The Population Plunge That's Wracking Eastern Germany

Almost all former Soviet bloc nations have experienced rising mortality rates since the fall of communism. But as demographer Nicholas Eberstadt notes in Population and Development Review, the demographic shifts convulsing eastern Germany since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent union with western Germany are especially puzzling.

From 1989 to 1993, reports Eberstadt, the birth rate per 1,000 people in eastern Germany fell by 60%. And in just two years, from 1989 to 1991, the fertility rate of east German women aged 25 to 34 plummeted by over 45% and fell further in 1992.

Marriage and mortality rates in eastern Germany also underwent dramatic shifts. By 1992, the number of marriages per 1,000 people was less than half its level in 1989. And mortality rates surged. By 1991, for example, death rates for men and women aged 35 to 44 had climbed 20% to 30%.

Such changes are unprecedented for an industrial country at peace. (The drops in births and marriages even eclipsed those that occurred in Germany in the final years of World War II). What makes them even more puzzling, says Eberstadt, is that they occurred in one of the wealthiest former Soviet bloc nations, which has received a huge amount of economic aid since its dissolution. Indeed, its average monthly wage doubled from late 1990 to late 1992.

All of this suggests, says Eberstadt, that the transition from a planned economy and closed society to a liberal market order entails "far-reaching, often traumatic adjustments."

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