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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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.

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Publications on "East Germany"


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

Oliver Holtemöller

in: Wirtschaftsdienst, No. 13, 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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Did GRW Investment Grants Contribute to the Catching-up of East Germany?

Matthias Brachert Eva Dettmann Lutz Schneider Mirko Titze

in: Wirtschaftsdienst, No. 13, Konferenzband "30 Jahre Deutsche Einheit", März 2021


The joint task force ‘Improving Regional Economic Structures’ (GRW) is the most important regional policy scheme in Germany and was extensively used to support the economic transformation process in the new states after reunification. The article provides an overview of national and international causal analytical studies on the effects of investment grants. The analysis shows that such programmes have positive effects on development — especially of employment and income. It not only affects the subsidised establishment benefit from this type of support, but the regions as a whole. Even though the studies do not go back to the early 1990s, we can conclude that the GRW contributed to economic development in East Germany — and to the catching-up process.

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The East-West-German Productivity Gap: Lessons from Firm-level Data?

Steffen Müller

in: Wirtschaftsdienst, No. 13, Konferenzband "30 Jahre Deutsche Einheit", März 2021


According to national accounts, the East German economy is at only 80 % of West German labour productivity even 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. This difference in aggregate labour productivity goes hand in hand with many of the economic and societal problems East Germany faces today. To understand the sources of the aggregate productivity gap, this study discusses recent literature on the East-West gap that applies granular firm and product level data. The evidence clearly shows the relevance of firm-level productivity differences for the aggregate gap and challenges common hypotheses derived from aggregate data.

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(Since when) are East and West German Business Cycles Synchronised?

Stefan Gießler Katja Heinisch Oliver Holtemöller

in: Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, No. 1, 2021


We analyze whether, and since when, East and West German business cycles are synchronised. We investigate real GDP, unemployment rates and survey data as business cycle indicators and we employ several empirical methods. Overall, we find that the regional business cycles have synchronised over time. GDP-based indicators and survey data show a higher degree of synchronisation than the indicators based on unemployment rates. However, synchronisation among East and West German business cycles seems to have become weaker again recently.

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Selbständigkeit nach der Wiedervereinigung

Matthias Brachert

in: In: Dossier "Lange Wege der Deutschen Einheit", Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2021


Die Zahl der Selbstständigen in Ostdeutschland (ohne Berlin) beläuft sich derzeit auf rund 600 000 und ist das Ergebnis eines über die Jahre zunehmenden Trends. Selbständigkeit wurde in der DDR kaum ein Platz eingeräumt. Zum Zeitpunkt der Wiedervereinigung besaß Ostdeutschland eine Selbständigenquote von nur rund 2,2 Prozent. Dieser Anteil hat sich 2018 auf 9,2 Prozent erhöht. Damit übersteigt die Selbständigenquote Ostdeutschlands diejenige Westdeutschlands seit dem Jahr 2013. Es gilt hierbei jedoch zu beachten, dass das Wachstum der Selbständigenanzahl insbesondere in Ostdeutschland von den Solo-Selbstständigen getragen war. Zudem bestehen im Hinblick auf die sektorale Zusammensetzung mit einem geringeren Anteil an wissensintensiven Wirtschaftszweigen als in Westdeutschland noch Unterschiede zwischen Ost- und Westdeutschland.

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