An overwhelming majority of Germans on a low wage under the age of 30 said they believed it would be impossible to move up into the next wage bracket, according to the survey conducted by Allensbach pollsters for Bild der Frau women's magazine.
One third of those questioned - regardless of age or income - said individuals could not get anywhere by trying alone, and that a person's parental background played a far larger role than personal effort in where they ended up.
Parents from Turkish backgrounds were generally more ambitious for their kids, with 70 percent of those with children under twelve wanting their offspring to move up socially, compared with 42 percent of all parents.
Meanwhile, young Germans from eastern states were found to be more pessimistic about their prospects than those in the west. Just 35 percent agreed that hard work would pay off, compared to 47 percent in the west; a trend study authors found worrying for society.
"The decisive question is whether a society also allows upward and downward movement," said Renate Köcher, head of the Allensbach Institute, on Monday.
The belief that it was possible to improve circumstances was a vital incentive for people to play active roles in society, she said.
The study, which compared German and Swedish attitudes to social mobility, found that Germans were much more pessimistic than their Scandinavian neighbours.
Far from having given up the ghost, over two thirds of under-30s in Sweden were convinced hard work could get anyone anywhere, whereas just 28 percent believed climbing the social ladder was difficult.
This contrast between the two countries, said the study authors, was due to stark differences in parenting culture.
In Germany, parents were found to personally shoulder more responsibility than Swedes for their child's early development.
In Sweden 90 percent of kids are with childminders or at nurseries by the age of two. However, three quarters of under-threes in Germany are kept at home with one or both parents.
In Germany this means there is a stronger connection between the educational level of parents and their children in early years.
This, coupled with a rigid three-tier school system, meant that children's backgrounds often played too large a role in determining their prospects, said Jutta Allmendiger, president of the Social Science Research Centre Berlin.