Childhood and Capability Deprivation in Germany

Volkert, Jürgen, and Kirsten Wüst (2010). "Childhood and Capability Deprivation in Germany " Paper presented at the 7th annual conference of the HDCA, 21-23 September 2010, Amman, Jordan.

Child poverty is widely discussed in Germany after the publication of the third official Poverty and Wealth Report of the German government in 2008 which – inter alia – focused on the situation of children and families. However, child poverty is not only caused by low household incomes and impacts of child poverty are not restricted to financial consequences. The Capability Approach takes account of this multidimensionality of well-being and poverty of children. The Capability Approach conceptualizes human well-being as not only depending on financial means but gives at least the same importance to the personal and social conversion factors which determine how far financial means can be converted into personal well-being. Until 2008 the Capability Approach had only been applied to the well-being of adults in Germany, but not specifically to the well-being of children. There are several reasons why a capability analysis for children will differ from a capability analysis for adults. Adults’ capability sets comprise dimensions, that are not or at least less relevant for small children. These include social conversion factors like economic facilities, elements of social protection such as access to social security, political freedoms and transparency guarantees (no corruption and limited bureaucracy). Although these adult-specific dimensions of capabilities may not be directly relevant for children, they can indirectly affect the well-being in early childhood in manifold ways. For instance, unemployment of parents does affect the whole family including scarce material means but can also have non-material consequences as income poverty has been shown to have an impact on the parents’ educational style and the relationship of parents and children. Childhood is a very important stage in life. From a capability perspective it is especially important because functionings achieved in this early phase of life substantially determine future capabilities. This stage of life is also very particular as – more than in other stages of life – it depends very much on parents and other care-takers whether a young child has most important capabilities and can develop a number of important functionings. Furthermore, the wish to care adequately for a child depends on the goals of the parents and caretakers which are driven by the question of how important the well-being of the children is for them but may also be restricted by shortages of e.g. their own education, time, child care facilities and income. In this paper we analyze how functionings and capability deprivation in childhood are influenced by parents’ personal goals and willingness to achieve well-being of their children as well as by parents’ income and personal and social conversion factors. We use a new database based on German Socio Economic Panel (SOEP) data that allows assessing characteristics and interdependencies of major determinants of capabilities in early childhood. In our current paper we build upon our former results for two to three year-old children using a further extension of the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) added in 2008 with data for children aged five to six years. We assess the situation of 237 children aged five to six years in 2008. Besides income poverty we analyze opportunities like early childhood encouragement as well as activities outside and whether watching television on its own is not an exception for the child. For his or her social participation we differentiated between social participation which is exempt from charges and which charges fees. For the five to six years old, for the first time, functionings could be measured as personality traits of the child i.e. whether it is e.g. respectful to others, shares things with other children, is hyperactive and so on were assessed. While a deprivation in social participation which charges fees is highly correlated with income poverty and with a child’s television habits our findings based on logistic regression analyses suggest that this is not the case neither for the deprivation in free-of-charge social participation nor for a child’s early childhood encouragement. Children of income-poor families are, on the other hand, less affected by a deprivation in outdoor activities. The analyzed social conversion factors of the child have a high impact on the child’s capabilities and their functionings which can be measured: we see that children who are deprived of childhood encouragement are less helpful to others. Children who watch television regularly on their own treat others with less respect, lack concentration, feel unhappy more often and are more often mobbed by other children.
scroll to top