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"


Ostdeutsche Wirtschaft: Rückstand bleibt trotz kräftigem Aufschwung groß, Finanzausgleich fließt auch nach Reform vor allem in den Osten

Martin Altemeyer-Bartscher Gerhard Heimpold Oliver Holtemöller Axel Lindner Mirko Titze

in: Konjunktur aktuell, No. 3, 2017


Ostdeutschland hat vom gegenwärtigen Aufschwung in Deutschland bisher besonders deutlich profitiert. In jedem der Aufschwungsjahre 2014 bis 2016 nahm die gesamtwirtschaftliche Produktion schneller zu als in Westdeutschland; auch für das Jahr 2017 prognostiziert das IWH, dass der Zuwachs der Produktion in Ostdeutschland mit 1,8% etwas höher liegt als in Westdeutschland. Freilich ist auch nach mehr als 25 Jahren Deutscher Einheit in jeder der ostdeutschen Regionen die Produktivität immer noch niedriger als in derjenigen westdeutschen Region mit der geringsten Produktivität. Der größte Teil der Zuweisungen vom Bund wird auch ab dem Jahr 2020, wenn der reformierte Länderfinanzausgleich gilt, in den Osten der Republik fließen. Die Reform des Länderfinanzausgleichs hat dabei nicht zu einer Verbesserung der wirtschaftspolitischen Anreize für die finanzschwachen Bundesländer geführt, was auch dazu beitragen könnte, dass die ökonomische Konvergenz nur schleppend verläuft.

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Imputation Rules for the Implementation of the Pre-unification Education Variable in the BASiD Data Set

André Diegmann

in: Journal for Labour Market Research, 2017


Using combined data from the German Pension Insurance and the Federal Employment Agency (BASiD), this study proposes different procedures for imputing the pre-unification education variable in the BASiD data. To do so, we exploit information on education-related periods that are creditable for the Pension Insurance. Combining these periods with information on the educational system in the former GDR, we propose three different imputation procedures, which we validate using external GDR census data for selected age groups. A common result from all procedures is that they tend to underpredict (overpredict) the share of high-skilled (low-skilled) for the oldest age groups. Comparing our imputed education variable with information on educational attainment from the Integrated Employment Biographies (IEB) reveals that the best match is obtained for the vocational training degree. Although regressions show that misclassification with respect to IEB information is clearly related to observables, we do not find any systematic pattern across skill groups.

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Aktuelle Trends: Sachsen-Anhalt kann beim Wirtschaftswachstum nicht mit Ostdeutschland mithalten

Oliver Holtemöller

in: Wirtschaft im Wandel, No. 2, 2017


Die Daten zum Wirtschaftswachstum des Arbeitskreises Volkswirtschaftliche Gesamtrechnungen der Länder für das Jahr 2016 zeigen erneut, dass Sachsen-Anhalt von der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung im übrigen Ostdeutschland abgekoppelt ist. Während das Wirtschaftswachstum in Ostdeutschland im Jahr 2016 insgesamt 2,1% betrug, stellte Sachsen-Anhalt mit nur 1,0% wieder einmal das ostdeutsche Schlusslicht dar. Im gesamtdeutschen Vergleich schnitt lediglich das Saarland noch schlechter ab. Berlin und Sachsen waren mit jeweils 2,7% bundesweit die Spitzenreiter beim Wirtschaftswachstum, Thüringen lag mit 1,8% gleichauf mit Westdeutschland (vgl. Abbildung a).

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Cover des IWH-Jahresberichts 2014-2016

IWH Report "2014-2016"


in: One-off Publications, 2017


The Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) – Member of the Leibniz Association is an independent economic institute. Since its founding in 1992, it particularly focuses on structural change. This broad field is highly relevant to the future of the economy at both national and international levels – from issues of growth and alignment between East and West, dealing with the role of the financial system, with crises at the European level, and labour market and education issues.

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IWH-Bauumfrage im zweiten Quartal 2016: Geschäftslage erneut verbessert, Aussichten auf hohem Niveau

Brigitte Loose

in: Wirtschaft im Wandel, No. 4, 2016


Das Geschäftsklima im ostdeutschen Baugewerbe hat sich laut Umfrage des IWH im Frühjahr 2016 erneut verbessert. Bei der aktuellen Geschäftslage setzt sich die Aufwärtsbewegung weiter fort. Die Geschäftsaussichten für das nächste halbe Jahr geben gegenüber dem zum Jahresende 2015 erreichten hohen Niveau nur wenig nach (vgl. Abbildung 1). Das Geschäftsklima und die Lage erreichen damit einen Rekordwert, der über dem Höhepunkt des Baubooms von 1995 und über dem hohen Niveau zur Jahreswende 2013/2014 liegt.

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