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The Wall Is Gone, but Germans Are Divided in Other Ways

The Wall Is Gone, but Germans Are Divided in Other Ways

by Kristjan Archer

Story Highlights

  • 51% of Germans in West "thriving" vs. 38% in East
  • Fewer Germans in East living comfortably on income
  • Outlook for job market, local economy worse in East

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Germans mark the 30th anniversary the fall of the Berlin Wall this weekend and celebrate their unity, there are signs of new cracks between the old East and West.

Life in many respects is better today for most Germans -- former East and West -- than it was even a decade ago, but Gallup surveys in the country show progress has been uneven, and in 2019, people in these old divisions were farther apart than they've been in years.

This is nowhere more apparent than in the ratings that people give their lives. While a slim majority of those living in the old West (51%) rated their lives positively enough to be considered thriving in 2019, 38% of those living in the old East said the same.

Line graph. Trend in life ratings for Germans in the old West and old East.

Gallup asks adults worldwide to evaluate their lives on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, where zero represents the worst possible life and 10 represents the best possible life. Gallup classifies people as "thriving" if they rate their current life a seven or higher and their life in five years an eight or higher, and "suffering" if they rate both their current and future life situations a four or lower. Those in the middle are "struggling."

Although Germans living in the old West and East both rate their lives more positively today than they did a decade ago, the gap between them today is as wide as it was then -- 13 percentage points.

Fewer Living Comfortably in the East

The differences in Germans' life ratings likely have some roots in the differences in their incomes. While wages have been increasing in Germany, the effects have not been felt evenly across the country. Throughout Gallup's tracking of German's feelings about household income, fewer Germans who live in the former East have said they are living comfortably on present income than those in the West.

Their closest alignment was in 2018 when similar percentages of Germans in the East (37%) said they were living as comfortably as those in the West (35%). However, in 2019, sentiment reverted to the old patterns, with 27% in the former East saying they are living comfortably on present income, in comparison with 39% in the old West who responded in kind.

While prices are considered to be lower in the former East, the fact that average wages are just under 82% of West German wages may be a factor in why the two regions are misaligned.

Line graph. Decade trend on the percentage of Germans living comfortably on their household incomes.

Different Outlooks on the Same Job Market

Since the economic crash of 2009, West Germans' views of the local job market have steadily rebounded, with nearly two in three in 2019 saying it is a good time to find a job in their area.

In the East, the outlook has also improved but far less steadily, and with sizable troughs. The most recent one is this year when 53% of East Germans said that now was a good time to find a job, down from 65% in 2018.

Line graph. Trend in Germans’ outlook on the job markets in their communities.

Less Optimism for Economies in the East

In the former East, the economic outlook for communities is also less optimistic than it is in the West, but attitudes in the East have swung considerably more than those in the West. In 2019, while sentiment soured in both the East and West (to 37% and 49% respectively), the growing division between economic outlooks depicts a much bleaker confidence in the East.

Line graph. Outlook for economic conditions in the city or area where Germans live.

Bottom Line

Since the unification of Germany, former East and West residents have seen significant improvements in their livelihood and rebuilding Germany as a world leader. However, improvements have not been felt evenly and today, many Easterners still feel they have not caught up and feel underrepresented in top political positions and business roles -- despite having an East German chancellor for more than a decade.

With an uncertain future ahead for the German economy and the threat of growing trade wars, it is unclear whether this sentiment will change and what that means to post-Angela Merkel leadership.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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