During the last decades the number of people living in poverty in Germany has been increasing. Children are more likely to be poor than adults. There has been a strong increase in the number of poor children. In 1965 only one in 75 children lived on welfare, in 2007 one in 6 did.[1]

Poverty rates differ by states. While in 2005 in states like Bavaria only 6.6% of children and 3.9% of all citizens were impoverished, in Berlin 15.2% of the inhabitants and 30.7% of the children received welfare payments.[2]

The German Kinderhilfswerk, an organization caring for children in need, has demanded the government to do something about the poverty problem.

As of 2015, poverty in Germany was at its highest since the German reunification (1990). Some 12.5 million Germans are now classified as poor.[3]


See also: List of German states by poverty rate

Bundesland (state) Children on the welfare rolls (percent of all children, in 2015) People on the welfare rolls (percent of all persons, in 2015)
Bavaria 6.6% 3.9%
Baden-Württemberg 7.2% 4.1%
Rhineland-Palatinate 9.9% 5.5%
Hesse 12.0% 6.5%
Lower Saxony 13.5% 7.6%
North Rhine-Westphalia 14.0% 8.1%
Saarland 14.0% 7.4%
Schleswig-Holstein 14.4% 8.2%
Hamburg 20.8% 10.6%
Thuringia 20.8% 10.4%
Brandenburg 21.5% 12.0%
Saxony 22.8% 11.8%
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 27.8% 14.9%
Saxony-Anhalt 27.9% 14.2%
Bremen 28.1% 13.8%
Berlin 30.7% 15.2%

Poverty in the postwar period

During the postwar period, a number of researchers found that (despite years of rising affluence) many West Germans continued to live in poverty. In 1972, a study by the SPES estimated that between 1 and 1.5 million people (more than 2% of the population) were living below the state's poverty line. In 1975, a report on poverty published by a CDU politician called Heiner Geissler estimated that 5.8 million people lived below the public assistance levels. As the opening sentence of the report put it,

“Poverty, a theme long since thought dead, is an oppressive reality for millions of people.”

The report also estimated that workers’ and employees’ households constituted more than 40% of poor households, showing low pay to be a major cause of poverty.[6]

A study by Frank Klanberg of SPES found that if the poverty line was redefined to include an allowance for housing costs based on officially recommended minimum standards of housing space and the average rent in socially-aided housing, then the proportion of West German households living below the minimum in 1969 would have risen from 1% to 3% and those below 150% of the minimum from 10% to 16%.[6]

According to another study, 2% of households in West Germany lived in severe poverty (defined as 40% of average living standards), over 7% were in moderate poverty (half the average living standards) and 16% lived in “mild” poverty (defined as 60% of average living standards). A study carried out by the EC Poverty Programme derived a figure for 1973 of 6.6%, using a poverty line of 50% of personal disposable income.[7]

Consequences of poverty

Poor people in Germany are less likely to be healthy than well-off people. This can be seen in statistics about the lifestyle of this group, which indicate that they smoke more, are overweight, and exercise less. Consequently, they run a higher risk of experiencing lung cancer, hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes, and a number of other illnesses.[8] Those who are out of work are more likely to smoke, more likely to be hospitalized, and more likely to die early than the ones who work.[9] The unhealthy habits that have been shown to go hand in hand with poverty also affect the next generation: they experience higher rates of mental illness and are less active. In addition, their mothers are 15 times more likely to smoke while pregnant than their more financially stable counterparts.[10] Furthermore, poverty has been shown to have a negative impact on marital satisfaction. Poor couples are more likely to argue, while being less supportive for each other and their children.[11]

Poor children face limited educational opportunities. According to an AWO-Study only 9% of the pupils visiting the Gymnasium are poor.[12] Poor children are likely to experience adversities beyond money. They are more likely to be raised by a teenage-parent. They are more likely to have multiple young siblings, are more likely to be raised in crime-ridden neighbourhoods and more likely to live in substandard apartments which are often overcrowded. Their parents are likely to be less educated and they are more likely to have emotional problems.[13]

Children growing up poor are more likely to get involved in accidents than their non-poor peers.[14] They are less likely to follow a healthy diet.[15] They are less likely to be healthy. In poor neighborhoods many children suffer from speech impairments and stunted motoric development.[16] They tend to have lower IQs.[17]

Poor children are more likely to get involved in criminal activities and are more likely to take drugs.[18][19]

Groups most likely to be poor

Working-class families from ethnic minorities with multiple children are the group most likely to be poor.[20] Families headed by a single parent are also more likely to experience economic hardship than others. While only 0.9% of childless couples and 2.0% of married couples received welfare in 2002, 26.1% of single mothers did.[21] In 2008, 43 percent of families headed by a single woman had to rely on welfare as the main source of household income.[22] A change in welfare laws, which made it impossible to receive unemployment benefits if one had not worked for a time, was accountable for that increase. Poverty rates are high among people who did not graduate from school and did not learn a trade. 42% of poor people did not learn a trade.[23]


  1. ^ "Sozialhilfe: Kinderarmut nimmt zu". Focus. 15.11.2007
  2. ^ "Poverty in Germany". World Socialist Website. Retrieved 2014-13-05.
  3. ^ "Poverty in Germany at its highest since reunification". Deutsche Welle. 19 February 2015. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  4. ^ ZEFIR-Datenpool: Leistungsempfänger/-innen von Arbeitslosengeld II und Sozialgeld nach SGB II Juni 2005 Archived 2007-10-18 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ ZEFIR-Datenpool: Leistungsempfänger/-innen von Sozialgeld nach SGB II im Alter von unter 15 Jahren im Juni 2005 Archived 2007-10-18 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b Poverty and Inequality in Common Market Countries edited by Victor George and Roger Lawson
  7. ^ The Federal Republic of Germany: The End of an era edited by Eva Kolinsky
  8. ^ J. Winkler, Die Bedeutung der neueren Forschungen zur sozialen Ungleichheit der Gesundheit für die allgemeine Soziologie, in: Helmert u.a.: Müssen Arme früher sterben? Weinheim und München: Juventa
  9. ^ Gesundheitsberichterstattung des Bundes - Heft 13: Arbeitslosigkeit und Gesundheit, Februar 2003
  10. ^ Himmelrath, Armin (2018-11-14). "Gesundheit, Bildung, Lebenschancen: Wie Armut unsere Kinder belastet". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
  11. ^ Nietfeld/Becker (1999): Harte Zeiten für Familien. Theoretische Überlegungen und empirische Analysen zu Auswirkungen von Arbeitslosigkeit und sozio-ökonomischer Deprivation auf die Qualität familialer Beziehungen Dresdner Familien, Zeitschrift für Soziologie der Erziehung und Sozialisation 19; pp. 369-387
  12. ^ AWO/ISS-Studie zur Kinderarmut in Deutschland Archived 2008-06-20 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Hans Weiß (Hrsg.): Frühförderung mit Kindern und Familien in Armutslagen. München/Basel: Ernst Reinhardt Verlag. ISBN 3-497-01539-3
  14. ^ Trabert, Gerhard: Kinderarmut: Zwei-Klassen-Gesundheit in Deutsches Ärzteblatt 2002; 99: A 93–95, Ausgabe 3
  15. ^ Richter, Antje: Armutsprävention – ein Auftrag für Gesundheitsförderung 2005, p. 205. In: Margherita Zander: Kinderarmut. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, ISBN 3-531-14450-2
  16. ^ UNICEF Deutschland: „Ausgeschlossen“ – Kinderarmut in Deutschland
  17. ^ Roland Merten (2002): Psychosoziale Folgen von Armut im Kindes- und Jugendalter. In Christoph Butterwegge, Michael Klundt (Hrsg.): Kinderarmut und Generationengerechtigkeit. Opladen: Leske und Budrich, ISBN 3-8100-3082-1, p. 149
  18. ^ Christian Palentien (2004): Kinder- und Jugendarmut in Deutschland. Wiesbaden. VS – Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISBN 3-531-14385-9; pp. 218, 219
  19. ^ Kinder- und Jugendärzte: Kinderarmut bekämpfen (28.09.2007) retrieved 25.05.2008
  20. ^ Olaf Groh-Samberg: Armut verfestigt sich Wochenbericht der DIW Nr. 12/2007, 74. Jahrgang/21. März 2007
  21. ^ Alleinerziehende Frauen kämpfen mit der Armut retrieved 25.05.2008
  22. ^ (in German) Focus, 1 December 2008, "Alleinerziehende: 43 Prozent bekommen Hartz IV"
  23. ^ Armut heisst es gibt nichts mehr Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 25 May 2008

See also