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"


Lohnunterschiede zwischen Betrieben in Ost- und Westdeutschland: Ausmaß und mögliche Erklärungsfaktoren. Ergebnisse aus dem IAB-Betriebspanel 2017

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

in: IAB-Forschungsbericht 6/2018, 2018


The economic situation in German establishments improved even further in 2017. The development of wages, however, reflects this economic growth only partly. Compared to 1997, the wage differential between large and small establishments increased considerably – with substantially lower wages paid in East Germany in general. The wage differential of about 19 percent between East and West Germany can to some extent be explained in a multivariate analysis (Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition) showing that the main cause for the wage gap is the productivity gap between East German and West German establishments; other structural heterogeneities like sector composition, industrial relations and size structure seem not to contribute to an explanation of this gap. The overall positive economic development in Germany is associated with a further growth in total employment and with increased labor market dynamics, especially regarding employee turnover. Turnover rates, however, are very heterogeneous among sectors, ranging from 23 percent in the accommodation and food service sector and less than five percent in public administration. Also the demand for skilled personnel continued to grow. Yet for the first time, not even two thirds of the posted job vacancies could be filled in 2017. With over fifty percent, this non-occupancy quota is particularly high in the construction industry. Also small and very small establishments face serious recruitment problems. The structure of formal occupational skill requirements did not change very much over recent years, but the increasing use of digital technologies changes everyday job requirements and may lead to a rising workload for employees. Looking at the personnel structure in the German economy, a growing share of atypical employment becomes apparent, especially in form of part-time jobs. The proportion of marginal employment remains relatively stable and is comparatively high in sectors with less specific knowledge requirements and strong cyclical and/or seasonal fluctuations like is the case in accommodation and food service sector or personal services sector. Since 2010, the proportion of establishments authorized to provide in-company vocational training has declined constantly and now accounts for 53 percent of the establishments in Germany. About one half of these establishments do actually train apprentices. The share of vacant apprenticeships further increased in 2017 to about one quarter of all apprenticeships offered, in East Germany even to more than one third. As in recent years, the share of establishments supporting further training of their employees remained stable at about fifty percent and the proportion of employees participating in training is still about one third. In East Germany these figures prove to be slightly higher.

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Aktuelle Trends: Die Dienstleistungsmetropole Berlin ist für das Wachstum in Ostdeutschland wichtiger geworden

Axel Lindner

in: Wirtschaft im Wandel, No. 4, 2018


Der Aufschwung in Ostdeutschland erfährt seit 2016 einen Tempowechsel, vor allem aufgrund unterschiedlich dynamischer Wirtschaftsbereiche: Die dienstleistungsorientierte Berliner Wirtschaft legt weiter zu, das Verarbeitende Gewerbe in Sachsen, Thüringen und Sachsen-Anhalt lässt nach.

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Auswirkungen des gesetzlichen Mindestlohns im Handwerk in Sachsen-Anhalt

Hans-Ulrich Brautzsch Birgit Schultz

in: Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftspolitik, No. 2, 2018


This paper examines the effects of the minimum wage introduction in Germany in 2015 on the skilled crafts sector in Saxony-Anhalt. Using novel survey data on the skilled crafts sector in Saxony-Anhalt, we examine three questions: (1) How many employees are affected by the minimum wage introduction in the skilled crafts sector in Saxony-Anhalt? (2) What are the effects of the minimum wage introduction? (3) How did firms react to wage increase? We find that about 8 % of all employees in the skilled crafts sector in Saxony-Anhalt are directly affected by the minimum wage introduction. A difference-in-difference estimation reveals no significant employment effects of the minimum wage introduction. We test for alternative adjustment strategies and observe a significant increase of output prices.

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The Efficiency of Local Public-service Production: The Effect of Political Institutions

Peter Bönisch Peter Haug

in: FinanzArchiv, No. 2, 2018


Reforms replacing municipal cooperations by centralized municipalities often aim at increasing municipal efficiency. Empirical evidence supporting this aim, however, is ambiguous. Our paper analyzes the effect of institutions on municipal efficiency. In particular, we distinguish two archetypal institutional settings, a centralized and a confederal one, and argue that bureaucrats in a centralized setting are able to increase the fiscal residual. Our empirical test case is the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. We test the effect of the institutional setup using the bootstrap approach suggested by Simar and Wilson (2007), concluding that a decentralized institutional setting improves the efficiency of municipal production.

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The Economic Development of Saxony-Anhalt since 1990

Oliver Holtemöller Axel Lindner

in: IWH Discussion Papers, No. 6, 2018


This article describes the economic development of Saxony-Anhalt since 1990 in the context of the East German transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy. In the early 1990s the economy of Saxony-Anhalt caught up quickly with West Germany, mainly because the capital stock was modernized and expanded. Convergence, however, has almost come to a halt for some time now and gross domestic product per employed person is still about 20% below the West German level. The challenge for economic policy is to further the catching-up process by fostering research and innovation and improving the skills of the workforce.

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