Is that which belongs together slowly growing together? How do East Germans and West Germans view their country and society just under three decades on from Reunification? To answer this question, the researchers analysed and systematically evaluated several large data sets. In the process, they studied various attitudes and values relating to four different areas of life – the social sphere, the political sphere, the family sphere and the economic sphere – and identified a primary pattern: in most areas, the differences between East and West are in part much smaller among younger people than older people. ‘However, the experience with two different political and economic systems in the two halves of the country can still be identified in all the attitudes’, says Professor Stefan Bauernschuster, holder of the Chair of Public Economics at the University of Passau.
Working mothers clearly more accepted in the East
One of the most remarkable findings concerns the attitude towards the role of men and women in society. Whereas over a quarter of all West Germans are still of the opinion that it is far better for the man to be in full-time employment and for the woman to stay at home, only 14 per cent of East Germans agree with this statement. ‘These differences in attitude are reflected in different behaviours on the job market’, explains Bauernschuster. ‘Mothers in East Germany continue to be considerably more involved in the job market than mothers in West Germany.’ In an earlier study, Stefan Bauernschuster and his co-author Helmut Rainer (LMU Munich) had already shown that the different role models can in part be traced back to historical differences in the political and economic regimes in East and West Germany.
Division of labour in the family – the man goes to work; the woman takes care of the household and the children
Statement: ‘It is better for everyone involved if the man works full time and the woman stays home to take care of the household and the children.’
The survey participants could choose from the following options:
(4) Completely agree
(3) Tend to agree
(2) Tend to disagree
(1) Completely disagree
Politics: interest as well as dissatisfaction
In terms of the political sphere, the researchers were able to show that people’s level of interest in politics has increased sharply in recent years and that there are hardly any differences in this regard between East Germans and West Germans. Nevertheless, the number of people voting in the national elections is consistently higher in West Germany than in East Germany. Democracy is viewed as the best form of governance by the vast majority in East Germany and West Germany, and satisfaction with democracy has increased in Germany in recent years. In assessing how well democracy functions, however, people in East Germany are considerably more critical than those in West Germany: whereas 72 per cent of West Germans are satisfied with how democracy functions, only 44 per cent of East Germans agree. There are similar differences in the level of satisfaction with the national government and trust in the German Bundestag parliament, political parties and politicians.
Migration: between a readiness to help and violence
The researchers were particularly interested in the topic of migration: ‘Here we saw that the general readiness to help refugees was high; yet East Germans are more likely than West Germans to express a desire to limit and stop the flow of refugees as well as workers from other EU countries coming to Germany’, Bauernschuster summarises. ‘Refugees and other foreigners living in Germany are more frequently perceived as a risk in East Germany than in West Germany. If we examine these attitudes in conjunction with extremist behaviour, this confirms the differences between East and West: relative to the number of inhabitants, racially motivated criminal and violent offences are more common in East Germany than West Germany.
High levels of satisfaction with the economic situation
Virtually all of the survey participants agreed that the economic situation in Germany is considerably better today than in 2005. When asked about their private economic circumstances, 70 per cent of those surveyed in West Germany and 65 per cent of those in East Germany assessed their situation as good to excellent. The level of concern over personal economic circumstances and job security has gone down considerably since 2005; satisfaction with personal income, household income, work and general life satisfaction has risen substantially in both halves of the country. Nevertheless, major differences still exist when it comes to questions of distributive justice: just under 70 per cent of West German respondents most recently indicated that they received a fair proportion or even more than a fair proportion compared to other people living in Germany; by comparison, less than 50 per cent of East Germans felt this way.
The Passau-based economist Professor Stefan Bauernschuster and his colleagues of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Munich conducted the study on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. At the ifo’s AGM in Munich, this project was awarded as the best third-party-funded project of the ifo Institute in the past year. This is the third award of this kind for Professor Stefan Bauernschuster: he has previously received this award for two studies respectively conducted for the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.