Population decline

A new study shows that the population of Eastern Germany has fallen back to a level last seen in 1905 and that the impact of the German division is thoroughly underestimated.

21.06.2019 · Economics, Social Sciences, Spatial Research · ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich · News · Research result

The number of people living in eastern Germany has fallen back to a level last seen in 1905, while more people now live in the regions that used to make up West Germany than ever before in history. This is shown by a new study on economic history by the Dresden Branch of the ifo Institute. “Despite reunification, the population figures of the two parts of the country are drifting apart almost unchecked. But the enduring impact of the postwar division of Germany is something that the general public thoroughly underestimates even today. This aspect is often overlooked and requires special political consideration,” says Felix Rösel, the study’s author.

“Had Dresden and Leipzig experienced the same growth as western Germany, they would now be twice as big – indeed, both cities would have over a million inhabitants,” the ifo researcher calculates. Some 550,000 people currently live in each of the two cities in the state of Saxony. According to Rösel, the main reason for the population decline in eastern Germany is the mass exodus from the then East Germany between 1949 and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. East Germany also lacked the immigration of  guest workers in the 1960ies and 1970ies. Finally, the westward migration after the fall of the Berlin Wall exactly 30 years ago contributed to the divergent population development in eastern and western Germany. In contrast, before the division of Germany some 70 years ago, eastern and western Germany had developed essentially in parallel.

“While incomes and unemployment rates in the east and west are slowly converging, the population figures are drifting further and further apart,” Rösel says, dismissing recent considerations of whether to concentrate public funding on major eastern German cities. “The division of Germany has bled rural areas in the east to death. An end to support for these areas would come as a particularly unfair double punishment. We need exactly the opposite: we must promote social cohesion both in cities and in the countryside.”

Original publication

Rösel, Felix, "Die Wucht der deutschen Teilung wird völlig unterschätzt", ifo Dresden berichtet 27 (03), 2019, 23-25 (PDF Download)

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