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"


Decision Making by the Treuhandanstalt on Privatization, Restructuring, or Liquidation of Former State-owned Firms in East Germany

Gerhard Heimpold

in: H.-G. Jeong, G. Heimpold (Hrsg.), Economic Development after German Unification and Implications for Korea. Policy References 18-08. Sejong: Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, 2018


Subject to this paper is the decision making by Treuhandanstalt on privatization, restructuring, or liquidation of former state-owned firms in East Germany. To explain: the Treuhandanstalt was the agency at the Federal level tasked with the privatization of the former state-owned firms of the GDR. All former state-owned firms were assigned to the Treuhandanstalt in mid-1990. The notion of Treuhand firms (“Treuhandfirmen”) will be used to characterize this type of firms.

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Aktuelle Trends: Betriebliche Lohnungleichheit wieder rückläufig

Eva Dettmann Steffen Müller

in: Wirtschaft im Wandel, No. 5, 2018

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Effekte der Einführung des gesetzlichen Mindestlohns: Eine Fallstudie für das Handwerk in Sachsen-Anhalt

Hans-Ulrich Brautzsch Birgit Schultz

in: Wirtschaft im Wandel, No. 5, 2018


Knapp 8% der Beschäftigten in den Handwerksbetrieben Sachsen-Anhalts verdienten vor der Einführung des gesetzlichen Mindestlohns zu Beginn des Jahres 2015 brutto weniger als 8,50 Euro je Stunde. Allerdings differiert die Betroffenheit stark. In den besonders betroffenen Gewerken war zu befürchten, dass die durch den Mindestlohn induzierte Kostensteigerung zu einem spürbaren Beschäftigungsabbau führt. In diesem Kontext werden drei Fragen untersucht: (1) Wie hoch war die Mindestlohnbetroffenheit im Handwerk in Sachsen-Anhalt? (2) Welche – über die Lohnkostenerhöhung hinausgehenden – Effekte hatte die Mindestlohneinführung in den Handwerksbetrieben? (3) Welche Ausweichreaktionen haben die Handwerksbetriebe unternommen, um die höhere Kostenbelastung zu bewältigen? Die Untersuchungen basieren auf den von den Handwerkskammern Halle und Magdeburg durchgeführten Konjunkturumfragen, die in Kooperation mit dem IWH um zusätzliche Fragen zur Mindestlohneinführung erweitert wurden. Die Ergebnisse der Schätzungen zeigen keine signifikanten Beschäftigungseffekte infolge der Einführung des gesetzlichen Mindestlohns. Vielmehr haben die Handwerksbetriebe vor allem mit Preiserhöhungen reagiert.

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The Privatisation Activities of the Treuhandanstalt and the Transformation of the East German Corporate Landscape: A New Dataset for First Explorations

Alexander Giebler Michael Wyrwich

in: IWH Technical Reports, No. 1, 2018


Even nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the privatisation and transformation of East Germany's business landscape is controversially discussed in the media and politics. The privatisation process led to enormous structural changes, which were associated with massive job losses. In particular, the stagnating regional development of East Germany is often blamed on the “long shadow” of the privatisation activities of the Treuhandanstalt (THA). From a scientific perspective, however, there are hardly any contributions dealing with the effects of privatisation activities. The IWH-Treuhand Privatisation Micro Database introduced in this technical report is novel as such that it provides comprehensive information on employment and turnover figures for formerly state-owned enterprises for the early 1990s.

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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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