Poverty Makes Children Sick

Around 2.5 million children in Germany live on social welfare. They are disadvantaged in many ways. Particularly serious: poverty makes children sick. This is confirmed by various current studies.

Poverty is depressing – especially for children. And in Germany, children are affected more frequently than the rest of the population. This is shown by the third poverty and wealth report of the Federal Government. While 12 percent of all German households are considered poor, this is offset by a rate of 19 percent for families with children.

According to the 2007 Children’s Report of the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk, more than 2.5 million children under the age of 18 are dependent on social assistance. Children whose parents are unemployed, single-parent families, large families and migrants are particularly at risk. The nine-year-old Nathalie vividly describes the restrictions children experience in these families. Poverty is for her: “If you can’t buy enough to get dressed. When you don’t have enough to eat.

When you can’t do anything in your free time. If you don’t have a camera, for memories. When you have to bring something to school, a book or a cassette, and you don’t have it.”

Child poverty: bottlenecks in all life situations

As Nathalie’s description shows, a tight parent budget has an impact on many of the children’s areas of life. For example, there are cuts in housing, social contacts and education. For children this often means that they live in a busy area without playgrounds, live in cramped conditions and do not have their own nursery. Children from poor families are less likely to invite friends to visit them, celebrate their birthdays on a smaller scale and participate less in club activities.

Poverty, a low level of education among parents and a migrant background also lead more frequently to poor school grades, class repetitions and lower school qualifications. According to a study conducted by Arbeiterwohlfahrt in 2004, socially disadvantaged primary school children are less likely to make the transition to a grammar school. Even a good educational level of the parents is not necessarily helpful.

For children whose mothers have at least completed secondary school, the chances of switching to the Gymnasium are four times lower if they are poor. On the other hand, 47 percent of the children who are not poor change to a grammar school, even if their mother only attended the Hauptschule. The figure for poor children is only 17 percent. This imbalance in education is obstructing many poor people’s long-term prospects for the future.

Child poverty increases health risks

But poor children are not only disadvantaged in education. While chronically poor health increases the risk of poverty in adults, the opposite is true for children. Living in poverty makes children sick. This is confirmed by current data from the nationwide survey on the health of children and adolescents – the so-called KIGGS study. Around 17,650 boys and girls aged between 0 and 17 participated in the study, which was conducted between 2003 and 2004.

In addition to the health status of the children, the researchers also considered the social status of the families. This was determined by the education of the parents, their profession and their net income. Using a point system, the experts assigned the children to a low, medium or high social status. A possible migration background was also taken into account.

The study reveals a number of social differences. On the one hand, children from families with low social status have fewer allergies, take fewer medicines and are vaccinated more often than their peers with high social status.

On the other hand, socially disadvantaged families make less use of early detection examinations (U3 to U9), children have significantly worse teeth and live with more health risk factors. They are less able to reduce stress, eat less healthily and are more often overweight. Even before birth, they are more exposed to harmful nicotine and later more likely to use addictive drugs.

Since socially disadvantaged children often live in more congested residential areas with no play facilities, they are more often involved in traffic accidents. They also experience much more violence in their childhood and adolescence.

Children who do not exercise regularly are extremely often from families with a low social status or migrant background. More than one third of socially disadvantaged boys and 40 percent of girls aged three to ten are less active than once a week. Almost half of the girls of this age with a migrant background do not engage in sport. For children of the same age with a high social status, the proportions are significantly lower at 15 per cent for boys and 12 per cent for girls.

In the case of young people, these differences are so pronounced only for girls. In most cases, it is probably financial reasons that prevent membership in a sports club, for example. Migrant children – especially girls – also have cultural or religious reservations.