After the 1970s, all Western European countries moved, at some point, from a period of prosperity and full employment to one shaped by stagnation and a crisis in employment. This is reflected in the academic debate insofar as the idea of a standard career with lower, middle, or higher educational qualifications, the corresponding professional career and pension dependent on the occupational position is now being treated as a thing of the past. It is more common that educational and professional careers are characterized by breaks and gaps; this means many more individuals experience social decline and déclassement today than a quarter of a century ago. In order to come to terms with these developments, since the 1990s, the term ‘social exclusion’ has come to be very widely used by politicians, policy makers, practitioners and academics. Although various conceptions of social exclusion were being developed as early as the 1960s and 1970s, recent years have witnessed an upsurge in the publication of a wide range of books and articles on the topic. Arguably, the growth in popularity of the term delineates attempts to understand and interpret new patterns of social division, particularly in relation to changing patterns in employment and unemployment, modifications in welfare provision, changing patterns in demographic mobility, both nationally and internationally, and changing definitions of eligibility for a variety of civil rights and duties.