How does poverty affect children?

Poverty in Germany

Karl August Chassé

To person

Dr. phil. habil., Dipl. Päd., born 1948; Professor for Theory and History of Social Work and Child and Youth Welfare at the Jena University of Applied Sciences, Department of Social Affairs, Carl-Zeiss-Promenade 2, 07745 Jena. [email protected]

Poverty affects children negatively in many of their central areas of life. Above all, the opportunities to learn and experience in school and outside of school are clearly limited.


After the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989 and German unification in 1990, globalization trends also left their mark on a national level, most clearly in eastern Germany. Among other things, deregulation and the flexibilization of the labor market has resulted in a general stabilization of employment biographies and résumés. An increase in poverty, especially child poverty, has not been overlooked since the mid-1990s. In the social sciences, discussions about these developments are associated with terms such as precariousness, marginalization, exclusion or social decline.

The term "poverty" is a social construction; it is linked to values ​​and norms and is subject to a process of negotiation in public discourse in which different groups and interests gain importance. In highly developed countries like Germany, poverty is either interpreted as relative poverty - in contrast to countries of the "Third World", where there is absolute, life-threatening poverty - or identified with the receipt of basic social security benefits. Of course, both approaches limit poverty to a lack of income in the family and the associated consequences. However, research on child poverty in Germany over the past two decades has shown that poverty means much more than having little money and having to accept the associated restrictions in lifestyle.

First and foremost, it has now been established that poverty has different effects on children than it does on adults, and that children experience it differently. With these findings, child poverty research has established itself as an independent branch, because previously children were only viewed as members of poor households and not as a separate group. Childhood sociological research, which focuses on the perspective of the becoming (the child as a growing and future adult) in favor of the perspective of the being (the child in the here and now of his life) and thus directed the view of the current child's life, the experience and perception by the children themselves. [1]

Research in the 1990s showed that children have to face the consequences of family poverty on a variety of levels. Significant health restrictions (more frequent occurrence of chronic illnesses, obesity, psychosomatic symptoms), poorer school performance or negative school careers, less integration into peer relationships (friends and playmates), less activity level (memberships in clubs), problematic self-esteem and lower self-efficacy convictions have been proven. [ 2]