East Germany Rearguard

Only investments in education will lead to a further catch-up



In a nutshell

The East German economic convergence process is hardly progressing. The economic performance of East Germany stagnates between 70 and 80% of West Germany's level, depending on the statistical figure used. The productivity gap between East German companies and equivalent groups in the west remains even if firms of the same size of workforce and the same industry are compared.

Politicians' and economists' explanations for this development differ: While politicians are more likely to argue with the start-up difficulties, the lack of large-scale research firms and the break-up of the East German markets, scientists have brought lack of investment in education and research, the lack of internationality and insufficient innovations – and thus future-oriented arguments – to the forefront.

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In the first half of the 1990's, policy focused on the build-up of physical infrastructure. East Germany's economic performance increased substantially. “This process benefited from transfers from West Germany, which is why productivity advanced faster compared to other transition countries such as Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic,” says Oliver Holtemöller, IWH Vice President. Today, the East-German physical infrastructure is on the same level as West Germany. However, the fact that the catch-up process has remained slow thus far, also in terms of the employment structure in East Germany, has other causes.


While the population in West Germany had been stagnating since the turn of the millennium and recently even increased, East Germany suffers a decline in population of about 15% since 2000 since many people left East Germany after the German unification. “On the one hand, the decline can be explained by natural demographic development. On the other hand, people still have better economic perspectives elsewhere and therefore move,” Oliver Holtemöller points out. Indeed, in 2015, the population increased in East Germany as well. But this is mainly due to the extraordinary influx of refugees who are distributed to the federal states of Germany according to a fixed ratio.

Insufficient investment in education and research

To improve the economic situation, it is essential to invest in education and research – from early childhood development to academic training. Education does not only enable people to participate in the labour market with equal chances but also fights poverty and unemployment, which is far more sustainable, for example, than the widespread minimum wage. Education is the key to innovation and productivity. The same is true for investments in research and development. In 2012, for example, Saxony-Anhalt spent just 1.5% in relation to GDP, which was the lowest number among all 16 German federal states.

Lack of internationality

The German economy is strongly oriented toward international markets. Here Saxony-Anhalt has a long way to go as an East German state – foreign sales as a percentage of the total sales the manufacturing sectors is about 30%, well below the national average of 45%.

“The partial manifestation of xenophobia aggravates the situation,” says Holtemöller. On the one hand, this is a negative location factor: For example, in Saxony-Anhalt, the number of right-wing criminal offenses is twelve times higher than in Hesse. This makes it extremely difficult to attract qualified specialists from foreign countries to settle in East Germany.

“A one-sided orientation toward physical capital and technology will not help to bring East Germany forward. The key future drivers are human capital, creativity and open-mindedness,” summarises the Vice President.

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Publications on "East Germany"


The East-West German Gap in Revenue Productivity: Just a Tale of Output Prices?

Matthias Mertens Steffen Müller

in: Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming


East German manufacturers’ revenue productivity is substantially below West German levels, even three decades after German unification. Using firm-product-level data with product quantities and prices, we analyze the role of product specialization and show that the prominent “extended work bench hypothesis” cannot explain these sustained productivity differences. Eastern firms specialize in simpler product varieties generating less consumer value and being manufactured with less or cheaper inputs. Yet, such specialization cannot explain the productivity gap because Eastern firms are physically less productive for given product prices. Hence, there is a genuine price-adjusted physical productivity disadvantage of Eastern compared to Western firms.

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Innovation Cooperation in East and West Germany: A Study on the Regional and Technological Impact

Uwe Cantner Alexander Giebler Jutta Günther Maria Kristalova Andreas Meder

in: International Journal of Computational Economics and Econometrics, forthcoming


In this paper, we investigate the impact of regional and technological innovation systems on innovation cooperation. We develop an indicator applicable to regions, which demonstrates the relative regional impact on innovation cooperation. Applying this method to German patent data, we find that regional differences in the degree of innovation cooperation do not only depend on the technology structure of a region but also on specific regional effects. High-tech oriented regions, whether east or west, are not automatically highly cooperative regions. East German regions have experienced a dynamic development of innovation cooperation since re-unification in 1990. Their cooperation intensity remains higher than in West German regions.

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Die Ost-West-Produktivitätslücke: Die Rolle von Produktspezialisierung, Produktpreisunterschieden und physischer Produktivität

Matthias Mertens Steffen Müller

in: Wirtschaft im Wandel, No. 1, 2022


Auch 30 Jahre nach der Deutschen Vereinigung erreicht die ostdeutsche Wirtschaft nur 82% der westdeutschen Arbeitsproduktivität. Dieser Unterschied in der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Arbeitsproduktivität steht in engem Zusammenhang mit vielen wirtschaftlichen und gesellschaftlichen Problemen, denen Ostdeutschland heute gegenübersteht. Auf Basis differenzierter Daten zu den einzelnen Produkten, die Firmen im deutschen Verarbeitenden Gewerbe herstellen, untersuchen wir in diesem Beitrag, wie sich ost- und westdeutsche Firmen bezüglich Produktspezialisierung, Produktpreisen und technischer Effizienz unterscheiden. Wir zeigen auf, dass der Osten – entgegen der Hypothese der „verlängerten Werkbank“ – nicht aufgrund einer Spezialisierung auf Vorprodukte weniger produktiv als der Westen ist. Obwohl Ostprodukte zu deutlich geringeren Preisen verkauft werden, können auch Preisunterschiede zwischen Ost- und Westfirmen den Produktivitätsrückstand nicht erklären. Stattdessen sind Faktoren, welche die physische Produktivität (technische Effizienz) von Unternehmen beeinflussen, entscheidend, um den Produktivitätsrückstand auf Unternehmensebene zu erklären.

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30 Jahre Aufbau Ost

Steffen Müller

in: Die Treuhandanstalt, 2021


Mit der Verabschiedung des Treuhandgesetzes legte die Volkskammer der DDR die Basis für die Überführung der Plan- in die Marktwirtschaft. Bis heute werden Wirken und Wirkung der Treuhandanstalt zwiespältig eingeschätzt. Ursachen dieses Ungleichgewichts werden auf die Treuhandanstalt zurückgeführt. Der Band versammelt Aufsätze, die einen differierten Gesamtbeitrag zur Historisierung der Treuhandanstalt leisten wollen.

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30 Years after Reunification, Gross Domestic Product has Served its Purpose as an Indicator

Oliver Holtemöller

in: Wirtschaftsdienst, Konferenzband "30 Jahre Deutsche Einheit", März 2021


The comparison of living conditions in East and West Germany is often based on the gross domestic product per inhabitant. However, this measure is not a good welfare indicator in itself. It can be assumed that, measured by the gross domestic product per inhabitant, there will be no further significant equalisation of economic power in East and West Germany in the foreseeable future. This is because the age structure of East Germany, i.e. the ratio of employed persons to inhabitants, is less favourable than in the West. On the other hand, if one looks at important welfare indicators such as consumption opportunities, life expectancy, leisure time and income inequality, living conditions in East and West Germany are more similar than the gross domestic product per inhabitant suggests. In the debates on the catching-up process of East Germany, more emphasis should therefore be placed on labour productivity as a measure of economic strength and on welfare indicators as a measure of the equalisation of living conditions.

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