The separation and reunification of Germany: Rethinking a natural experiment interpretation of the enduring effects of communism

Sascha O. Becker*, Lukas Mergele, Ludger Woessmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paper / PreprintWorking paper

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German separation in 1949 into a communist East and a capitalist West and their reunification in 1990 are commonly described as a natural experiment to study the enduring effects of communism. We show in three steps that the populations in East and West Germany were far from being randomly selected treatment and control groups. First, the later border is already visible in many socio-economic characteristics in pre-World War II data. Second, World War II and the subsequent occupying forces affected East and West differently. Third, a selective fifth of the population fled from East to West Germany before the building of the Wall in 1961. In light of our findings, we propose a more cautious interpretation of the extensive literature on the enduring effects of communist systems on economic outcomes, political preferences, cultural traits, and gender roles.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherMaastricht University, Graduate School of Business and Economics
Number of pages39
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2020

Publication series

SeriesGSBE Research Memoranda

JEL classifications

  • d72 - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
  • h11 - Structure, Scope, and Performance of Government
  • p26 - "Socialist Systems and Transitional Economies: Political Economy; Property Rights"
  • p36 - "Socialist Institutions and Their Transitions: Consumer Economics; Health; Education and Training: Welfare, Income, Wealth, and Poverty"
  • n44 - Economic History: Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation: Europe: 1913-


  • political systems
  • communism
  • preferences
  • culture
  • Germany

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