Social background

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The social background is a socio-cultural heritage, especially of certain resources and value systems . It is determined by the class or class into which one was born.

According to Pierre Bourdieu , the social origin in childhood determines the internalization of the possibilities and limitations, likes and dislikes peculiar to the milieu - he calls this imprint the habitus .

Classifications of social origin

Social origin can be determined relatively easily at the individual level. However, if it is to be collected for specific groups in order to understand the distribution of resources depending on social origin, for example the distribution of educational poverty or educational disadvantage , the social groups of origin must be classified. In sociology different classification systems have been developed.

Classification systems for German society

Workers' children versus citizens' children / civil servants' children / academic children

The most common differentiation according to social origin is the binary one , in which on the one hand there is the working class child (in older texts also the proletarian child) and on the other hand the bourgeois , civil servant or academic child. These comparisons are still used in studies today (especially in qualitative social research ). In most cases, the difference then relates to a difference in the social security class of the parents or to the parents' highest educational qualification.


Arbitrary limits can be drawn here on the income of the parents or the limit can be drawn on the relative poverty line , which in the EU countries is 50% to 60% of the average income of the respective country. In Germany, this poverty line is slightly above the 50% because it means that Hartz IV recipients can also be recorded as poor. The AWO study by Arbeiterwohlfahrt , for example, works with a differentiation according to income .

Educational title

Another distinction is made via education certificates. Again, the concept of poverty used to place education arms (no upper secondary termination) of educational realms (university degree) to distinguish. Colloquially, one also speaks of educationally-related or educationally distant classes. In the sociology of education, extreme group comparisons are often used (the poorest with the richest) in order to illustrate the gap.

Social security categories

In the Federal Republic of Germany, the social security categories are understood to be the division of professions into:

This designation of this classification had its meaning when workers were assigned to a company health insurance fund , guild health insurance fund or local health insurance fund , employees could join a replacement fund , self-employed had to take out private insurance, while civil servants were (and still are) subject to the duty of care of the state. In addition, white-collar workers were members of the Federal Insurance Agency for Salaried Employees , while workers were insured with the state insurance institutions. The separation between workers and employees was lifted.

Nevertheless, the classification has retained a meaning that is conditioned by the different earnings structure. Workers receive wages , white-collar workers receive remuneration and civil servants receive a salary . This distinction is not only formal, but has consequences for the safety of life. Wages fluctuate, especially if they are paid as piece-rate wages , while remuneration and salaries usually remain the same on a monthly basis. In the English-speaking world, this distinction is underlined by traditional clothing: blue-collar (blue coats) for workers and white collar (white coats) for employees. In terms of activity, there is a distinction between manual work and mental work .

Classifications based on types of capital

The following classifications are based primarily on that of Pierre Bourdieu and James Samuel Coleman introduced sorts of capital , cultural capital , social capital , economic capital .

The economic-social-cultural status ESC status

The economic, social and cultural status (economic-social-cultural status - ESCS) is calculated from the socio-economic position of the family, the educational level achieved by the parents and the household property. As indicators of the cultural capital of families, the national origin and the length of time in the country of residence are recorded, as well as the language that is spoken in everyday family life. Another indicator of the family's cultural capital is what is known as the parent's human capital . H. their schooling and vocational training. Another indicator is the family's cultural practice. The cultural practice includes visits to the theater or museum, the possession of cultural goods, cultural life within the family and also the possession of e.g. B. calculators, encyclopedias or other books. Children and young people have social capital when they grow up in a network of social relationships that supports them in adopting socially recognized goals, values ​​and attitudes. This social capital is mainly formed in the family, relatives, the neighborhood, in religious and ethnic groups, clubs, parties and companies. Social capital plays an important role in the formation of human capital. The indicators for the family's social capital are the structure and size of the family (i.e. number of people, number of siblings, etc.), the employment status of the parents and various aspects of the parent-child relationship (including the style of upbringing or support and help with problems, School assignments, etc.) recorded.

Social origins

The University Information System (HIS) has been working with the construct of social groups of origin since 1982 . It has thus created a rough indicator for social surveys, which makes connections between the economic situation and educational tradition in the parents' home and student behavior visible. The social survey works with four groups of origin (low, medium, high, highest), which result from the prestige, the decision-making autonomy and the income level of the parents 'profession and the parents' highest educational qualification. For example, if you come from the social group of origin “high”, your father or mother is a civil servant and has a university degree. Conversely, someone belongs to the “low” group of origin if their parents have no university degree and are unskilled or semi-skilled workers .
The social survey of the German Student Union from 2007, which was developed by the HIS , shows that these groups of origin are heavily dependent on social developments . For example, the educational funnel , which shows how many primary school students from one group of origin, no longer compares pupils from different “social groups of origin”, but only academic children and non-academic children . The distinction between these two groups has increased so much that the parents' university degree has become the decisive criterion for the chance to study.

Discrimination based on social origin

European Union

In the so-called “Green Paper” of the European Union Equal Opportunities and Combating Discrimination in an Enlarged European Union , it is discussed whether social origin should be introduced as a feature of discrimination. Reference is made to Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights , in which social origin is already subject to a ban on discrimination. The principles of the Charter should serve to guide EU policy development and the implementation of strategies by national authorities. The Charter has already become an important reference text for the Court of Justice of the European Communities (ECJ) in its interpretation of Community law.


The Basic Law expressly points out in Article 3.3 of the Basic Law that no one may be disadvantaged because of their origin. The Federal Constitutional Court states that origin does not mean geographical or ethnic origin (these types of origin are referred to in Art. 3 GG with the term “ home ”), but social origin.

In the General Equal Treatment Act , social origin is not explicitly mentioned as a reason for discrimination to be avoided, although social origin, along with other group characteristics such as gender and age, was originally included in the European drafts.

Regardless of the legal statements on the prohibition of discrimination based on social origin, numerous school performance studies suggest that this takes place in the form of educational disadvantage. This was also admitted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and branded as "shameful" by the former Federal President Horst Köhler in a speech on the subject of Education for All .

See also


  1. James Samuel Coleman: Social capital in the creation of human capital . In: American Journal of Sociology. 94 (1988) pp. 95-120.
  2. Green Paper - Equality and Combating Discrimination in an Enlarged European Union Archived copy ( Memento of the original from May 11, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
  4. BVerfG, decision of January 22, 1959, Az. 1 BvR 154/55, BVerfGE 9, 124 - Poor Law.


  • R. Erikson, JH Goldthorpe, L. Portocarero (1979): Intergenerational class mobility in three Western European societies: England, France and Sweden . In: British Journal of Sociology 30 (1979). Pp. 341-415.
  • Harry BG Ganzeboom, PM de Graaf, Donald J. Treiman, J. de Leeuw (1992): A standard international socio-economic index of occupational status . In: Social Science Research 21 (1992). Pp. 1-56
  • Donald J. Treiman (1977): Occupational prestige in comparative perspective . New York et al .: Academic Press ISBN 0-12-698750-5

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