The East-West divide is diminishing, but differences still remain
“Now what belongs together grows together” was the message of German reunification in 1989, but differences between East and West still persist today.
Population development, prosperity, attitude to foreigners: even 28 years after reunification there is still a gulf between former East and West Germany.
Over the years however, the gap has declined, as statistics published on Monday by Germany’s Federal Statistics Office demonstrate. One main finding is that the East has caught up economically, but soon might fall behind again. Here is an overview by topic:
Those living in the former East Germany are statistically at greater risk of poverty than people in the former West.
In the past year, 17.8 percent of people in eastern Germany, including Berlin, were at risk of poverty - in western Germany, the figure stood at 15.3 percent. In the East this was a decrease of 0.6 percent from the previous year, and in the West a 0.3 percent increase.
Yet poverty has actually increased in the west. Ten years earlier, 19.5 percent of people in the East were threatened by poverty and only 12.9 percent of people in the West.
Sabine Zimmerman, social expert for the left faction, accused the German government of “total failure” in the fight against poverty.
“More than a quarter of a century after German unification, it is incomprehensible that there is still a clear income gap between former West and former East,” she told DPA. Precarious employment must be reduced, she added, and minimum wage increased.
How much does everyday life cost? The average consumer spending of private households per year in the former East was €2587 in 2016 according to the Federal Statistical Office (StBA). This is about 80 percent of the €2587 average in the former West German states.
However, consumer behaviour is almost identical. For basics such as food and clothing, households spent on average about half of their total consumption: 53.6 percent in the western states and 53.3 percent in the eastern states.
The East has caught up economically, but will fall back again soon according to a study by Prognos AG. “According to our forecasts, the gap will increase again by 2045” due to emigration and low birth rates.
However, there will not only be an east-west divide, but also a north-south divide. Today the economic output per capita in the former East, including Berlin, lies at three-quarters of that in the former West and it is set to decline to less than two-thirds by 2045.
“If the current policies continue, the (material) living conditions in the former East and the former West will not align” warn the authors of the study.
According to the German Economy Institute (IW), the economy in the former East, excluding Berlin, grew by 1.4 percent last year, 1.9 percent if you include Berlin, whilst GDP increased by 2.3 percent in the former West.
The institute says that demographic change is the main reason for this, stating that in the former East more older people are retiring as young people move up in the job market.
Wages are just under 82 percent of the average in the former West, but lower prices in the East ensure that the real income gap between East and West does not grow too large.
Almost one in five of the approximately 82.8 million people in Germany live in the former East, according to StBA. However, whilst about 5 million more people live in the former West now than at the time of the Wende, since 1989 the population in the ‘new’ federal states and Berlin has fallen by about 2 million.
Children, Family and Work
There are also East-West differences for single parents and for those juggling both work and family life. In every fifth family in Germany, children are raised by a single parent. However, almost a quarter (24.9 percent) of all families in the former East have single parents compared to about a sixth (17.5 percent) of families in the former West.
Whether a single parent or not, in the former eastern states it is easier for parents who want to go back to work after having children. In 2017, a third of children under 3 in Germany were in child daycare. The care rate for this age group was 28.8 percent in the west, but 51.3 percent in the eastern states and Berlin.
However, there was hardly any difference in the rate of children of kindergarten age in daycare: 93 percent in the former western states, and 94.8 percent in the former East and Berlin.
Mentality and Migration
East-West differences are also determined by generations - this is the conclusion of a new study by the ifo-Institute. “Young people in both parts of the country have similar attitudes and behavioural patterns,” says the research project leader, Helmut Rainer. “Older people in the former East, who spent much of their lives in the GDR, are more likely to be different to their Western peers.”
There are significant East-West differences, especially in regards to how people with migration backgrounds are viewed. according to Rainer. For example, an immigrant, an Italian, a Turk or an asylum-seeker as a neighbour is much more likely to be seen as a problem for someone in the former East than someone in the former West.
“The confidence in democratic institutions in less pronounced in the East,” said co-author of the study, Joachim Ragnitz. In general, the willingness to volunteer and participate in elections in the former eastern states is lower than in the former western states.
In the former East, the population hold on to the feeling that they are being left behind and misunderstood, says the Institute of German Business on the anniversary of reunification. This is also due to the fact that there are restrictions in public life: “In the sparsely populated East,” says Ragnitz, “rural areas lack shopping, schools and medical practices, buses often only travel once a day”.