Country Listing

Germany Table of Contents


Social Structure and Social Mobility

Despite continuing although lessening differences in living standards between the old and new Lšnder , in the mid-1990s German social structure consists mainly of a large, prosperous central stratum containing about 60 percent of the population. This stratum includes mid-level civil servants, most salaried employees, skilled blue-collar workers, and a shrinking pool of farmers. A smaller wealthier group consisting of an upper-middle class and an upper class offsets the poverty experienced by a poor lower class. Hence in terms of social indicators such as education, average income, and property ownership, Germany ranks among the world's leading countries. In terms of income, for example, in 1991 the average German family had a net monthly income of DM4,905, second highest among members of the EC.

Social Structure

Most of the workforce is employed in the services sector. West Germany completed the transition from an industrial economy to one dominated by the services sector in the 1970s, and by the late 1980s this sector employed two-thirds of the workforce. In contrast, when the Berlin Wall fell, East Germany still had not made this transition. Because more of the workforce was engaged in industry and agriculture than in the services sector, its socioeconomic structure resembled that of West Germany in 1965.

Rainer Geissler, a German sociologist, has examined his country's social structure in light of the economic changes that have taken place in the postwar era. Because of the growth of the services sector and the doubling of state employees since 1950, he has discarded earlier divisions of German society into an elite class, middle class, and worker class, with a small services class consisting of employees of all levels. He has replaced this division with a more nuanced model that better reflects these postwar changes. As the economy of the new Lšnder is incorporated into the western economy, its much simpler social structure (elite, self-employed, salaried employees, and workers) will come to resemble that of the old Lšnder .

According to Geissler, at the end of the 1980s West Germany's largest group (28 percent of the population) was an educated salaried middle class, employed either in the services sector or in the manufacturing sector as educated, white-collar employees. Some members of this group earned very high salaries; others earned skilled blue-collar wages. This professional class has expanded at the expense of the old middle class, which amounted to only 7 percent of the population at the end of the 1980s. A less educated segment of the services sector, or white-collar employee sector, amounted to 9 percent of the population. Geissler divided the working class into three groups: an elite of the best-trained and best-paid workers (12 percent); skilled workers (18 percent), about 5 percent of whom are foreigners; and unskilled workers (15 percent), about 25 percent of whom are foreigners. A portion of this last group live below the poverty line. Farmers and their families make up 6 percent of the population. At the top of his model of the social structure, Geissler posits an elite of less than 1 percent.

Data as of August 1995