My preocupations about the impact of demographic change on German society are already pretty well known. Well if Germany as a whole has a sizeable problem, the former East German Lande have a huge one. The state-owned KfW development bank project in a report out today (German only unfortunately, an English version of the press release is here) that the while the population of the old West Germany will drop by six percent between 2002 and 2050, that of the six eastern states will decline by a whopping 25%. Not to mention the fact that those who remain are likely to be even older on average than their Western counterparts. As a consequence the available workforce is likely to fall by a staggering 55%.
The issues raised by this research are large and important. Is, for example, East Germany now in irreversible decline? Can this process repeat itself elsewhere (including between rather than within nation states) as younger, more highly skilled and more mobile workers leave ageing and relatively more depressed areas etc?
The issue of migration from East to West Germany been receiving attention for some time now. Frank Heiland in a survey “Trends in East-West German Migration from 1989 to 2002” (follow the link and go to Volume 11 article 7) argues that there have been two waves of East-West migration The first one, 1989-1990, was triggered by the opportunities and uncertainties before the Reunification; the second one, since 1997, coincides with economic stagnation in the East and improving job prospects in the West.
To put this in perspective we should remember that during the summer of 1989, a reduction in police patrols at the Hungarian border enabled East German tourists to start to enter West Germany via Austria. Subsequently mounting pressures from the East German public for political and economic reform led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November and as a consequence migration from East to West Germany (and beyond) became possible. Thus between 1989 and 1990, almost 600,000 East Germans – roughly 3:7% of the entire population – emigrated to West Germany.
Heiland finds that during the second wave, outmigration rates to the West increased across all East German Länder and have reached levels close to those observed prior to reunification. (Since 2001 the rates appear to have been around 1.5% of the population per annum). He also demonstrates what most people already imagine: that the trends by destination region indicate that during the second wave of East-West migration, the economically strongest regions in West Germany, Baden-Württemberg and Bayern, are again the most favorite destinations of East-West migrants.
Going back to the KfW report for a moment, two quotes from chief economist Norbert Irsch seem to tell their own story:
“Fewer inhabitants means less tax revenue, less tax revenue means less investment and declining attractiveness. And declining attractiveness leads to a declining population”
“(Unemployment is) an enormous burden for the people in the east, not only financially but psychologically, since it leads to apathy, destroys any hope for the future and spurs migration,”