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.

Our experts

All experts, press releases, publications and events on "East Germany"


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.

Info Graphics

Publications on "East Germany"


Who Benefits from GRW? Heterogeneous Employment Effects of Investment Subsidies in Saxony Anhalt

Eva Dettmann Mirko Titze Antje Weyh

in: IWH Discussion Papers, No. 27, 2017


The paper estimates the plant level employment effects of investment subsidies in one of the most strongly subsidized German Federal States. We analyze the treated plants as a whole, as well as the influence of heterogeneity in plant characteristics and the economic environment. Modifying the standard matching and difference-in-difference approach, we develop a new procedure that is particularly useful for the evaluation of funding programs with individual treatment phases within the funding period. Our data base combines treatment, employment and regional information from different sources. So, we can relate the absolute effects to the amount of the subsidy paid. The results suggest that investment subsidies have a positive influence on the employment development in absolute and standardized figures – with considerable effect heterogeneity.

read publication


The Macroeconomic Development of the Soviet Occupied Zone/GDR (1949 until 1989) – a Balance

Udo Ludwig

in: Günther Heydemann, Karl-Heinz Paqué (Hrsg.): Planwirtschaft – Privatisierung – Marktwirtschaft. Wirtschaftsordnung und -entwicklung in der SBZ/DDR und den neuen Bundesländern 1945 - 1994. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017


Applying the growth accounting model the impact of labor and capital inputs as well as of the technological progress on GDP growth in different historical periods oft Eastern Germany is estimated. The main finding is the failure of the central planning model to modernize the economy. The total factor productivity dominated the economic growth only during the economic reforms in the second halve of the 60ies.

read publication


Produktivitätsunterschiede zwischen West- und Ostdeutschland und mögliche Erklärungsfaktoren. Ergebnisse aus dem IAB-Betriebspanel 2016

Steffen Müller Eva Dettmann Daniel Fackler Georg Neuschäffer Viktor Slavtchev Ute Leber Barbara Schwengler

in: IAB-Forschungsbericht 16/2017, 2017


After several years of prosperity, the economic situation of German establishments improved further in 2016. Though the productivity in East German establishments converged slightly to the West German level, a significant productivity gap between both parts of Germany still remains. Differences in the economic structure can only explain a small part of this persistent gap: a Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition suggests that the different sector composition, lower exports and lower capital intensity of East German establishments explain only about one-fifth of the backlog. The observed positive economic development is associated with a further increase in firm profitability and total employment in the establishments in both parts of Germany. It is reflected also in a further increase in the demand for skilled personnel. Even though the majority of the demand could be met in 2016, one-third of all offered jobs remained vacant. As in the past, especially establishments in construction and business services as well as very small establishments, particularly in East Germany, faced considerable recruitment problems. The occupational skill requirements increased slightly over time. The proportion of jobs for skilled workers is on average higher in East German establishments than in West Germany, suggesting a higher formal qualification level of employees in East Germany. Looking at the personnel structure, a significant increase in the share of atypical employment, particularly part-time jobs and marginal employment, over the last years become visible. The participation of establishments in vocational training remains relatively stable: about half of the enterprises that are authorized to provide vocational training do actually train apprentices. However, the corresponding fraction in East Germany is significantly lower since the economic crisis. In contrast, the share of vacant apprenticeship positions there is much higher than in West German establishments, pointing to major problems in finding suitable applicants. The share of employees participating in further training is about one third for several years. As in the past workers in low-skilled occupations participate only about half as often in training as employees in qualified jobs.

read publication

Business Surveys By the Chamber of Industry and Commerce Halle-Dessau and the Economic Development in the Region

Udo Ludwig

in: T. Brockmeier und U. Ludwig (Hrsg.), Konjunktur. Relevanz von Unternehmensumfragen für Diagnose und Analyse. Universitätsverlag Halle-Wittenberg, Halle (Saale), 2017


Do surveys of firms about their business climate reflect their sentiments only or are they also a reliable indicator for the course of the business cycle? Applying the correlation analysis it is shown, that there exists a statistically significant positive relationship only fort he entirety of firms and the producers of industrial goods but not for the individual branches of services.

read publication


Aktuelle Trends: Ertragslage der ostdeutschen Betriebe verbessert sich stetig

Steffen Müller

in: Wirtschaft im Wandel, No. 3, 2017


Ostdeutschland weist auch mehr als 25 Jahre nach der deutschen Vereinigung eine um circa ein Viertel geringere Arbeitsproduktivität als Westdeutschland auf. Wesentlich geringer ist der Rückstand jedoch bei der Ertragslage. Vor elf Jahren machten etwa 70% der westdeutschen Betriebe und 65% der ostdeutschen Betriebe Gewinne. Nach einem kurzen Knick um die Wirtschafts- und Finanzkrise 2009 ist dieser Anteil kontinuierlich auf 80% im Westen und 76% im Osten angestiegen. Das bedeutet, dass sich beide Landesteile bei dieser Kennzahl seit geraumer Zeit mit recht geringem Abstand im Gleichschritt bewegen.

read publication
Mitglied der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft LogoTotal-Equality-LogoWeltoffen Logo