The focus of this study is on persons with lower secondary qualification at most. We explore respective risks of exclusion and their possibilities of participation in education & training, employment, and the wider society. On a theoretical level, we compare and discuss approaches that draw on ‘human capital’ on the one side and conflict-theories, emphasizing the impact of structures and power, on the other. In the quantitative part of the study the central research foci are on the social reproduction of cultural capital, the exclusion of young persons with low socio-economic status, on unemployment, and on the (lacking) quality of employment. Finally, we analyze the links between education and health issues and political participation. Our results raise serious questions about social cohesion, sustainability, and the legitimacy of the (unequal) status-quo of our society. Applying a biographical approach of research, we also explore the meanings that education and work do have for young persons who have not completed further education; how they experience exclusion and inclusion; and which patterns of orientation and action they develop in this context. Based on the systematic comparison of biographical case reconstructions, we distinguished three qualitative types.