The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Exploring the Transition to Adulthood of Turkish Immigrant Youth in Germany

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 6:00 PM
Nautilus 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Florian Sichling, PhD Candidate, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose

The largest immigrant group in Germany today is Turkish labor migrants and their children. Beginning in the 1960s Germany began recruiting Turkish ‘guest workers’ to meet the demand for low-skilled labor in the German manufacturing sector. Today, their children are growing up in a society in which economic safety is conditioned on increasing levels of education. Although many youth have benefitted from these societal changes, low levels of parental human and economic capital coupled with ethnic minority status make second-generation Turkish youth one of the most disadvantaged groups of young people growing up in Germany. 

These dynamics closely mirror the empirical findings of a large body of literature which shows that young people across western countries today take longer and more varied pathways to adulthood compared to previous generations. These findings challenge traditional notions of youth development as a linear process along a set of demographic status markers, and have resurrected a long standing debate over the relative importance of social structure versus individual agency in shaping the transitional trajectories of young people today. Recognizing that decisions and choice during the transition to adulthood are embedded in a set of important social contexts – ranging from families and neighborhoods to national systems – this paper addresses how specific structural circumstances shape young people’s exercise of agency at key moments during their transition to adulthood.  

Data and Methods

This paper explores the experiences of Turkish youth who grow up in a disadvantaged neighborhood in a mid-sized German city and seeks to identify how different ecological dimensions shape their outlooks, aspirations and decisions at critical moments during their transition to adulthood. The findings are based on a sample of 25 second-generation male Turkish youth who grew up in the same neighborhood and attended a low-performing public neighborhood school. Respondents were recruited through a snowball sampling strategy. The data were collected using semi-structured narrative interview guides and coded using Atlas.ti.


Preliminary findings show a relatively broad range of non-linear educational and occupational pathways that are the result of various adaptive responses at different moments during the transition to adulthood. Furthermore, findings confirm the importance of various forms of relationships with kin, peers and non-familial adults for disadvantaged minority youth but also indicate a certain degree of drift in their transitional pathways.  


These insights confirm some of the general findings of the transition to adulthood literature, while notions of drift and disorientation raise important policy and research questions regarding un-met needs of disadvantaged and minority youth during this critical period in their lives.