will publish important theories presented by our speakers in the "Positions" brochure. This publication should be available from September 2013. Information on the topics of the 2014 series can be viewed on our website from autumn 2013.
Powered by Magnolia - Website Content Management