Can social progress be measured objectively


The question of maintaining social cohesion is at the core of present-day sociological diagnoses: Despite the increased labor force participation rate, poverty has not decreased, [1] and the increasing number of atypical employment relationships creates uncertainty, both materially and in terms of long-term life planning. [2] The chances of the unemployed to consume are worsening; [3] by contrast, the concentration of wealth has intensified. [4] The risk of permanently remaining in a life situation marked by poverty is still great and will be carried into the next generation. [5]

According to official EU statistics, every fifth person in Germany was affected by poverty or social exclusion in 2013. [6] According to the definition of Eurostat, the EU statistical office, this refers to people who meet at least one of the three following criteria: at risk of poverty, significant material deprivation and belonging to a household with very little labor force participation. From the point of view of the people affected, poverty and unemployment appear as a deficit in social participation. Who is particularly affected by the resulting feeling of social exclusion, what consequences can be foreseen - for the individual and for society - and which welfare state framework conditions promote social participation?

Social exclusion and participation in society

Undersupply and poverty are not adequately captured if one only has material resource deficits in mind. With the debate about social exclusion that had been going on since the late 1990s, the focus was therefore on aspects of participation that are related to income poverty, but also address integration into other relevant areas of society, above all integration into the labor market and the participation derived from it social, political and cultural. [7] The focus is on guaranteeing basic social rights and ensuring a socio-cultural subsistence level. Against this background, social exclusion can be defined as a cumulative and interdependent process of disadvantage in a large number of different functional areas of society that are relevant to the lifestyle. Which areas these are, their concretization and significance for social exclusion, varies with the social context: Every society offers specific benchmarks for the definition of cultural, economic, social and political affiliations. [8] In Europe, the dominant mode of integration is derived from labor market participation, so that membership and exclusion are essentially defined by integration into working life and the social security system.

In particular, the simple juxtaposition of inside and outside suggested by the concept of exclusion is sometimes criticized because it means that the diverse relationships between those who are included and those who are excluded are lost from view and the stigmatization of the excluded and the idealization of those included. [9] Instead, one looks at tendencies towards precariousness and insecurity as a result of changes in the labor market and the social security systems. In this debate, too, opportunities for participation are thought to be directly dependent on the material situation and on integration into the labor market. [10]

Supported by the EU's social reporting system, however, the concept of social exclusion still has political clout. Social disadvantages are subject to a specific pattern of interpretation - they are conceived in a multi-dimensional and process-like manner and linked to framework conditions that should enable opportunities for social participation. The concept of participation also has no clearly defined theoretical home and primarily describes a political perspective of action. [11] Like poverty research, the perspective of exclusion and participation can only be filled with content normatively and within social contexts.

How is social exclusion measured?

Previous attempts to empirically measure social exclusion have mainly focused on income, employment and standard of living. Corresponding indicators which, when summed up, are supposed to indicate a risk of exclusion, are mostly relative income poverty, (long-term) unemployment and low consumption potential, measured by whether one can afford certain things, such as heating the home, one hot meal a day, a Washing machine or a vacation trip. Threshold values ​​are relatively arbitrarily defined, above which social disadvantage turns into exclusion. Operationalizations of this kind do not mark a place outside of society, but rather mark social disadvantage in an extreme form. The fact that above all poverty and unemployment stand for limited social participation is plausible insofar as the labor market connection can be used to derive elements of social security law, standards of living and identity-creating. The understanding of disadvantaged life situations is expanded, even if subjective indicators, in this case the subjective feeling of participation or exclusion, are collected, for example through the question of satisfaction with participating in social life or whether one feels excluded.

Integration and exclusion are experienced individually and do not simply reflect the good or bad situation in life according to objective criteria. The measurement of social participation using subjective indicators therefore ensures a deeper understanding of undersupply situations. In this way, dissonances can be revealed, for example whether and why a feeling of exclusion prevails despite an objectively good life situation or vice versa, how it comes to the positive perception of pronounced opportunities for participation despite an undersupply in central areas of life. Your own view of individual opportunities for participation says something about how options for action are assessed and how available resources are dealt with. This also allows conclusions to be drawn about protective mechanisms.