Land use disadvantages in Germany: A matter of ethnic income inequalities?

Blog post by Stefan Jünger

12 Jul 2021, 10:26 a.m.
Stefan Jünger



We are currently one and a half years into the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who have been lucky enough to not be in full lockdown might have noticed that they go out for walks or enjoy outdoor activities more often than they used to. It goes without saying that living near a park or having other green spaces in the neighborhood is a blessing in these times. That’s not necessarily a trivial statement: Scholars from a large variety of disciplines know that green spaces provide recreation, well-being, and even better mental and physical health. Unfortunately, there’s an unequal distribution of such resources in societies, so this topic has already become a focus in environmental inequality research a few years ago.

My paper investigates common hypotheses of this strand of research for German society. I conceptualise soil-sealed areas and areas with missing green spaces as land use disadvantages. These are areas covered with lots of buildings or streets and only a few trees, parks, or open spaces. Using survey data from the German General Social Survey (GGSS/ALLBUS) and fine-grained land use data from the IOER Monitor, I then ask whether people from low-income groups and migration backgrounds are more affected by land use disadvantages. This analysis shows that, in both the migrant and German groups, higher income is associated with fewer land use disadvantages, indicating that income helps people afford to live in better neighborhoods. Migrants with low income typically experience more land use disadvantages and require more income to reach similar neighborhood quality levels as the native German population. Furthermore, there is no difference in this regard between urban and non-urban areas. Whether people with a migration background and low income live in a big city or in a village, they are particularly vulnerable to environmental disadvantages.

The results corroborate finding from other studies, in and outside of Germany. Access to housing in ‘good’ neighborhoods seems to be controlled by a majority population which usually holds more economic resources than minorities such as migrants. Only minority group members with higher incomes are better positioned to gain access to these stratified places. We are still missing research that uses more fine-grained geospatial information to disentangle underlying individual and social mechanisms resulting from this discrimination. I am happy that I could contribute a little to close this gap by providing an analysis that combines individual-level data with such fine-grained geospatial data, but there is still a long way to go.

So, while the present study is not about COVID-19 (for a change), the findings have become relevant for more people than usual during the last few months. Even when green spaces are not the most evident topic when we think about inequality in society, it is striking how it mirrors distributional injustice that is often found when looking at more hazardous characteristics of neighborhoods, such as air pollution or environmental noise. Inequalities accumulate across several stressors, and ‘small’ studies’ outcomes such as mine may only depict the tip of the iceberg of environmental inequality.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.



You need to be logged in to make a comment. Please Login or Register

There are no comments on this resource.

Return to Category