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Study shows Germany's East-West divide in top positions

September 20, 2023

More than 30 years after reunification, East Germans remain underrepresented in high-level jobs, researchers have found. This is only changing slowly.

People walking past Berlin's East Side Gallery
Disparities between East and West remain, even decades after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989Image: Winfried Rothermel/picture alliance

People from Eastern Germany are still underrepresented in positions of leadership across Germany, a study released on Wednesday shows.

Less than one in eight people in such roles were born on the territory of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), according to the latest Elite Monitor report, a joint project by researchers of the Universities of Jena, Leipzig and Görlitz/Zittau.

This share is below the share of East Germans in the overall population, which researchers put at around one in five. While this is an improvement from 2018, the study sees no long-term trend yet.

What did the study find?

The study looked at a sample of over 3,000 positions deemed to be elite in German society — from politics and public administration to business and culture, among others.

While numbers vary greatly between the different areas, the researchers say top positions are clearly dominated by West Germans.

With under 5%, high-level jobs in the military, the judiciary and in businesses are least frequently given to people hailing from areas of the former socialist East.

Only in politics did researchers find a fair representation, and only when including state-level offices. On the federal level, far fewer positions (13%) are held by East Germans.

Why are East Germans still underrepresented?

The reasons for the prevailing inequalities can be found in the "long-term effects of the GDR-system, of the system-change and the accession" to the Federal Republic, researchers say.

After reunification in 1990, leaders in the East did often not meet the legal requirements for high-level jobs, benchmarks set for the most part in the West. 

At the same time the East's economy collapsed, while Western businesses expanded eastward in what at the time was touted a "reunification-boom." Hopes of increased prosperity in the East — former Chancellor Helmut Kohl famously boasted of "blooming landscapes" — proved to have been overstated in several cases, leaving many people disillusioned.

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What is the German government doing about this?

The new study was presented by Carsten Schneider, the German governmment's minister responsible for the former East Germany and equivalent living conditions, who is tasked with addressing inequalities between the former East and West.

In a social media statement on Wednesday, Schneider said more East German leaders were needed to strengthen democracy and that the government was on the right track to improve their representation.

In January, the government announced a new plan to increase the number of East Germans in federal agencies. They suggested several steps but stopped short of a mandatory quota.

Karte Deutschland vor der Wiedervereinigung EN

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