The fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago this week brought far-reaching social and economic changes to communist East Germany, and people on both sides of the former barrier say the changes that have occurred since 1989 have had a positive influence on living standards in their country, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. But that does not mean the former East and West Germany are on equal economic footing today.
Despite substantial improvements in recent decades, the former East Germany continues to trail the former West Germany on important economic measures ranging from unemployment to productivity, according to an annual German government report on the “status of German unity.” (The most recent version of the report, from September, is available here in German. The 2018 version of the report is available here in English.)
Here is a look at how economic conditions in the former East and West Germany have changed over time, how they compare today and how people in the two areas perceive these differences. All findings are based on data from the German government’s 2019 report, as well as the Center’s recent survey.
Unemployment is persistently higher in the former East Germany than in the former West. In 2018, the average unemployment rate was 6.9% in the six states of the former East Germany, compared with 4.8% in the 10 states of the former West Germany. (In all economic statistics in this analysis, Berlin is counted in East Germany, even though the city was divided during communism and is not directly comparable to other parts of East Germany.)
East-West differences in unemployment rates cut across demographic lines including age and gender. Among people ages 15 to 24, for example, the average unemployment rate in the former East Germany was 7.7% in 2018, compared with 4.1% in the former West. And while 7.5% of East Germans ages 55 to 64 were unemployed in 2018, the share was 5.3% among West Germans in the same age range.
Despite these differences, the former East has narrowed the gap with the former West substantially in recent decades. In the early 2000s, the unemployment rate was about 10 percentage points higher in the former East than in the former West – nearly five times the gap in 2018. Read More →