Country Listing

East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

Historical Trends

The population pyramids of both East Germany and West Germany have reflected casualties suffered during two world wars, lower birthrates in the prewar and postwar periods, and the large-scale movement of population in the ten to fifteen years after World War II. East Germany, however, has felt these negative effects more severely than West Germany and has taken a longer time to recover from them.

The number of German military and civilian deaths resulting from World War II is estimated at between 3.5 and 4.5 million. Most of the casualties were in the twenty-to-forty-four age group, and most of these were men in their thirties. The ratio of women to men was five to four in 1950. The surplus of females was especially marked in the twenty-one-to-thirty-five age group, where women outnumbered men by more than two to one. The net result was a decline in marriage and birthrates, an increase in the death rate, and an increase in the proportion of the population over forty-five years of age.

Compounding the problem was an influx of Germans from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and an equally dramatic flow of refugees from East Germany to West Germany. An estimated 11.7 million ethnic Germans were expelled from the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania between 1945 and 1960. Most were transferred in the first two years after the war, and most were channeled initially into the Soviet zone, although only an estimated 2.2 million finally settled there. In the late 1940s, the number of expellees offset the decline in the resident population because of war losses, and the total population increased by 14 percent.

The inflow, however, was matched by a steady outflow of refugees from the Soviet occupation zone to the West. The movement of Germans from east to west consisted primarily of young people of working age, a fact that accentuated the prevailing negative demographic trends. By 1950 some 1.6 million had migrated to the western zones. Between 1950 and 1961, the refugee flow continued at a rate of 100,000 to 200,000 annually. Workers were attracted by the economic opportunities open to them in West Germany, and in the early 1950s, they and their families formed the majority of emigrants. By the late 1950s, a growing proportion of those leaving were professional people and students whose skills were sorely needed for internal development. By 1961 approximately 2.5 million had left. To stop the exodus, the communist authorities built the Berlin Wall in August 1961.

The Wall effectively sealed off the best escape route open to disenchanted East Germans, thus halting the mass movement of people to the West. After its construction, the number of refugees entering West Berlin and West Germany fell drastically. In addition controls and restrictions on those allowed to visit the West were tightened considerably. Although restrictions have been loosened since the conclusion of the Four Power Agreement on Berlin (Berlin Agreement) in 1971, pensioners have been the only group allowed relatively free access to the West. Young people, professionals, and the technically skilled have been denied opportunities to visit the West except under the strictest of controls.

Data as of July 1987