Germany Social Mobility
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
Upward social mobility, or the ability or chance of offspring to improve their social position relative to that of their parents, expanded in both Germanys during the postwar era. The growth of the services sector was the primary cause of this expansion. The large, well-trained workforce required by this sector was supplied by a greatly expanded education system. As a result, many Germans received a better education than had their parents.
The postwar era saw the formation of a large, newly educated middle class, which grew at the expense of the small traditional middle class, many of whose members were merchants and the owners of small firms. Joining this older middle class was difficult because membership required capital, property, and other kinds of assets. For this reason, it was a relatively closed class, and its members were usually the offspring of existing members. By contrast, joining the new professional middle class depended on academic training, something readily available in postwar West Germany, where education was inexpensive and financial aid was easily obtainable.
One study measuring social mobility in the postwar decades used a six-level model to track Germans born between 1930 and 1949. It found that 20 percent had moved up to the next higher level, 10 percent had moved up two levels, and 2 percent had moved up three levels. Some downward mobility was recorded as well. For example, 1 percent had dropped three levels.
Opportunities for upward social mobility varied, however, according to one's place in society. Blue-collar workers, for example, did not show as much social mobility as other classes, although their mobility increased somewhat in the late postwar decades. A commonly used index to measure social mobility is the percentage of sons remaining within the social stratum or milieu of their fathers. West German studies have shown that in 1970 only 5 percent of blue-collar workers' sons managed to move up into better paying, higher status professions in the services sector. By 1979 the percentage had more than doubled to 11 percent. The percentage of sons of lower-level salaried and public-sector employees moving into elevated professional positions had increased from 12 to 22 percent in the same period.
Another study examined the likelihood of different groups securing a position in the two top levels of the services sector. The first and upper level accounts for about 10 percent of total employment and consists of positions in medicine, law, higher education, upper levels of administration, and the like. The second and lower level accounts for about 15 percent of employment and consists of positions in teaching, mid-level management, retailing, computers, and the like. The study found that about two-thirds of those employed in the top level and nearly three-fifths of those in the second level are the offspring of persons employed in these levels. Only about 20 percent of the sons of workers are employed in these levels. Access to the top level is very restricted, with 4 percent of the sons of skilled workers and 2 percent of the sons of unskilled workers employed there. Almost no farmers' sons move into the top levels.
Geissler has found three occupational categories particularly conducive to upward mobility: the self-employed, the nonmanual service providers, and the worker elite. Self-recruitment in the three categories is relatively low. Geissler holds that this indicates that the offspring of those so employed are finding higher status positions. In contrast to these groups, 93 percent of farmers are the sons of farmers; farmers' offspring who leave the farm usually become either skilled or unskilled workers.
As of the first half of the 1990s, social mobility trends in the new Länder had not yet stabilized. Both upward and downward mobility are greater than in the old Länder . The widespread disqualification of the GDR elite meant downward mobility for many. The rapid transformation of the social structure through the replacement of a command socialist economy with a social market economy is also causing much social mobility, especially between generations. Children often do not work in the same sector as their parents. A new social class of entrepreneurs is being formed as the new Länder become integrated into the western economy.
The Search for a New National Identity
In the aftermath of unification, Germans are searching for a new identity. There appear to be at least two distinct German identities, and obstacles to their speedy fusion seem formidable.
In the postwar period, West Germany became an upwardly mobile, success-oriented society. By 1990 a broad and prosperous middle-class and upper-middle-class society had developed. Although they still worked hard to earn the vacation and working conditions among the best in the world, West Germans sought to create a "leisure society." There was a movement, for example, advocating the adoption of a four-day workweek. Work was intrinsically less important to West Germans than to East Germans; instead, they prized personal fulfillment, recreation, health, and the natural environment.
Through a remarkable transformation, West Germans had rehabilitated themselves, had become internationally oriented, and had assumed a leading role within the larger European community. Members of the older generation, especially those "blessed by a late birth" (too young to be Nazis), were self-assured and proud of the Federal Republic's political, economic, and social achievements. Starting in the 1960s, the younger generation discovered new freedoms and exercised them. In the 1970s and 1980s, youth- and student-led protests were mounted against nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants and in favor of peace, disarmament, and environmental protection.
By the early 1990s, most of the 1960s generation had been assimilated into the German establishment, but its experiences in challenging authority and winning concessions produced evolutionary changes in German society, economy, and culture. This generation's influence could be seen in the huge candlelight vigils staged by people of all ages to protest right-wing violence and xenophobia.
On the other side of the fortified border, East German society was decidedly working class, with comparatively minor class distinctions. Where there were significant income differentials, the extra money was of little consequence in an economy marked by shortages of most consumer goods. The state apparatus provided security in the form of guaranteed employment, free education and health care, and subsidized low rent. Homelessness was unknown in the GDR. Other social ills such as violent crime, drug abuse, and prostitution also were much less prevalent than in the west.
In terms of their attitude toward state authority and the family, easterners manifested values characteristic of westerners in the late 1950s and 1960s. On the factory floor or the collective farm, conditions were often primitive and the workweek long (forty-three or more hours). The workforce, too, was reminiscent of an earlier Germany, with greater numbers employed in smokestack industries or in fields and mines, and far fewer in the services or information sector. One of many revelations after unification was the information illiteracy of easterners.
With few external options or diversions, East Germans identified with home and family more than their counterparts in the west. Deprived of the means and liberty to travel outside communist Eastern Europe, they formed what some sociologists called a "niche society," retreating into an inner circle to find a degree of privacy.
For three generations, East Germans had been indoctrinated in the thought processes of two forms of totalitarianism in succession: nazism and communism. With the collapse of communism, Germans living in the new Länder had few values and beliefs, aside from personal ones, with which to identify. Embittered by the seemingly imperialistic imposition of all things West German, some easterners developed "an identity of defiance" (Trotzidentität ).
In the initial stage of union, Germans focused on the profound differences that had evolved in the two states since the end of World War II. In the Federal Republic, one of the world's wealthiest countries, quality-of-life issues played key roles in defining one's place and identity in society. Home ownership, travel experiences, and leisure activities of all kinds were translated into powerful status symbols.
In stark contrast, the state owned practically all property in East Germany. Expectations of improving individual or family lifestyles were modest. Overall, the eastern Länder were decades behind the west in most categories measuring standard of living. Coming from a society grown accustomed to measuring itself and others by the yardstick of material prosperity, it was not surprising that West Germans felt more in common with their neighbors to the west, in whose countries they frequently traveled.
In some respects, the former GDR stood in relation to the FRG as a colony to an imperial power, and it was not long before westerners and easterners began acting out the roles of "know-it-alls" (westerners) and "whimpering easterners." Within several years of the opening of the Berlin Wall, the former East Germany was transformed from a full-employment society to one having more than 1 million unemployed and hundreds of thousands of part-time workers.
Forced resocialization has weighed heavily on eastern Germans' self-esteem. The cleft between east and west is sufficiently deep and wide to make easterners appear to be foreigners in their own land, or at best second-class citizens. By August 1992, the situation had deteriorated to the point where a headline on the cover of Der Spiegel , the influential weekly magazine, summed it up in three words: "Germans Against Germans."
In modern European history, the merging of two fundamentally different social, political, and economic systems such as those that evolved in the two Germanys has no precedent. Fortunately for the newly united country, most Germans still rely on the traditional traits of diligence, orderliness, discipline, and thrift, and these shared values ultimately should resolve the problems associated with the merger of two states and societies at vastly different levels of development and achievement.
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As of mid-1995, no postunification survey of German geography in English had been published. The standard text remains Roy E.H. Mellor's The Two Germanies . Alun Jones's The New Germany , published in 1994, deals with key social and economic developments since unification. Developments in German Politics , edited by Gordon Smith, William E. Paterson, Peter H. Merkl, and Stephen Padgett, includes chapters dealing with aspects of German society, including ones on women, the environment, and immigration policies. Each chapter has been written by a noted specialist and includes suggestions for further reading. German Politics and Society , a quarterly journal published by the Center for German and European Studies of the University of California at Berkeley, contains a variety of scholarly articles dealing with German society. A more journalistic approach is John Ardagh's widely available and highly informative Germany and the Germans .
Three articles especially illuminating on demographic developments are "Germany's Population: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future" by Gerhard Heilig, Thomas Büttner, and Wolfgang Lutz; "Bericht 1990 zur demographischen Lage: Trends in beiden Teilen Deutschlands und Ausländer in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" by Charlotte Höhn, Ulrich Mammey, and Hartmut Wendt; and "Demographic Shocks after Communism: Eastern Germany, 1989-93" by Nicholas Eberstadt.
A comprehensive survey of German social structure is Rainer Geissler's Die Sozialstruktur Deutschlands . The German government's annual statistical survey, Statistisches Jahrbuch für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland , provides much statistical information about many aspects of German society. Facts about Germany , edited by Arno Kappler and Adriane Grevel, periodically updated and available from German embassies, contains brief surveys of several areas covered in this chapter. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of August 1995
NOTE: The information regarding Germany on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Germany Social Mobility information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Germany Social Mobility should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.